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2007 Economic Census Audio News Conference Transcript

Audio News Conference Transcript Agenda

2007 Economic Census
4 Million Businesses Nationwide Receive 2007 Economic Census

Monday, Dec. 17, 2007
10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. (EST)


  1. Thomas L. Mesenbourg, associate director for economic programs, U.S. Census Bureau
  2. Cynthia A. Glassman, under secretary for economic affairs, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
  3. J. Steven Landefeld, director, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis,
  4. Martin A. Regalia, vice president for economic and tax policy and chief economist, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  5. B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, research and information services, National Restaurant Association

     THOMAS MESENBOURG:  Well, good morning.  I’m Tom Mesenbourg, associate director for economic programs at the Census Bureau, and it’s my pleasure to kick off and MC this audio news conference on the 2007 Economic Census.

     I want to start by introducing our distinguished panel that you’ll be hearing from in a couple of minutes.  First, Cynthia Glassman, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce, will talk about how the Economic Census helps us understand our rapidly changing economy.  Next, Steve Landefeld, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, will talk about the importance of the Economic Census to government statistical programs and users of federal economic statistics.

     Our last two speakers will provide a business perspective, Marty Regalia, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will describe how the Economic Census helps business make informed decisions.  And finally, B. Hudson Riehle from the National Restaurant Association will talk about how the Economic Census informs market research by small business.  After our last speaker the panel will be available for your questions.

     Before we hear from the panel, I want to provide some background information about the Economic Census and highlight some key dates.  The Economic Census is the nation’s most comprehensive source of information on American businesses, large and small.  We conduct an Economic Census twice a decade, collecting data for years ending in two and seven.  This Economic Census will collect detailed information about calendar year 2007 economic activity.

     This week we are mailing Economic Census report forms to 4.4 million individual business locations.  Companies that own and operate multiple locations will generally receive a report form for each location.  And collecting information by location permits us to publish encyclopedic information on over a thousand different industries and provide detailed data for states counties, metropolitan areas, and 6300 cities and towns.

     Now, the Economic Census serves as a corner stone of the nation’s economic statistics programs, and census results available beginning next year also are widely used by businesses, researchers and local communities.  Because of its importance Congress has mandated that any business receiving an Economic Census report form is required by law to complete and return it.  And we’re asking businesses to make every effort to return their completed report forms by February 12th, 2008, the Economic Census Bureau due date.

     The Census Bureau recognizes that filling out Economic Census report forms can be burdensome, and we’ve taken steps to make competing and filing the 2007 Economic Census easier and simpler than in the past.  Most businesses will be able to use our new, improved electronic reporting software.  In addition, our business help site, provides general assistance, answers questions about filling out census report forms, and provides examples of how business can use Economic Census data.

     Business that want to talk with a Census Bureau employee can call our toll-free number, 1-800-233-6136 between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.  To reduce the reporting burden on small businesses, most business with three or fewer employees will not receive an Economic Census report form.  Information on the smallest businesses will be compiled using information provided by a sample of small businesses, supplemented with statistical information provided to the Census Bureau by other government agencies.

     Finally, let me conclude by reminding American businesses that all of the information they report to the Census Bureau is confidential.  Data supplied are immune from legal processes and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.  All of the thousand-plus Economic Census data products will include only summary information, and these published totals will not identify any individual business.

     Now, it’s my pleasure to turn over the microphone to Cindy Glassman, the undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce.

     CINDY GLASSMAN:  Thanks, Tom.  I appreciate Census organizing this call.  As an economist and data user, Economic Census data has been very important to me throughout my career.  As Tom said, the Economic Census is a mandatory survey of businesses throughout the U.S.  It provides official measures of output for industries in geographic areas and serves as the cornerstone of the nation’s economic statistics.  It is the key source data for the gross domestic product and other indicators of economic performance, as Steve Landefeld will discuss in a moment.

     It also serves as the benchmark for our other Economic Surveys and the foundation for critical economic policy decisions.  Economic Census data about industries, their inputs and outputs, and how they relate to each other are not available from any other source.  As former Fed Chairman Alan Green and current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke say, the Economic Census is indispensable to understanding America’s economy.

     But the data are only as good as the inputs.  We need businesses to understand the importance of completing the survey, and that is why we have you on the phone today.  The nation needs information about how our businesses and industries are performing.  Documenting economic growth and the creation of new jobs is especially important.  Taking the Economic Census every five years is one of the ways we are able to produce that information and keep it relevant.

