Economic Development

Business census nears deadline

Surveys conducted every five years are used by economic developers, policymakers.

June 1, 2018
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The deadline is approaching for businesses to file responses for the national economic census.

Conducted every five years by the U.S. Census Bureau, businesses are required to contribute to the economic census by June 12.

Statistics from the census present an overview of a range of industries, including construction, wholesale, manufacturing, utilities, finance, mining, retail and services, along with key insight into entrepreneurial activities and general characteristics of business ownership.

Policymakers, governments, chambers of commerce and communities use the data to support economic development strategy. It also provides information that influences private businesses’ decision-making.

The census also is a statistical benchmark that reflects current economic activity as it relates to gross domestic product and producer price indexes.

The census is important to businesses and development organizations because they can look at some of the key business trends in the area, said Lauren Branneman, director of corporate research for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

For example, it can be seen whether there’s been a large shift in connected vehicles, she said.

“That’s important for a lot of Michigan businesses who are deciding where they’re going to invest their dollars,” Branneman said.

All the information collected can be broken down to individual ZIP codes, so researchers can view and compare specific data when making decisions.

Branneman said data gathered from the 4 million U.S. businesses include information about geography, size, revenue, operating expenses, payroll, whether they’re franchised and, new this year, what types of products they produce.

The new product classification system creates a clearer economic picture, Branneman said, because it better indicates the scope of a business’s offerings.

GM, for example, would identify as a vehicle manufacturer, but the business also works in research and development, and that latter piece of information would have been lost without the new data category.

Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development agency based in Zeeland, said another important factor to analyze is commuting patterns.

During the last census, she said it was found that 30 percent of Ottawa County’s workforce commuted to Grand Rapids. Subsequent to that information, the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Statistical Area was then extended to include Ottawa County, resulting in the MSA population topping more than 1 million.

Owens said this allowed the region to be eligible for site selection projects that required at least 1 million people in the MSA.

A downside to the census, Owens said, is the years of lag time before the information is released.

To overcome that, she said Lakeshore Advantage gathers some of its own information to ensure the organization has the most up-to-date knowledge about the area’s businesses.

She said Lakeshore Advantage’s current data shows a greater increase in wages than the census data will show, for example.

To submit census data, respondents may use an online, secure portal at census.gov/economiccensus.

Information collected that could identify individuals or businesses is confidential.

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