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Burlington Free Press gets a ‘C’

I read with interest the article, “An F for business friendliness?” As a person who seems to dance between being a small business owner and an Entrepreneur, in Vermont, I do see the issues, feel the struggles and I am very aware of the landscape. As someone who helps companies from all over the world to interpret data (Big Data, Little Data), the headline simply missed the mark and the article tells an incomplete story.  Full disclosure, I am not a subscriber to the Burlington Free Press, so it is possible that I am not qualified to give them a grade. That said, the data science behind the article is also a bit loose, and the company does not do business in Vermont.
The article takes a cue from an Economist article, which references data from the original Thumbtack data, that unfortunately compares data from different years. While the BFP article did recognize this point and did highlight the fact that Vermont was excluded for 2013 and 2014 because it did not reach the threshold of 30 responses, it missed one important element, the reason why. By the 2012 standards, Vermont did reach the threshold in 2012, of 10 responses – a different threshold. Is 10-30 respondents from 2012 statistically significant enough to warrant a 2014 headline? (It could be more than 30, but we would need to ask).  Why was the threshold changed?
Thumbtack seems like an interesting company, but they do not do business in Vermont. This is a significant data point, as the survey methodology described selects from users to their website, and randomly offers a link. However, if they (Thumbtack) do not do business in Vermont, how valuable can a respondent from Vermont be? (Honest question, I do not know the answer). The analysis suggests that the Vermont response rate was “inline with US population”, but is the state by state analysis statistically significant? (Only a handful of states did a deep dive on the regression analysis).
The science in general does seem sound for the US in general and for some larger states, granted. But, it all needs to be put into context. I would encourage a review of the Kauffman data (PDF), specifically the 2013 Entrepreneurial Index data and the 2011-2013 running Entrepreneurial Index data. The prior puts Vermont middle of the road (almost exactly) and the later put Vermont in the top third, or higher.  My takeaway, that trends are important, as noted by the Kauffman study.
I am not going to look at this through rose color glasses. Yes, Vermont has some things to fix, all states do (It could actually be a Marketing problem, another point made by the survey results). But, an F, I am not so sure about that. In school an ‘F’ suggest a student incapable, Vermont does have both an Entrepreneurial and Small Business economy, an ‘F’ would suggest this is not possible. The point of data is to create actionable insights and help people to change. Is it more important to change the perceptions, or the realities?

BTW – Why did I suggest in my title that the BFP gets a C? Because it is average – it does just enough of the work to get the job done. I am not really qualified to give it any other grade…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rich Nadworny July 9, 2014, 2:53 PM

    Actually Thumbtack does do business in VT. I just found and used a cleaning vendor through them and, apparently, that is where a lot of their VT business comes through. Just sayin’…

    Otherwise, it was as uninteresting an article as all articles and reports that are based on opinion surveys and not real actions.