Improving County Health Ranking an Asset for Economic Development
DOES HEALTH INFLUENCE THE ECONOMY, OR DOES THE ECONOMY INFLUENCE HEALTH?
Economic Development of a community is vital to the health of a community. Through Economic Development, jobs are provided and people are able to feed and shelter their families, and thrive in today’s world. High paying jobs contribute to a population that is sees less poverty, better nutrition and the ability for children to excel in school. But have we ever looked at it the other way around and considered how the health of a community impacts Economic Development? Economic Development, simply put, is the process of expanding the job market, hopefully with well- paying jobs. That happens through current business and industry expanding, but also through attracting new business and industry to our community. So how do we convince business and industry to come to Rowan County? According to Rod Crider, President of the Economic Development Commission for Rowan County, there are many factors a company considers. Many companies use site selectors to help them search for the best place to locate. So site selectors are helping business and industry decide where they want to locate a company, what do they look for? According to Crider, “site selectors do a great deal of research about a proposed business location before they ever visit. They look at what is on the internet about the community such as the health grades, what type of healthcare is available for the employees, what type of emergency response is available, such as Emergency Management Service (EMS) response times, and in general, whether the community is a good place to work and live.”
According to Crider, Rowan County is an ideal place for business and was featured in Site Selection Magazine in 2019, touting our available workforce. “Within a 60 mile radius of Rowan County, businesses have access to a 1.4 million person workforce. Site selectors look at the skilled labor available, educational attainment, and the levels of poverty in deciding where to bring potential clients.” And according to Kendall Henderson, Director of Business Services for the Economic Development Commission, “businesses are very interested in maintaining the health of that workforce. Focusing on activity and good nutrition, many businesses are investing in work-out areas inside their facilities, and incentives with their health insurance programs for health outcomes such as weight control and not smoking.”
SO HOW DOES THE HEALTH OF ROWAN COUNTY LOOK TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD?
A highly published and “googled” item about a county or community is the COUNTY HEALTH RANKING, which is published each year from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute. It is out on the internet, for better or worse, so it stands to reason that a community would want the best possible ranking. Most viewers don’t look into the details of the ranking, including the timeframe considered, the elements that go into the ranking and whether the elements are “fair”. They just look at the score, much the same as people look at school system rankings and crime rates. The fundamental question becomes, it this a place I want to live and work?
The health outcome ranking reflects the current overall healthiness of a county, and takes into account the length and quality of life of residents. The health factor ranking focuses more on the current behaviors of residents and is a good measuring stick to determine how healthy a community will be in the future. When you are looking at the county health ranking, you are not looking at how good health CARE is in the community. That element is a very small part of the ranking (how many doctors per population, for example.) It might be easier to think of the health of the county like you would the “health” of a river. What are the dynamics that really make a county healthy, like the dynamics that make a river healthy?
Rowan County’s rankings, according to Alyssa Harris, Interim Public Health Director, are the result of a variety of factors — both obvious and underlying. Everything from how much a person exercises each day to whether they have access to broadband internet connection at home is considered in the formula that creates the ranking.
“Health really is a combination of the choices we make, but it’s also the jobs we have, the economic opportunity we have, our physical environment, having access to healthcare, not just the quality of that healthcare,” Harris said. “It really looks at the picture of where we are in Rowan County.” Having outdoor areas such as greenways and parks, the new Bell Tower Green, recreation on the Yadkin River and High Rock Lake, all contribute to the atmosphere of our county. Having four colleges (RCCC, Catawba, Livingstone and Hood) also helps paint a picture of enhanced educational opportunity for our workforce.
Our most recent health ranking showed marked improvement taking us from a ranking of 73 in health outcomes in 2020 (out of 100 counties with 1 being best) to a ranking of 60 in 2021. We also scored 51st in health factors in 2021 rising several spots from 61st in 2020, and 64th in 2019. To compile the rankings, researchers analyzed data from past years. To calculate some metrics, they considered data going back to 2013. Harris said Rowan County’s improvement in the 2021 rankings is likely the outcome of initiatives put in place years ago.
“I think what you’re seeing now, because this data is a few years removed, is work that’s been going on for years and years finally coming to fruition,” Harris said.
Harris pointed to programs like Healthy Rowan, Women, Infants & Children and Youth Substance Use Prevention as some initiatives that have successfully improved health factors and outcomes. Rowan County moving to a position of “No Tobacco Use” in our parks was a big step toward becoming a healthier community!
In 2019, Jerome M. Adams, US Surgeon General developed the Community Health and Economic Prosperity Report, (CHEP) for our nation. Dr. Adams stated “CHEP is the concept that community health and economic prosperity are inextricably linked. When community health is poor, so is community prosperity. We can’t have one without the other.” To that end, our recent county health ranking is good for Rowan County, good news for our community and great news for showing our face to the world of Economic Development. Improving the health of our county plays out in our ability to achieve positive Economic Development.
As Dr. Adams stated, “I invite you all to help me create a future where communities are built so people can more easily make healthy choices, and where businesses invest in those communities as a way of achieving a healthier workforce and a healthier bottom line.”
So regardless of which influences the other, Rowan County continues to improve the health of our community and be a great place to live and work, which is showing positive results in Economic Development!