     This type of data is important to our secretary, Carlos Gutierrez.  As you know, he was the CEO of Kellogg, and understands the importance of participation in the survey and the resulting data.

     The Census Bureau has been tracking the nation’s economic progress for nearly 200 years, following the U.S. economy as it transformed from its farm-based roots, to a manufacturing economy, to a modern-day service economy.  Indeed, the Economic Census has evolved from a survey conducted on horseback to one that makes use of electronic reporting over the Internet, which we think will make participation easier.

     Marty Regalia and Hudson Riehle will tell us how businesses use this information to compare industries and locations, develop business plans, locate facilities, define markets, gage the competition, attract investments, manage sales, and assess efficiency.  We very much appreciate their support and advocacy.

     As Tom noted, we have recently mailed out the forms for the latest Economic Census, and those forms are due back February 12th, 2008.  That is just around the corner.  These forms are designed specifically for each industry.  Equipment manufacturers do not get the same form as financial services company.  The Census Bureau will work hand in hand with businesses that need assistance completing the form.  They will compile the information and make it available in stages in 2009 and 2010.

     I hope businesses recognize the crucial role they play in the process of providing timely accurate data.  They need our data and we need their help to produce it.  Thank you.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Thank you, Cindy.  We will now hear from Steve Landefeld, the director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

     STEVE LANDEFELD:  Thanks, Tom.  As Tom said, I’m going to take a few minutes to describe the importance of the Economic Census to BEA, for the rest of the U.S. statistical system, and most importantly for the users of economic statistics.

     BEA produces the GDP, personal income, balance payments, state income, and a wide range of other key statistics.  We are the immediate beneficiaries at the Economic Census.  Our job is to provide government, business, and households with a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of economic activity.  And in today’s rapidly changing economy, that is a major challenge.  The Economic Census helps us meet the challenge by providing vital data on the changes taking place in the economy.

     For example, the 2007 Census will provide us with new data on the rapidly growing and changing services sector, including more information on the purchase and outsourcing of services.  It will provide new data on the most important sector of today and tomorrow’s economy, medical care.  There will be new data on pension and other fringe benefits, two of the most important emerging issues for our aging population.  We will receive better data on geography.  That will improve our regional accounts data.  And these are just the tip of the iceberg of the benefits of the Economic Census.

     Between each Economic Census, we have to rely on a mosaic of public and private source data to piece together a updated comprehensive estimate of the economy.  This updating is a difficult task in a world where, for example, a decade ago we worried because more email was being sent and mailed delivered by the post office, and we didn’t have a means to adequately measure email.  Today, social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook threaten to become more popular than standard email.  Forty-one million Americans do their banking online.  The growing healthcare sector is the preeminent, quote, “industry” in the U.S.  Growth of fringe benefits such as pensions and health care account for more of the growth in compensation than hourly wages and salaries.

     The once-every-five-years census is the only comprehensive and consistent source of data for more than 20 percent of economic activity, mainly in services and other rapidly growing and changing activities.  For the rest, GDP, the Economic Census is used to update the samples for the monthly and annual surveys that we use throughout the statistical system.  It also provides a complete count of the universe that we are trying to estimate with these surveys.

     These data are then used to benchmark or re-anchor not only BEA and Census statistics, but also use to benchmark key estimates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Reserve Board, and other U.S. statistical agencies.  When the Census to benchmark these data every five years, our most important aggregates such as GDP could drift off course, for although BEA and Census have a number of programs to improve our ability to keep track of the rapidly changing U.S. economy, the overall accuracy of the picture of the economy over the next five years is critically dependent on the Economic Census.

     Now, this all matters because GDP and other economic statistics that are benchmarked to this census are critical information for monetary, fiscal, trade, regulatory policy, and the allocation of funds.  For example, long-term trend growth for real GDP prices and productivity are key to estimating the economy’s potential for growth.  For monetary policy officials, this long-run potential is important in determining how fast they can reasonably grow the economy without inflation.

     BEA’s personal consumption or PCE index and other price indexes are also key inputs into the Fed’s decisions.  For the Congress and the administration, these figures have a very substantial impact on the shape of the surplus and the budget targets over the next five years.  A one-half of 1 percent error in real GDP growth can change projections by over 300 billion, and these data have an even larger impact on long-term projections for programs such as Social Security.  BEA’s regional data are used to allocate over 200 billion in federal funds to states and localities.

