By Marcy Phelps
Sept. 1, 2011
Whether you're starting a business, introducing new products or services, or adding locations, it's always a good idea to first do your research. Informed decisions make the best decisions, and – especially when credit is tight – we often need to show that we have a solid understanding of our target markets. Unfortunately, neither your customers nor your competitors make up one homogeneous group. What motivates people and businesses can vary – depending on the places where they operate, live, or work. That's why it's a good idea to incorporate into your research some business and market information about places – including demographics and the economic, political, social, and other issues that make each market unique.
Several key resources will help you drill to the local level and learn about counties, cities, census blocks, and other sub-state areas:
U.S. Government Resources
The federal government collects and analyzes massive amounts of data, much of it about local areas. Population and business statistics, economic indicators, regional profiles, and mapped data are made available for free through a variety of publications and databases.
Most local-level business information comes from three U.S. government agencies: the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One of the best sources for demographics is the American Community Survey(http://snipurl.com/temfx). This annual survey of three million households collects such information as age, race, income, commute time to work, home value, and veteran status.
If you're looking for statistics on business and industry, try the County Business Patterns website (which actually offers employment and earnings down to the zip-code level) (http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/index.html) and the Building Permits database of construction statistics (http://censtats.census.gov/bldg/bldgprmt.shtml).
Bureau of Economic Analysis
For insights into a local area's economic health, head to the BEA's Regional Economic Accounts web page (www.bea.gov/regional). Here you will find information about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and local-area personal income and employment. The BEA Regional Fact Sheets (BEARFACTS), with data compiled into handy tables, graphs, charts, and bulleted lists, make it easy to compare an area's economy to that of the U.S. as a whole.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
This agency is a great resource for data on hours, earnings, and type of employment for workers in a particular geographic area. Also of interest are the links to information about the demographic makeup of the workforce and regional mass layoffs. Discover which products from the Bureau of Labor Statistics drill to the local level through the Overview of BLS Statistics by Geography page of this agency's website (www.bls.gov/bls/geography.htm).