Dante Chinni has spent the past few years studying
them all. Working with James Gimpel, a professor of government at
the University of Maryland, he has crunched demographic, political
and religious data to classify the counties into 12 types that
together make up the "Patchwork Nation." In
addition to stories for the Christian Science Monitor and other
media partners, Mr. Chinni has collected his findings and
observations from data and from spending time in representative
communities into a book, released last fall.
Segmentation isn't new -- ESRI has its "Tapestry" and
Nielsen/Claritas has "Prizm" for instance -- but the Patchwork
Nation, with its political and religious data sets, creates an
interesting lens that Mr. Chinni filters other datasets through.
The results are of use to pundits and marketers alike, such as his
"The Holiday Economic Divide: Do You Live Near Wal-Mart or
Saks" which examines the speed at which different
communities are recovering from the recession.
Ad Age: What can marketers learn from a segmentation like
Mr. Chinni: It depends on how far they go down the road
of geography to their segmentation. To us, it's all about the
geography. You see numbers in the news about what the unemployment
rate is, what the foreclosure situation is in the United States.
But those numbers you read may have very little to do with what you
see around you every day. If you hear that the unemployment rate is
9.8% but where you live it's about 3%, it may feel like there is no
recession. There are some places where the unemployment rate is
still remarkably low. Same with foreclosures. There are some parts
of America that haven't been touched by the foreclosure bug at all.
The reality that people see can be very different.
The way [journalists] fall back on the red and blue split of
America is just foolish at this point. The country is remarkably
more complicated than that.
Ad Age: In the book, and a recent lecture you gave, you
talk about how the recession hit different community types at
different points. What have you seen?
Mr. Chinni: I've been going [to the 12 representative
communities] for three years now. I know these people. The numbers
really give me a view at 30,000 feet but when I go to the people I
can kind of get a look from the street. When I went on my first
trip out to Lincoln City Oregon (the representative community for
"Service Worker Centers") it was in January and February, 2008 and
they knew something was wrong.
Other places like Eagle, Colo. (the representative community for
"Boom Towns"), for instance, were convinced that nothing was going
to happen to them: "The people who live here make so much money it
will never really bother us." Six months later, they felt very
differently. Six months after that they understood they were
actually in a very bad situation.
There's a feeling in the 21st century that everything is very
tied together and to some degree it is. But it's amazing how much
that happens economically really plays out at the local and
somewhat micro level and how different an economy can be just by
driving 60 or 70 miles. You can be in a very different place that's
experiencing the recession completely differently.
Ad Age: Are they coming out of the recession differently,
Mr. Chinni: The wealthy suburban areas ("monied burbs")
are going to come out first. I think you can make a really good
argument that trickle-down economics doesn't work the way it used
to work. But a place where it's still going to work is those monied
burbs. Once the unemployment rate starts dropping for some, it kind
of affects the entire place because all of a sudden people have
more money to spend. They start eating out more. That gets the
restaurant more money. He spends it in other places in the area.
Maybe he hires more. In "Industrial Metropolis" economies you'll
see it because there's a lot of money there. You have a lot of poor
but they'll get some help from the fact that the rich people are
recovering first. But for other parts of the country, any relief
for them is a long way off because they don't have a lot of wealth.
The return of the stock market really doesn't help them that much.
The "Minority Central" communities in the Southeast will continue
Ad Age: "Boom towns" might already be a bit of a
misnomer. Do you see the segments changing over time?
Mr. Chinni: I think by the 2020 Census they'll be a split
between the rich and the not so rich suburbs. We'll actually need a
kind of "super-monied burbs" kind of place. I also wouldn't be
surprised to see a split in the industrial metros. There are some
big wealthy industrial counties where there are enough rich people
to kind of elevate the area.
This is the seventh in a series of AdAgeStat Q&As with
researchers who have extensively studied pieces of the demographic
puzzle. Earlier we spoke to Joel Kotkin
about suburbs and immigration, Richard Florida
about cities, Paco Underhill
about women, Rose Cameron
about men, Tammy
Erickson about Generation X, and behavioral economist
Ariely about how to use everyone's irrationality to your