     BEA and Census economic indicators also have a significant impact on interest rates, cost-of-living adjustments, stock prices, and exchange rates.  As a result, BEA and Census statistics affect every American who runs a business, saves for retirement, or takes out a mortgage on a home.

     In conclusion, GDP, the latest retail sales estimates and the trade balance are the headline numbers that move markets and steer policies, but those statistics are only as good as the foundation that they are built upon and that bedrock is the Economic Census.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Thank you, Steve.  We’ll now hear a business perspective from Marty Regalia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Marty.

     MARTY REGALIA:  Thank you very much.  You know the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  Well, you can’t make good business decisions with bad economic data.  And we rely on the Census and BEA to provide us with the economic data that allows us to make timely and hopefully good business decisions.  Business needs accurate data for a multitude of planning, operational, and financial purposes.  Census data are the important – are the most important part of our economic information that we use to make these decisions.  They are an integral part of our country’s economic infrastructure, and are used extensively by virtually all companies in every sector, including retail, housing, mortgage banking, healthcare, communications, services, hospitality, transportation, marketing and manufacturing.

     The business community needs these high-quality data for small geographic areas that are comparable over time and across geography.  Collectively, business investment and planning decisions drive trillions of dollars of economic activity through capital investment, moving goods, hiring team members, providing goods and services in every neighborhood across the country, and this in turn drives economic growth, job growth, and ultimately helps determine our standard of living.

     We need real-time information, and we get that kind of information from the Census population estimates.  Accurate estimates and projections throughout the decade are dependent on accurate baseline Census counts, including the Decennial Census and the Economic Census every five years.

     These Census information include characteristics, in some cases, on race, ethnicity, household size, composition, age, tenure, and accurate data on this type of information allows businesses to respond to the demands and to estimate the demands in their local community.  In many cases, it drives merchandising decision-making, it drives things like signage in areas where we have a bilingual population, and it’s integral to the everyday operations of the business community.

     Socioeconomic data collected, you know, on their long-form Census data will allow the American community service data to be presented on an annual basis, and this type of data is updated and benchmarked both to the Decennial Census data and to the Economic Census data that we’re focusing on today.  So it’s integral to get these periodic large counts so that we can adjust the interim data and keep it on track, make it as accurate as possible.  The Economic Census provides businesses with data on themselves, on their other businesses, on their competitors, on their suppliers, and their customers.  And this data is vital to planning your business response as well as for planning your future investment.

     So business is the engine that drives economic growth and ensures economic stability for communities.  Unquestionably the Census data benefits business by providing an important tool to promote growth to ensure success.  Census data leads to smart decision-making and smart decisions lead to economic prosperity for all.

     So I would conclude just by saying if you’re one of the businesses that receive this survey, take the time and make the effort to fill out, fill it out completely, properly, and return it in a timely manner.  It’s not just the law; it’s good business.  Thank you.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Thank you, Marty.  Now, we’ll hear from B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president at the National Restaurant Association.

     We might have a problem.  I take it Hudson is not online.  So what we’ll do is we’ll open the floor for questions right now.  And please, if you ask a question, please give your name and your organization.  So the line is open for questions.

     OPERATOR:  Thank you.  If you would like to ask a question, please press star one.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  No questions?  There’s – we have a lot of additional – go ahead.

     OPERATOR:  I’m sorry.  The first question is from Alan Jury (sp) of the Journal News.

     Q:  Hello?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Yes.

     Q:  Yeah, okay.  A couple of questions.  The last speaker said it’s not just good business; it’s the law to fill out the survey.  Is it actually mandatory?  Can there be penalties imposed for folks that don’t fill it out?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Yes.  The Economic Census response is mandatory.  It’s required by the Congress and it’s part of the Census Bureau’s enacting legislation titled 13.  There is a $5,000 fine for not completing a report form.  Of course we’re interested in getting the voluntary participation of businesses, and that’s generally not been a problem.  We’re available to provide assistance to companies either with their electronic reporting, or they can use our online assistance service.

     Q:  Is there any estimate of compliance in the past in 2002, in 1997?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  In 2002, we mailed out nearly 5 million report forms.  And our response rate on a unit response rate, we got about 84 percent of those report forms back.

     Q:  Okay.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Now, in terms of their contributions to sales and revenue, that 84 percent was well over 90 percent of the total.

