MOUNT VERNON — A new Skagit County data website should help local governments craft policy and give businesses valuable information when considering whether to move into the county, said an organizer of the site.

“Our hope is that this will stimulate conversations about the state of our community, and spur people to action,” David Jefferson, health analyst with Skagit County, said at a kickoff for the website Wednesday afternoon.

The website, called Skagit County Trends, presents 165 data sets on community indicators such as economic vitality, education, health and public safety.

Organized by the county’s Population Health Trust, which Jefferson leads, and built by data specialists at Eastern Washington University, the website collects data and makes it easily accessible to the public.

Patrick Jones, executive director of Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, led a team of staff and student interns in assembling the website.

Users of Skagit County Trends can find statistics on everything from lodging taxes to labor force participation to access to health care.

“We want to be ambitious,” Jones said. “We do not want to be modest.”

The website generally pulls data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and presents data from as many years as each data set allows. Most sets compare Skagit County’s numbers to state and national numbers.

The Population Health Trust hosted eight focus groups in May and June to determine what data the public wanted to see. That information was forwarded to Jones’ team.

During Wednesday’s kickoff, members of the health trust took the stage to dedicate the project to the late Terry Belcoe, former president of North Coast Credit Union and a longtime advocate for public health. He died of cancer in September.

Belcoe served on Population Health Trust, as well as numerous other boards and task forces that focus on community health.

He was described as a visionary, a savvy businessman and a constant agitator for progress.

“He wouldn’t want us to rest on our laurels,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of United Way of Skagit County. “He would want want us to take action.”

Jones’ team operates several community data websites. Its first was set up 10 years ago in Spokane.

Based on his experience, he said Skagit County can expect in the future to be far better informed about itself.

Jones cited a data point from the Spokane project, where it was found 57 percent of students graduated high school on time.

“It was a real galvanizing moment for us,” Jones said.

With that data accessible, he said, it was easier to get the public to raise money and to fix the problem. Donations helped the school district raise graduation rates to 86 percent within eight years.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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