Some of the information in this post may be out of date. Please speak to a librarian for more up to date information.
Every 5 years the U.S. Census Bureau counts business establishments in the United States at the local and national level to produce the Economic Census, a detailed overview of the U.S. economy. To collect the count, the Bureau passes out surveys to business establishment owners who are required by law to respond to survey questions. Respondents answers questions about their primary business product, sales volume, number of employees, etc. Once the data is collected, it is organized using the NAICS code, a numerical code system that classifies businesses into industries according to the similarity of their business production processes. A release schedule is set up for gradual relase of the data on the web for use by businesspeople, entrepreneurs, students and researchers. Data can be searched by geography, industry/product, or data item; the list of data items provides a complete listing of available data items. American Factfinder, another Census Bureau product, is currently the sole publishing platform for 2007 Economic Census data, although data is also available at other sites for 1992, 1997, and 2002.
How is the data useful and what are some of its applications? Students can research the growth or decline of business activity in specific geographic areas, identify business competitors within an industry, estimate the industry concentration of an industry, and look for changes in production and sales for a product. There are many more uses that include everything from developing public policy to starting a new enterprise. The Uses of the Data page includes specific examples of how businesspeople, politicians, and researchers can use Economic Census data for application in their daily work. Every business student should be aware of this goldmine of business data freely available to them on the web. To find out more about the Economic Census and its applications, see Jennifer C. Boettcher’s book Industry Research Using the Economic Census: How to Find It, How to Use It.