     Q:  Okay.  And I’m curious – I mean, you say 5 million?  Why were there more then than now?  I think there are more business now in the United States now.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Well, this week we’re mailing 4.4 million report forms.  We’ll continue to mail out about another 300,000 report forms over the next month, and these will be new businesses that have been identified in the second half of 2007.

     Q:  Okay.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  It will be just about the same this time, 4.7 million.

     Q:  Okay, and do you know how many – what percentage of the businesses in the United States that represents?  I wouldn’t think that is all?  There is a lot of businesses in the United States.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  No.  Actually, there are 26 million businesses in the United States.  Nineteen million of them are mom-and-pop stores – typically don’t have paid employees.  You might think of them as sole proprietors.  And then there are about 7 million business locations that actually have paid employees, and we’ll survey 4.7 million of those.

     Q:  Four point seven million?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Yes.  I just got word that Hudson really is online, so perhaps we can hear from Hudson and then we’ll go back to answering questions.

     B. HUDSON RIEHLE:  Good morning, everyone.  I apologize for the AV confusion.  Basically, it’s very important for the National Restaurant Association to communicate how important the Economic Census is to the association and its members.  It really has become a cornerstone of our knowledge regarding the size and scope of the restaurant industry.

     For example, we know that next year, industry sales will exceed $558 billion with a workforce in excess of 13.1 million individuals.  That’s almost one out of every 10 employed individuals in the country today.  However, the industry still is an industry that is dominated by small businesses.  And from census data, we know that seven out of 10 are single-unit operations having less than 20 employees.

     And so, how do we know all this, because census data truly has become pivotal in us noting the size and scope of the industry, as well as from a member service standpoint.  The restaurant industry has been and always will be extremely competitive, and census data now can provide our savvy restaurant operators with a competitive edge.  So for example, in the great new census web link,, our members now can literally go in and look at the number of establishments per million residents, the sales per capita, the number of employees per establishment, the annual payroll, and it really does give them a good sense of how to compare to others in the industry of a similar business profile.

     So in conclusion, the association is committed to getting the word out to our membership to ensure and motivate them in compliance with this five-year effort.  Thank you.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Thank you very much, Hudson.  Okay, we’ll open the line for questions now.

     OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press.

     Q:  Hi, thank you very much.  My question was already answered, so I’m all set; thank you.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Great.

     OPERATOR:  Theresa Murray, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

     Q:  Good morning, thank you.  I have three quick questions.  One, are the responses a one-time thing, or is there follow-up expected by the businesses in the future?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Well, response, we’re only requesting one response for the 2007 Economic Census.  As I mentioned, the due date is February 12th, 2008.  Businesses that haven’t returned their report format that day will receive another report form.  But businesses are only required to fill out an Economic Census report form once every five years.

     Q:  Okay, and so there’s no follow-up, necessarily, for questions between now and the next Economic Census?


     Q:  Okay, and then you mentioned something about economic reporting, and I wasn’t clear on that.  Are businesses supposed to mail the forms back in or are they supposed to report the data online?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Businesses have that option.  For most single-location businesses will probably fill out their form and mail it back, but many large homogeneous businesses, businesses that own and operate hundreds or thousands of locations, will find that electronic reporting will save them time and effort.  And in 2002, we had almost a half a million report forms that were filed electronically.

     Q:  Okay, very good.  And then the last question is how do we find out information on how many forms will be mailed out to specific states and county locations?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  We have estimates of that available on our website, and it’s

     Q:  Okay, I was on the site.  I didn’t see where those estimates might be.  But I can poke around a little more.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Okay, it’s under the Q&A section.

     Q:  Okay.  All right, thanks.

     OPERATOR:  Susana Gonzalez, Austin American Statesman.

     Q:  Hello, thank you.  I just have three quick questions, one of which is a point of clarification.  I wondered when you started sending these surveys out?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Okay, well, actually the first economic data was collected as part of the 1810 Decennial Census.  And of course, at that point, we collected data on manufacturing.  But we’ve been doing the every five-year census since the mid-1950s.

     Q:  And the next question was when will the data be available for the public and for the business owners who participate in the survey?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  The first information, which we call our advance report, will be available in early March 2009.  And that will be followed in April with the generation of over 1,000 industry reports.

     Q:  Thank you.  And I just wanted to clarify your response to an earlier question.  You said that 7 million of the 26 million businesses in the U.S. are business locations with paid employees.  And of those, 4.7 will receive survey forms?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  That’s correct.

