Institute Releases First State of the Region Progress Report

Performance update highlights new data, mixed trends, increased regional activity

By Beverly Sanford

Release Date: November 29, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo-Niagara region has experienced definite, if incremental, progress over the last year, according to an analysis by the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth.

The University at Buffalo institute released the first progress report of its State of the Region project, as promised a year ago, on Wednesday at a conference at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Buffalo.

One of the areas in which the progress report notes several improvements is crime, with Western New York experiencing a decline in violent crime, as well as a drop in property crime, juvenile arrests, drug arrests and the first regional decline in domestic violence since 1993.

Other areas in which there has been marked improvement in Western New York during the past year are:

-- Increased collaborative planning initiatives among local governments

-- Continuing decline in air fares

-- Increase in patent production

-- Fewer school districts with high-end dropout rates

-- Decrease in teen pregnancies in most counties

-- Slight increase in childhood immunization rates

Areas in which there has been regression from goals include:

-- Vehicle miles traveled continue to climb, averaging 15 miles daily for every Western New York resident

-- Possible increase in air-particle pollution

-- Region falling further behind levels of computer use among population compared with areas statewide and nationally

-- Half or more of Western New York eighth graders are not on track to meet Regents high school graduation standards in either mathematics or English-language arts

Initially published in November 1999, State of the Region: Performance Indicators for the Buffalo-Niagara Region in the 21st Century reported on regional performance in areas key to quality of life and competitiveness. The new release, State of the Region Progress Report 2000 for the Buffalo-Niagara Region, is the first update of the 1999 baseline report.

The progress report suggests that Buffalo-Niagara has witnessed a marked increase in the level and sophistication of regional activity, improvement in the volume and quality of important data maintained on the region, and mixed results on a series of specific performance indicators over the past year.

The year 2000 report looks at 44 indicators, or regional performance measures, across 11 key areas -- economy, education, environment, equity, government, health, human services, planning and land use, public safety, regional assets, and technology and information. Thirty-six of the 44 are updates of performance indicators identified in the 1999 baseline report, while eight indicators are new or revised.

Also featured are snapshots of how the region is approaching these issue areas and what challenges lie ahead in these major dimensions of the Buffalo-Niagara community.

"Progress Report 2000 is a picture of incremental change and growing innovation," said John B. Sheffer, II, institute director. "It is a fundamentally encouraging update on the progress of the region, but also demonstrates continuing and substantial challenges. The report also shows the overwhelming need for constant, careful monitoring. Our continuing theme is: you can't manage what you can't measure.

"As to regional activity and attention to improved efficiency, it's clear in virtually every one of the 11 issue areas that Buffalo-Niagara perceives a need for cross-sector, cross-border collaboration, with good examples of that kind of cooperation now under way. When we look not just at measurement but also at management, we see some really encouraging things starting to happen."

Presented in two parts, Progress Report 2000 includes a set of looseleaf indicator pages, designed to be inserted into 1999's State of the Region binders with the baseline report, as well as a separate 60-page book describing current activities, initiatives and challenges.

Included in the update are four new indicators over and above the 98 indicators that were a part of the baseline report last year. New indicators are focused on adult literacy, residential segregation, radon and rail costs. For a new indicator to be included, it must meet the criteria established for the original performance measures in 1999 -- namely, that it be outcome-based, valid and reliable, understandable to an informed citizen, bias-free, routinely measured, conducive to goal-setting and action, and relevant to the Buffalo-Niagara region.

"The new indicators are a response to some of the priorities expressed by the 11 task forces that initially shaped the State of the Region effort," said Beverly A. Sanford, institute associate director. "The task forces had a 'wish list' of some additional measures that they felt were needed, and we committed to keep working on those measures. These four indicators are the result. There may well be others, for future editions of the report.

