Can Census Bureau Data Drive Business Growth Job Creation?


Yes, Data Can Make or Break a Business

An entrepreneur in California is weighing whether to open a new restaurant. A national chain headquartered in Illinois is making regional hiring plans. And a big-box store in Colorado is deciding how to stock its shelves.

All three businesses have one thing in common: They can use U.S. Census Bureau statistics to help guide their decision.

When planning a new business or deciding whether to hire more staff, entrepreneurs and big chains alike must answer key questions.

Among them: Who are my potential customers? How many live in the area? How many similar businesses are already operating nearby? How much are those competitors paying their employees?

“Our data get used extensively,” said Andrew Hait, a Census Bureau economist. “The (annual) American Community Survey and the decennial census — both are critical resources.”

That’s why it’s important to respond to the 2020 Census. Responses could lead to more jobs and new businesses in a community. Businesses use population statistics to help decide where to add jobs or open new stores, offices or other businesses in communities across the country.

Economic Census

One major Census Bureau resource for businesses is the recently released 2017 Economic Census. Conducted every five years, the economic census collects extensive data about nearly 4 million businesses across most industries and all geographic regions of the United States.

In addition, the Census Business Builder, a suite of free online tools available on, allows business owners and analysts to explore local statistics — ranging from consumer spending to new building permits — so they can identify new office locations, stock shelves and more.

2020 Census

The availability of census statistics to private businesses is just one of the benefits of the 2020 Census, which aims to count everyone who lives in the United States.

State, local and federal government officials will use 2020 Census statistics to determine how to allocate and spend billions of dollars annually for critical public services, including hospitals, schools, roads and bridges, which in turn will generate opportunities for private sector businesses.

Should a Store Sell Diapers?

Business owners also use the information to determine how best to serve their customers. A big-box superstore in a community full of young families, for example, is more likely to showcase diapers on prominent shelves in its aisles than one in a community where most of the population is age 65 or older.

Those local community statistics are available thanks to the census.

Customers in some areas may also prefer a particular kind of retail experience — an insight that can help small business owners stay competitive.

Take the restaurant owner in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who several years ago was debating whether to add drive-through windows to his restaurants.

Hait said the restauranteur approached him after a presentation to ask if the Census Bureau had any information that could aid in his decision. They scoured available stats together and discovered that, at that time, 34% of restaurant sales in New Mexico were made via drive-through windows.

“It’s the highest (percentage) in the nation,” Hait said. Bottom line is that the restaurant owner was losing potential business without a drive-through option for customers.

Three years later, the man came up to Hait at another presentation and gave him a hug. He had just paid off the 10-year small business loan he took out to install the drive-through windows.

Hiring, Payroll and Regulations

Business owners use Census Bureau data to make competitive hiring and pay decisions based on the typical payroll of similar businesses in their area.

And states and local governments use it to regulate businesses.

The state of Maryland, for example, was considering raising taxes on cigarettes. The state turned to census statistics to identify businesses that sold the most cigarettes within its borders and would be most affected by a cigarette tax hike.  

The answer: convenience stores, where cigarette sales accounted for a large chunk of their revenue. 

“Using that data, they decided not to raise the cigarette tax at that time because they were concerned about how it might impact these mom-and-pop convenience stores,” Hait said.

The Census Bureau encourages businesses to make use of the wide variety of census statistics available.

“Over 100,000 businesses are opened every year, and almost 100,000 businesses close every year,” in the U.S., Hait said, adding that many of those that fail probably didn’t do their homework.

Census Bureau data can help entrepreneurs do their homework — and then some.


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