Data nerds, rejoice! The USDA's Economic Research Service has released its interactive map of Rural and Small-Town America. Click on any county and find out demographic info (women are the head of 10.5% households in Wyoming County, WV), employment (19.15% of Smyth County, VA is employed in manufacturing), agriculture (there were 198 farms in Johnson County, KY in 2007), and a variety of "county characteristics" (Sevier County, TN was a retirement destination between 1990-2000).
This kind of information is valuable to more than info-junkies; it can help us better understand our communities, their assets and their challenges. Knowing that Athens County, OH has a high population of the creative class, folks from neighboring Meigs County could explore how they can attract some of those folks. Residents of Laurel County, KY might learn that they are in an area classified as having "high natural amenities," and want to capitalize on the opportunities there. Of course data can never tell the whole story about a place, but it can certainly help inform our ideas and decisions.