USDA interactive map could be boon to rural economic development efforts in Colorado

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving people a new way to access a wealth of county-level data.

The Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America is an online mapping tool that captures more than 60 statistical indicators encompassing demographic, economic and agricultural data from across the U.S. By releasing the county-level data, the USDA hopes to spur additional economic development.

“The new Atlas will … help policy makers pinpoint the needs of particular regions, recognize their diversity and build on their assets,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who noted that the project is a part of a “broad USDA initiative to make relevant data easily accessible” to the public, researchers, journalists, public officials and other professionals.

Roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly 50 million people, live in non-metro locations, which extend over more than 2,000 counties. Although it is no secret that challenges faced by rural areas are different from those faced by urban counties, the Atlas provides key information that explains that economic challenges can also vary from rural county to rural county.

In building the new tool, the USDA’s Economic Research Service relied on statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the USDA and other federal agencies. The data is combined in four categories that users can select:

* People — country demographic profiles, including age, race/ethnicity, education, family composition, population change, migration and immigration.
* Jobs — conditions and trends affecting the labor force, such as employment change, unemployment, industry and occupational structure.
* Agriculture — indicators of farm structure and the well-being of farm households, including farm size, income, sales and tenure.
* County typologies — ERS county classifications based on the rural-urban continuum, economic structure and other key locational features, such as landscape amenities, occupation types, persistent poverty or population loss statistics.

When users click on a specific county, a pop-up box appears to provide data on all indicators in each of the four categories.

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