The region known as MetroWest has a well-educated workforce, high median incomes, low unemployment, and a robust high-tech sector. The area boasts increasing diversity, impressive high school graduation rates, and declining crime rates.
But the cluster of communities west of Boston also has an aging population, scarce affordable housing, inadequate transportation options, rising income inequality and homelessness, and a wide disparity in educational outcomes.
That picture of a region with abundant strengths but also pressing challenges emerges from an innovative new online report released Wednesday by the Foundation for MetroWest.
Impact MetroWest features thousands of data points in areas ranging from demographics and the economy to education and cultural life. In addition to providing a comprehensive portrait of the region, the interactive website report also allows users to search statistics on their own communities.
Judy Salerno, executive director of the Natick-based foundation, said the report aptly describes the region as “a seeming land of plenty where some struggle to thrive.”
MetroWest — defined in the report as 39 cities and towns in Middlesex, Worcester, and Norfolk counties — “is most often thought of as an extremely wealthy community, which can make it hard to address” the fact that many are not sharing in that affluence, Salerno said.
Among the numbers underscoring MetroWest’s strengths are its 10 percent population growth since 2000, its $89,000 median household income, its 3 percent unemployment in 2018, and the 19 percent of its jobs that are in are high tech.
Reflecting its diversity, 18 percent of MetroWest residents are foreign-born — up 5 percent since 2000. It also has much to boast in the area of education: 50 percent of MetroWest adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree, far above the national rate; and 59 percent of its third-graders were proficient in reading, above the statewide rate.
But the MetroWest region is getting older: The number of residents 60 to 84 years old rose by 38 percent from 2000 to 2018, while the number of those aged 20 to 39 fell by 1 percent. Homelessness has climbed 45 percent since 2007. And while third-graders were proficient readers overall, just 36 percent of African-American students and 34 percent among Latino students met that standard.
“Many of our neighbors are facing a lot of challenges here,” said Caroline Murphy, the foundation’s director of programs. “That may be difficult to see when there are so many positives within our communities. . . . This is not a picture of perfect suburbs everywhere. There’s a lot of work to be done to address inequality.”
The foundation, which supports initiatives by nonprofits and municipalities in the MetroWest region, undertook the project as a meaningful way to mark its 25th anniversary this year.
Salerno said the hope is that the data will provide “a much clearer understanding of what the opportunities for investment are in the community and also what we think we need to do to ensure the quality of life and character of the community stay as good as it is for the next 25 years.”
The Center for Governmental Research compiled the information for the foundation, much of it from US census data. The foundation plans to update the data every two years.
“This kind of data is incredibly valuable in informing nonprofits, donors, and policy makers about what’s going on in communities, who lives there, so that the right programs can be prioritized,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, a Cambridge-based group.
David Podell, president of MassBay Community College, said the report will greatly benefit leaders of businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions “because we get a clearer picture of the MetroWest,” and in particular insights into how conditions have changed over time and how the region compares with the state and nation.
Lino Covarrubias, CEO of Framingham-based Jewish Family Service of Metrowest, called the report “very exciting,” noting that small and mid-size nonprofits lack the resources for such data collection. He said it will not only help his agency prioritize investments but bolster its fund-raising by providing potential donors with data to support its requests.
Podell believes individual residents will also welcome the chance to search the report for specifics on their own cities and towns.
The data show, for example, that the fastest-growing communities since 2000 are Hopkinton, which grew 37 percent, Boxborough, which grew 31 percent, and Littleton, up 25 percent, while the population declined in one locality, Lincoln, by 13.5 percent.
Similarly, there are vast differences among communities in how much of their land is protected. At one end of the spectrum are Lincoln, with 40 percent protected land, Medfield, with 33 percent, and Wayland, 32 percent. At the other is Milford, with just 3 percent protected land, and Medway, with 4 percent.
Waltham has the highest rate of people living in poverty, with 11 percent in that category, followed by Framingham, at 10 percent. Dover had the lowest rate, 1 percent, with Holliston, Hopkinton, Millis, and Westwood all at 2 percent.
The foundation hopes the report will spur regionwide conversations on how to address the issues it highlights. To spur that dialogue, the group plans to host public meetings and smaller sessions with stakeholders.
Meanwhile, Salerno said that Middlesex Savings Bank has committed $250,000 and is inviting other groups to help match that donation, for a fund to support regional initiatives. MathWorks, in Natick, has separately committed $250,000 for a similar fund.
“The real goal of this report,” Salerno said, “is to have folks in MetroWest understand that we are the stewards of the community,” with a responsibility to ensure the region remains for future generations “a wonderful place to live and raise a family.”
MetroWest, as defined in the report, encompasses the following communities: Acton, Ashland, Bedford, Bellingham, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Dedham, Dover, Framingham, Franklin, Groton, Harvard, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Lexington, Lincoln, Littleton, Marlborough, Maynard, Medfield, Medway, Milford, Millis, Natick, Needham, Sherborn, Southborough, Stow, Sudbury, Walpole, Waltham, Wayland, Wellesley, Westborough, Westford, Weston, and Westwood.
The report can be found at www.impactmw.org.
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.