2015 Kauffman Index Map

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It happens only once each year. The Kauffman Foundation releases a monstrous data set that shows all sorts of measures of entrepreneurial activity, and regions across the nation either celebrate their progress or lament a lack thereof.

This year's data drop was especially exciting. For the first time, the Kansas City-based foundation and recognized national leader in entrepreneurship research, included the 40 largest metro areas in its analysis (up from 15 last year). 

But as I scanned over the Southeast portion of a map that visualized the data, I was shocked when I saw Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte...then Virginia Beach. No Raleigh-Durham? The region with (much less credible) rankings like America's #13 Most Innovative Tech Hub from NerdWallet, a Top 20 City for Young Entrepreneurs from Forbes, and Top City Leading Job Creation in the U.S. from Gallup? This could have been our chance to really test our strength as a startup hub.

My hunch was that our region was denied because the U.S. Census counts it as two statistical areas: Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill. A quick Wikipedia search revealed a list of combined metro areas that ranked our region 34th in size with just under 2 million residents in 2012, and it ranked above other combined regions that made Kauffman's index: Nashville, Virginia Beach and Jacksonville. Just above us on the list were three other combined areas: Las Vegas, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. It just didn't make sense.

I quickly fired off an email to my contact at Kauffman.

Turns out that the researchers at Kauffman use the Office of Management and Budget definitions for MSA, which is also used by the Census Business Dynamics Statistics dataset, one of the sources Kauffman uses to measure entrepreneurial activity. The downside is that some areas that seem like a single region are split into two or more.

According to Kauffman spokesperson Lacey Graverson, "Raleigh-Durham is an example—a very interesting region that, using OMB 2009 definition, does not come up in the top 40 metros with largest population."

Unfortunate, yes, as we continue to have no great way of comparing our region's activity with those cities we'd like to measure ourselves against—Atlanta, Austin, Denver, Chicago, etc. Two more reports—on Main Street businesses and growth ventures—will follow.

Kauffman pledges to "continue thinking of ways of adding more coverage—geographical and topical," Graverson says. In January, the organization formed a partnership with the U.S. Census to add questions to the annual federal Survey of Business Owners that account for financing, innovation, demographics and firm dynamics and other details about American entrepreneurs. 

According to a news release, its goal is "to provide new tabulations and localized information annually for all states and top metropolitan areas throughout the country."

Let's hope Raleigh-Durham makes the list next time around.