MainStreet Macro: How data is transforming Main Street

May 23, 2022 | read time icon 3 min

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Last week I spoke at the World Data Summit in Amsterdam, a conference at which experts from across the globe met to discuss the most pressing data issues of our time. 

As the name suggests, data is fast becoming the universal language of business. For that reason, in this week’s blog I thought we’d talk about why data is important to Main Street.

First, every company is a data company, or soon will be. Whether you clock-in to the local pizzeria or own a multinational company, you’re producing data.

The pandemic, for all its harmful effects, sparked a revolution in the digital economy. The mass adoption of e-commerce accelerated over the last two years as businesses and consumers shifted to online transactions first out of necessity, then utility, and now convenience. Main Street became a huge data warehouse of economic activity.

Now, that doesn’t mean all data is good. In fact, people at the data summit I attended spent a lot of time examining the pitfalls of data and how numbers can have biases. Think of data like flour: It’s valuable less for what it is and more for what you can make from it (cookies, cakes, and Dutch stroopwafels, one of my boys’ favorite treats).

The U.S. Commerce Department, the agency that produces the all-important GDP estimates, also understands the proliferation of data in the business community.  Researchers at the department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis are actively trying to figure out how to measure the value of data and its singular contribution to economic growth. 

Second, in a complex world, data leads to transparency. Main Street is constantly bombarded by data points. Businesses and consumers are continuously trying to process our dynamic economy in real time.

This isn’t just high-brow food for thought. Workers and employers are pondering data points that hit close to home. “Am I paid enough for the work I do?”  “How can I recruit top talent and still grow my company’s bottom line above inflation?”

In the world of work, data can provide perspective and answers to these questions. That transparency can serve to illuminate the root causes of pay gaps, profit squeezes and a whole constellation of other challenges and opportunities.

Third, data can help achieve better outcomes. This is what makes me hopeful about data’s place on Main Street, even in the midst of labor shortages and hiring bottlenecks.

Data can point companies and workers in the right direction. It can tell us which skills are needed, how to incentivize workers to acquire those skills, and how to pay those workers appropriately for their contributions. Data can also show how to make workers happier and more engaged on the job.

My Take

When my husband and I bought our first house in 2002, the real estate agent emailed us grainy black-and-white listings to help us make our decision. We had little control over the listings selected, and we couldn’t properly compare homes and attributes across neighborhoods.

Two decades later, homebuyers have access to as much data on home listings as real estate agents. It’s easy to compare neighborhoods and houses. The consumer is empowered.  

I think data will one day have the same impact on the labor market. It will shed light on pay and illuminate wage gaps and biases. Employers will gain insight on hiring and retention of top talent.

As I’m sure you can tell, data is my thing. But I hope you also see that data is critical to the vitality and resilience of Main Street employers and their workers.