Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's It All About, Economic Census?

For the NYS SBDC, I was asked to explain a bit about the 2007 Economic Census. Some advisors have asked about it. Some media have called Central, so I expected that some media may have or may be calling our field offices as well.

First thing: why aren’t the data all out there yet?

This is because this is actually a census of 2007 economic activity. The form is sent out to businesses in December 2007, to be completed in February 2008. Of course, people don’t always comply, which takes the process out to April 2008. Then the data are compiled and verified.

Preliminary data can now be found here.

As this site indicates, the data are released in stages, with the broad categories addressed first, with the breakdowns by smaller geographies coming later. Also released near the end of the cycle is the Survey of Business Owners, which describes, among other things, minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses.

Finally, a couple related concepts to understand that won’t be much of an issue in the early stages of the release but most certainly will when getting down to the county or ZIP Code level. Confidentiality - In accordance with Title 13 [of the United States Code], "no estimates are published that would disclose the operations of an individual firm. The Census Bureau’s internal Disclosure Review Board sets the confidentiality rules for all data releases. A checklist approach is used to ensure that all potential risks to the confidentiality of the data are considered and addressed". Cell suppression – "Withholding data to protect the confidentiality of information reported by individual businesses or persons. Data withheld are replaced with ‘D’s in appropriate data cells."

This means that if there are 10 businesses in a jurisdiction, but one is known to be dominant, the number of businesses will be released but the dollar sales may not be, lest it reveal the approximate sales of the dominant business. (This concept is also used in the Population Census when dealing with, e.g., income of a minority group in a small geography.)

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