One of the challenges for small businesses is that they don't have the resources to do the extensive market research that many large businesses do. So, if they are writing a business plan to seek financial support for their business, where can they find some of the background information requested? Fortunately, the U.S. Government provides lots of good information in data from the Census and other government entities.
Let's take a look at what the census offers. The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Department of Commerce. It serves as the leading source of data about the nation's people and economy with the goal of providing the best mix of timeliness, relevancy, quality, and cost for the data they collect.
Most people think of the census as the Population & Housing Census taken every ten years. However, they additionally conduct a wide variety of other surveys on both demographic and economic indicators at different intervals. An Economic Census is conducted every five years and an American Community Survey is conducted annually. Plus, a number of other surveys are conducted on an ad hoc basis.
The Census Bureau has data about business, people and geography for all states and counties, and for cities and towns with more than 25,000 people. There is even some data available by zip code.
The United States government uses the data gathered to determine the distribution of Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, to distribute federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year, and provides genealogical information.
All of this information is available to the American public in a wide range of useful reports. Some of the data is also available in raw form for your own analysis. Here are a few of the of the most useful data sources:
- Business data covers many topics and trades - such as sales volume at furniture stores and payrolls for toy wholesalers - and covers small operations as well as large corporations in retail, wholesale trade, and service industries.
- Census counts and current estimates of the number of inhabitants of the nation, regions, states, cities, counties, and other areas is available. A wide variety of information on social and economic characteristics of the population, such as household composition, ethnicity, and income, are also prepared on important social, economic, and demographic issues.
- Detailed, complete, consistent agricultural data for each county for the states and the country are collected.
- Construction and housing data covers subjects as varied as masonry and mortgages, gas heating and street construction, and noise pollution and trash collection.
- The Economic Census profiles the US economy every five years, from the national to the local level. The report presents national statistics for every sector and subsector of the economy of the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS).
- Foreign trade data spans whole continents or focuses on a single port; topics range from base bullion to man-made fibers; and the uses of the data are just as varied.
- Data on governments covers every level of government and subjects ranging from property taxes to prosecutions, from long-term debt to liquor monopolies.
- Manufacturing data involves the mechanical or chemical transformation of materials or substances into new products. Data from both the censuses and current surveys of manufactures are the principal sources of facts about the structure and function in this sector of the U.S. economy.
- Transportation data ranges from the size of truck fleets to the cost of public warehousing. People use the data to analyze passenger and commodity traffic; calculate fuel consumption; and locate stores, improve highways, and the like where traffic is heaviest. People also use the data in determining investing in equipment and service facilities, and planning parking and shuttle connections.
The biggest challenge in using data from the U.S. Census Bureau is winnowing through the wealth of information there. Fortunately, the Bureau provides a number of helpful search and data analysis tools to help you put together what you need in a way that fits your particular needs.