"In the meantime, these four indicators give us significant new information. They tell us that we have high regional literacy, except in our urban areas; high levels of residential segregation; lack of competitiveness in commercial rail shipment costs, and a need for monitoring radon in homes, especially in the Southern Tier. We believe that kind of information is potentially of great value in addressing some of Buffalo-Niagara's challenges."

The 36 indicators updated from the baseline report were chosen based on new data -- some from Canada -- that the State of the Region team was able to access over the past year. As compared to the goals established for each indicator in 1999, 18 of the 36 showed progress toward the goals, five showed slippage and the remaining 13 demonstrated no change or mixed progress.

"We do think it's clear -- and very important -- that the region is moving forward incrementally in a number of areas. But measuring a single year's change can be tricky," Sanford said. "New data might point to new trends, but also can be 'blips' on the screen. It's crucial to keep monitoring, in order to get the bigger picture."

Of the 11 issue areas included in the State of the Region baseline report, two have demonstrated extraordinary cooperation and activity over the past year. The Human Services and Health areas, although pursuing very different approaches to the indicators and related goals, stand out as models of regional initiative, according to Progress Report 2000.

"We were delighted that the health indicators quickly spurred a collaborative community follow-up," said Kathryn A. Foster, UB professor of planning and one of the two project directors. "Kaleida Health, the Wellness Institute, county health departments and a number of other stakeholders pulled together to create a Regional Wellness Summit that focused on extending the State of the Region health indicators.

"It's very much the kind of model we hoped for," said Foster. "The university, as a public service, can and should provide analysis and facilitate follow-up, but leadership really lies in the community's hands. And more and more, regional leadership calls for cross-sector collaboration. We believe the summit approach sets a great precedent."

Barry B. Boyer, UB professor of law and the other State of the Region project director, noted, "The United Way of Buffalo and Erie County also took the baseline report and ran with it. They've used the State of the Region indicators to encourage the region's human services organizations to start focusing on performance assessment and outcome measurement. The United Way also has really been a leader in pressing for better networking and cooperation among these organizations.

"It's exciting to see the community digging into these kinds of collaborative possibilities and starting to move forward." said Boyer.

During the past 12 months, over 100 businesses, not-for-profit agencies, civic organizations and other groups have been engaged in the follow-up effort to the original State of the Region report. It also is being supported financially by the University at Buffalo, the Baird Foundation and the New York State Senate. In addition, the John R. Oishei Foundation recently issued a challenge grant in support of the update phase of the project. Nearly 400 individuals have attended institute seminars and related meetings on the project as well.

"We are extremely pleased with this kind of participation," said Sheffer. "We have said many times that the State of the Region project and report were absolutely not worth doing unless there is a very deliberate and aggressive follow-up effort, year after year. This is not a study for the shelf, but an action plan on a series of specific, important performance indicators for the region. It requires the hard work of a lot of committed people if it is to make a material difference in the vitality of the region."

The project has received widespread attention and support, including two awards from the regional and upstate sections of the American Planning Association, as well as interest from Boston, Chicago, Austin, Rochester, Edmonton, Washington, D.C. and St. Louis.

Foster, currently on sabbatical from UB as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University's A. Alfred Taubman Center for State and Local Government, noted, "The region's response to these efforts is all the more noteworthy when seen from a broader national perspective. A great many cities, regions and states have done studies to measure performance, but very few have seen a performance measurement initiative drive new models of leadership and collaboration, as is happening in Buffalo-Niagara.

"Community engagement and leadership defy quantification, but are no less essential to regional progress. We should be proud of the growing number of collaborative efforts to move ahead in Buffalo-Niagara. We hope to see many more."

The Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth intends to continue to administer the project and issue periodic updates of indicators, action steps and trends within the identified issue areas.

"The State of the Region effort is central to our institute, because we view careful performance measurement as central to the strength and progress of the region," said Sheffer. "We will continue to facilitate this project as long as there are people and groups in the region who are willing to work with us. They are the foundation of this whole effort."