     Q:  Okay.  And you have already begun sending out the survey forms, is that correct?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Yeah, we had some of the largest companies – the 1,300 largest companies – we sent their report forms at the end of October to permit them time to distribute the forms among the companies.  The remainder of the forms will be mailed this week.

     Q:  Thank you.

     OPERATOR:  Rick Haglund, Booth Newspapers.

     Q:  Yes, I have two questions.  One is, how long is the form?  How many pages?  And second of all, I’m having a little trouble understanding how, let’s say, a small tool-and-dye shop owner or restaurant owner in a city somewhere can use this information to help their business.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Okay, this is Tom Mesenbourg.  I’ll handle the first question and then I’ll give either Marty or Hudson an opportunity to answer the second question, how a small business can use Economic Census.

     The length of the report forms will vary by sector.  For example, a construction form will typically be about 10 pages.  A manufacturing form typically will be longer than that because we’re going to collect detailed information on the materials they use in the manufacturing production process, as well as the products that they produce.  Now, having said that, every business is not going to have to fill out every line on the report form.  We try to tailor the report forms to the specific industries, and they’d only have to fill in those materials that they actually used in the production process, and those products that they actually produce.

     But generally, it’s going to be about 10 to 15 pages long, because it’s collecting detailed information on inputs and outputs.  And I’ll turn it over to Marty or Hudson to answer how small businesses can profit from the data.

     MR. REGALIA:  Well, I mean, small businesses – this is Marty Regalia with the Chamber of Commerce – small businesses use the data to analyze the customer base, and then they also then use the economic data that they get to analyze essentially their competitive base.  So in the case of where they’re planning on business expansion, opening up new locales, moving into newer areas, they get extensive information from the Decennial Census on customers in that area, growth in that area, that sort of thing.  But you don’t want to move into an area that has a tremendous amount of competition; you want to move into an area that in many cases exhibits characteristics that you have found beneficial to your business in the past.  And you get this data from the census.

     Bigger businesses that sell to other businesses get information on their customer base from the Economic Census because their other customers are businesses.  So to the extent that businesses engage in this business-to-business activity, you get invaluable information from data in the Economic Census.  So it depends on the type of business you’re in, and the type of business that you engage in which part of the data you use.  But you also want to – if you’re an informed businessman, you want – businessman or woman – you want to get information on the general economy and how various locales differ in terms of the industries that are there and the income-generating potential in those areas.

     And you wouldn’t be able to get accurate data on that without doing – without the information that we get from both the Decennial Census and the Economic Census, because these are the major data collections that allow BEA and the like to refine their interim more frequent data and to make it more accurate.  So it really is integral to operating a business.

     MR. RIEHLE:  This is Hudson.  Just to tag onto what Marty was saying, we have a saying in the industry that demographics is destiny within the restaurant industry.  And if you think about the type of really local information that is available to a neighborhood restaurant operator as a result of this five-year census, it is quite, quite important; as Marty was saying, not only in defining customers, but in terms of expansion opportunities.  There are currently 935,000 individual restaurant locations within America.  And the industry continues to grow.  And where those new site locations are placed is very important in terms of ensuring the success of our members.  And just as all restaurant sales really do end up being local, having this localized demographic and economic information is critical to the sustained growth of the industry.  Thank you.

     OPERATOR:  Bryan Gentry, the Lynchburg News & Advance.

     Q:  Hi.  I have really just one question, and it may have been partly answered by the answer to how long the form is.  But I was wondering is there any kind of estimate to how long it might take a business, say, a small business owner, how long it make take them to fill out one of these forms?

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Well, the smaller businesses, typically, will be less than an hour because they won’t have the same sort of complexity and diversity as some of the larger businesses.  In fact, we’ll be mailing out – including that 4.7 million forms, there will be about 800,000 of them that are actually only about two pages long.  And they’re primarily checkbox inquiries, so those are quite straightforward.

     OPERATOR:  There are no further questions at this time.

     MR. MESENBOURG:  Okay, well thank you everyone for dialing in.  Oh, and the website once again is  Thank you.

     MR.TOLBERT:  Also, you can call the Census Bureau public information office at 301-763-8237, or also send an email to, and make attention to Tom Edwards and Gwendolyn Coley, and we’ll further assist if it’s needed.  Thank you very much for your participation.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | | Last Revised: September 09, 2014