Businesses can learn a lot from U.S. Economic Census process

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Published: January 7,2008

As if business owners didn’t have enough to do, an estimated 40,000 in Mississippi also have some important papers to fill out and return to the U.S. Census Bureau by February 12. All businesses with 10 or more employees received the 2007 Economic Census forms — more than four million nationwide. The census is taken every five years, providing responses that make up the foundation for many of the key economic indicators the country uses.

Mick Hartz with the Census Bureau says approximately 90% of businesses receiving the forms will complete and return them. “It’s required by law under title 13 of the U.S. Code that you return it if you get a form,” he said. “The results never tell about individual businesses although the information published on the bureau’s Web site is very, very detailed. The big deal is that the census is the statistical basis of all the economic development in the U.S. It’s a benchmark used for many things.”

Mississippi business leader Leland Speed urges business owners to factually complete and return the forms in a timely manner. “In business, the first thing you have to do is get the facts so you can make rational judgments,” he said. “If businesses don’t put in the right numbers, the results will not be useful.”

Powerful information

During his tenure as executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, Speed saw the importance of business information. “Times change and our economy changes; jobs change,” he said. “Manufacturing is no longer the driving force it once was. The service sector is the largest now, and in the Jackson metro area healthcare is the biggest of that sector.

“The economic census information helps us plan and adapt to these changes. Frankly, we haven’t done as good a job of getting the facts as we should have.”

Deanne Tanksley, a CPA with the Smith, Turner & Reeves firm’s Natchez office, also encourages businesses to return the forms. “It’s a good thing,” she said, “and forces businesses to look at themselves and what they’re doing.”

At Hederman Brothers Printing in Ridgeland, CEO Doug Hederman said CFO Jim McBrayer is in the process of supplying the information required on the census form.

“We’re doing it; there’s no question about that,” he said. “Our business continues to grow, and we’re thankful for a good 2007 as we tried to appeal to all sizes of businesses in our market area.”

‘Timely and accurate’ crucial

The Bureau of the Census says many businesses that received the form may not recall the last census five years ago, and the form may come as a surprise.

“They may not realize how important their timely and accurate responses are to effective public policy and to their industry,” Hartz said. “The economic census serves as the basis for many of the key economic indicators America uses, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and retail sales.”

Additionally, economic policy makers in federal, state and local governments use economic census data to project trends, plan for development and assess the impact of changes in the economy. Businesses study their own industries and look for business markets with the census results.

The largest number of census forms in Mississippi were received by businesses in Hinds County — 4,300 — followed by 3,000 in Harrison County and 2,000 in Rankin County. The counties of DeSoto, Forrest, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lee, Lowndes and Madison have between 1,000 and 2,000 businesses that received the forms.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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