“The report simply reaffirms my belief that we are largely an unknown entity within the Rochester Region, and we have to work harder to educate the region on the many positive aspects of living and working in Yates County,” says Steve Griffin, CEO of Finger Lakes Economic Development Council (Yates County Industrial Development Agency).
The recently released county-specific report from ACT Rochester indicates that Yates is the only county in a nine-county region in which the median household income kept up with inflation since 2000. But there are other indicators of the report card that require some response from local officials. In fact, Steve Griffin, CEO of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (Yates County’s industrial/economic development agency) says the report doesn’t accurately represent the community.
“If somebody who is not familiar with Yates County were to read this report, they’d be led to believe we are less educated than our neighbors and have a large portion of uninsured individuals, which must equate to being economically challenged. It adds to the perception challenge we face,” Griffin recently commented, later adding, “The report simply reaffirms my belief that we are largely an unknown entity within the Rochester Region, and we have to work harder to educate the region on the many positive aspects of living and working in Yates County.”
Griffin says the there are factors that make Yates County unique and more difficult to measure by the standards ACT is applies to Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, and Seneca Counties. He expressed frustration with the perceptions the public may draw based on the report card, and decide against moving to Yates County based on what he believes are erroneous conclusions.
“I appreciate what RACF and ACT Rochester are attempting to accomplish with their annual county report cards. Trying to statistically determine a community’s health is difficult to say the least, and I applaud them for their effort. I am, however, questioning their interpretation of the data in key categories and am frustrated by the lack of acknowledging the impact our large Mennonite population plays on numerous datasets despite the fact I have discussed this with them.
“I also find it odd that written summaries of specific data points often take on a very negative tone even when the data is positive,” he continues.
“I truly understand the challenge trying to normalize data from nine counties that are very much different from one another. However, I continue to be concerned that what they are publicizing regarding Yates County’s health is not an accurate representation and is counter-productive to the efforts of many within Yates County.”
As an example, Griffin states, “Under their economy overview, they state Yates County saw total jobs grow by 17 percent from 2001 to 2016, which was ‘well above the region (2 percent) and every regional county.’” That positive data point is followed by a statement, “The small number of total jobs in Yates (12,199) means that large changes for individual sectors can be misleading.”
“This is the only additional explanation given in the entire report in regards to any of their statistical findings. It reads as if they don’t believe the data here can be accurate, even though our growth has been sustained for many years now,” he comments.
He says one key demographic absent from ACT’s calculations is the large percentage of Mennonite and Amish families in Yates County. “Our large Mennonite population, which is obviously a positive for Yates County, does impact key data in their studies but is not accounted for,” says Griffin. “For instance, a subject heading in their report says ‘Adults are less educated in Yates County than in the rest of the region.’ They point to only 51 percent of our adults having attended some college compared to 62 percent for the regional average... Mennonites make up approximately 20 percent of the population of Yates County and do not attend high school. Their graduation happens before 9th grade. Remove that 20 percent from your calculations and Yates County has a higher percentage of ‘some college’ than the regional average.”
He says even that doesn’t tell the full story, adding, “While our Mennonite community does not attend college, they are well educated. A very large percentage of Mennonites are entrepreneurs and are vastly ‘educated’ in business and free enterprise. They are a main reason Yates County is the No. 1 county in the Rochester Region in nearly all economic growth categories calculated by ACT Rochester. Labeling Yates County as ‘less educated’ is unfair and simply wrong,” he concludes.
While ACT Rochester states Yates’ uninsured rate of 10 percent is higher than every other county in the region, he notes many Mennonites are insured through their respective churches, but do not carry formal health insurance. “According to this study, they would show up as uninsured when the reality is they are self-insured through their churches.
Penn Yan Central School Superintendent Howard Dennis agrees with Griffin’s concerns. “I do wonder how the Mennonite population has been factored into this equation. I believe that some of the data may be skewed by that fact.”
Dennis says this is not a report that the school normally accesses and they have only had a basic look at the data, but it does offer a variety of information that can be used.
Dennis, Marcus Whitman Central School Superintendent Jeramy Clingerman, and Dundee Superintendent Kelly Houck all raise concerns about using specific data from state standardized test results, pointing out the number of students who refuse to take the tests.
“I would conclude by stating that each of the indicators in the report are interrelated and you cannot analyze one without acknowledging the data from the other indicators,” adds Clingerman.
Houck comments, “Meaningful data would incorporate several data points and also use data that is collected often and frequently. This type of data demonstrates that our students are growing and learning, and in fact many students are achieving one to two years worth of academic growth in one year.”
Houck adds, “I believe this report also solidifies that educational success is not achieved on its own. There are many contributing factors, several of which are represented in this report. Educational success or lack thereof can’t be only viewed upon what transpires in a school building for six hours a day for 180 days a year.”
“We know we are fighting a general perception issue within the Rochester Region as a community,” says Griffin, “and this report card is a perfect example of that perception issue. Despite ranking at the top of many of their economic categories, they state our smaller population numbers as a possible reason for the large percentage increases and give us a downward future trend. When it comes to other categories they make statements like we are less educated, but give no further reasoning or explanation for those results.”