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Why all businesses should care about the 2020 Census

Greg Nash

In just a few weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau will begin mailing invitations to households to participate in the 2020 Census. The data collected by the census every 10 years is incredibly important for not only our nation but also America’s business community. Although recent headlines about the 2020 Census have focused on political issues, they have overshadowed how critically important the census is to America’s businesses — large and small — in driving business growth and, ultimately, overall economic activity. By everyone responding, including individuals and those in the business community, it will help shape democracy, the role of economic progress and our communities over the next decade.

Census data have been invaluable in guiding business decisions for more than 200 years. Today, such data help companies across a variety of fields and demographics. For example, financial institutions use data to identify sound lending opportunities, and it assists real estate appraisal companies to understand current and future housing demands. Even department stores use  census data to analyze demographic changes, and Nielsen calculates television viewership ratings, informing marketing decisions and advertising rates. 

Similar to their corporate counterparts, small business owners rely on census data to advance their business operations. From providing accurate targeting that seeks out new and potential customers and employees to identifying business locations and advertising targets, it also helps evaluate the best offerings and products for different communities. Moreover, these entrepreneurs who use emerging technologies and apps rely on data to incorporate targeting information, which in turn supports their business operations. Without this crucial information, small businesses may not be able to succeed and expand.  

Federal, state and local governments set strategies for economic growth and funding for business programs and services based census data. For example, U.S. Department of Agriculture business and industry loans finance businesses and other efforts to improve the economic and environmental climate in rural communities. Overall, $1.5 trillion is dispersed to local and state jurisdictions based on census data collection.

However, despite the numerous benefits, the census may be under threat from achieving an accurate population count this cycle. The Census Bureau is facing an unprecedented challenge because of years neglect, including a combination of low funding, inadequate field testing, harmful legislation and a leadership void. This hampers the bureau’s ability to make sure all populations — from business demographics to minority communities — are accurately represented in the overall count. 

Now is the time to act and be counted. We encourage all business owners, from Wall Street to Main Street, associations and advocates to make their voices heard about the importance of the census. While there have been numerous attempts to right the census ship, time is running out. As a trusted voice and messenger, the role of business leaders, their employees and colleagues, can make a difference by amplifying the importance of ensuring a fair and accurate count.    

Businesses should consider various communications strategies to raise awareness of the census and encourage friends, employees and colleagues to participate. Whether promoting it through social media — Facebook, Twitter and other platforms — or speaking directly with friends and family members and encouraging participation during public speaking opportunities, any and all efforts will go a long way toward making the census a success. In the end, business owners and their businesses will see the true benefits of accurate data collected. 

The census is a cornerstone of American democracy and a powerful tool in supporting business growth and development. The government is making it easier than ever by allowing surveys to be submitted online, as well through the traditional mail. This year, the census really needs our help — let’s ensure it’s done right. 

Rhett Buttle is a former member at the White House Business Council, the founder of Public Private Strategies, and a senior fellow at The Aspen Institute. Follow him on Twitter @rhettbuttle

Katie Vlietstra Wonnenberg is vice president of government relations and public affairs for the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE). Follow her on Twitter @GAatNASE.

Tags 2020 Census Business Business models Entrepreneurship government funding

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