On the Road in North Dakota

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Oil Well in North DakotaSince my confirmation hearing last August, I have had several conversations about the rapid population growth in North Dakota with Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven. Recent Census Bureau statistics have repeatedly reinforced the trends we discussed—how the booming oil and gas industry was attracting people to the state.

I knew I not only needed to see the growth first-hand but meet with officials and people throughout North Dakota to see how to best measure it, both in our population estimates and as we prepare for the 2020 Census. The growth was truly like nothing I have ever seen, and I was equally as amazed by the warmth of the people I met along the way.

I began my trip in Fargo to conduct market research. Fargo is an example of how the state is growing, in this case not from oil but from growth in other industries. In fact, the Fargo metro area was one of the fastest growing in the country with a rate of 3.1 percent from 2012 to 2013. Its population in 2013 was 223,490.

Like Fargo, the Bismarck metro area is rapidly growing and also grew 3.1 percent from 2012 to 2013. I visited the capital city to meet with Governor Dalrymple as well as members of the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and leaders of North Dakota tribes. Listening to how the growth is affecting them and their ideas for getting an accurate 2020 count provided great insight into understanding the issues we face, particularly in tribal areas.

Following my meetings in the capital, I drove from Bismarck to Williston, going through Dickinson and Watford City. As we moved away from the outskirts of Bismarck, oil wells began to appear and the highway became dotted with tanker trucks. By the time we reached Williston, the growth was apparent everywhere as new apartment complexes, hotels and restaurants sprung up on every corner.

Before returning home, I toured Williston and met with officials from several nearby towns. All expressed their interest in ensuring accurate counts of their communities as they see an influx of people working in the oil industry.

I can’t thank the people of North Dakota enough for their hospitality during my trip. It was my first visit to North Dakota, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the state and learning about its rapidly growing cities and industries.

For more information, please see the recent release of city and town population estimates.

Note: To read more about Director Thompson’s trip to North Dakota, visit his story map.

screen shot of story map

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20 Years of Census.gov

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Two decades ago, the World Wide Web was in its infancy compared to today and if you wanted Census Bureau statistics, you had no choice but to go to your local library to look up the information. All of that changed in 1994 with the launch of census.gov, one of the first government agencies to have a public website.

If you visited census.gov back then, you likely did so from a dial up internet connection, and you would have only found access to 1990 Census statistics.

Times have changed. Today, all of the statistics we produce are available at your fingertips and you can even respond to many of our surveys online.

Over the years, census.gov had had many “faces” as we have tried to revise the site to meet the demands of the day. Today, we are launching a new census.gov, built to showcase America’s data resources through topical navigation.

The new census.gov brings together demographic and economic content around topics such as health, income and poverty, education, housing and population.

 If you are interested in our health statistics, you can now access the “Health” web page to learn about Census Bureau statistics on disability, fertility, health insurance, healthcare industries, small area health insurance estimates, HIV/AIDS, social assistance and industries. In addition, theme pages will highlight a variety of content from working papers, publications, interactive tools and more. To help you find what you need, many of the pages also now include links to related content and popular services at the bottom.

While the first census.gov launched only five years after the world wide web began, it is not the only example of how the Census Bureau has always been on the leading edge of technology in the government. From Herman Hollerith’s first tabulating machine, used for the 1890 Census, to UNIVAC 1, one of the first civilian computers, to advancements in how we deliver our statistics to you today, we are using the latest technological advancements to better measure America.

With the launch of our Application Programming Interface in 2012, containing three decades worth of census statistics, and our mobile apps, we are taking advantage of the latest technology to change how we do business.

How will the face of census.gov and the Census Bureau look in another 20 years? No doubt the possibilities will be endless. One thing is certain, however, we will continue to use 21st century technology to meet our centuries-old mission of making the statistics that define our growing, changing nation more accessible to you than ever before.

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Measuring Our Economy—200 Years and Still Counting

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Written by: John H. Thompson

More than 200 years ago, we began collecting information about America’s economy, providing the first foundation for the detailed portrait we have today.

Today, we continue this long tradition by releasing the first results from the 2012 Economic Census. A precursor to the modern-day Economic Census was initiated for the 1810 Census when Congress approved a bill requiring the collection of information on manufacturing establishments.

Since before the first population Census in 1790, James Madison proposed asking about agricultural, commercial and manufacturing data, saying “If the plan was pursued in taking every future census, it would give them an opportunity of marking the progress of the society, and distinguishing the growth of every interest.”

Taken every five years, the Economic Census provides statistics that are the cornerstone of measuring the U.S. economy, covering more than 1,000 industries. The Economic Census gives us a detailed measure of America’s businesses and economy, producing nearly all of the key source data use to calculate GDP. These results provide the first comprehensive look at the economy since the recession.

For the business owners that provided this information to us, we offer a sincere thank you for helping us to measure the health of America’s economy through consistent, comparable and comprehensive statistics.

The first preliminary results reveal, for example, the extraordinary growth of the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector: the number of establishments in this sector rose by 26.2 percent between 2007 and 2012. This growth has also been reflected repeatedly in our population estimates in recent years, showing rapid growth in places like North Dakota and Texas, which are rich in these resources.

We also see trends in other economic sectors. Health care remains a topic of conversation in the U.S. and the Economic Census findings show the increasing size and scope of this sector. It continued to have the most employees and the highest numerical increase compared to other sectors, up almost 1.8 million in employees from 2007. In 2012, more than 18 million people worked in the health care and social assistance sector with the largest component of that change being ambulatory health care services which includes doctors’ offices.

In addition, the retail trade sector had the most business locations in 2012 (nearly 1.1 million) while the utilities sector had the least (17,804). However, utilities reported the highest annual payroll per employee ($89,470).

When we look at sales, we see the wholesale trade sector reported the highest sales in 2012 (nearly $7.2 trillion) followed by manufacturing (over $5.7 trillion) and retail trade ($4.2 trillion).

The information released today is only a preview of what is to be published over the coming months. More detailed statistics from the Economic Census ─ for states, counties, and cities, and with greater industry detail ─ will tell an ongoing story about America’s economy. Ultimately, every state and community will have an economic profile to assist economic development, planners, businesses and entrepreneurs in creating new opportunities and jobs across the nation.

The economic census provides consistent benchmark data but it also evolves to reflect the emergence of new industries. To that end, for the 2012 Economic Census, for the first time, we will publish statistics on new industries such as the electric power generation industry for solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Stay tuned as we continue to tell the story of America’s economy through the 2012 Economic Census results.

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Census Bureau Budget Update—Investment Now Will Save Taxpayer Dollars Later

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Written by: John H. Thompson

I’m pleased to announce that the Census Bureau’s FY 2014 appropriation of $944 million allows us to turn the corner from the program reductions we’ve had to make over the last couple of years. With this funding, we can advance our agenda of innovation and increase the amount of data that we provide to the nation.

Data are the fuel that power the 21st century economy and America’s dynamic economy require equally dynamic measures to capture and disseminate those changes. Unleashing more data is a key priority in the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.”

This funding allows us to continue a robust 2020 Census Research and Testing Program. We will test key design changes so that we can conduct a 2020 Census that contains costs while also maintaining quality.

The FY 2014 budget also allows us to finish 2012 Economic Census data collection activities (including the Survey of Business Owners) and begin releasing important data and statistics. Finally, it provides critical funding for the release of monthly, quarterly, and annual economic and demographic data upon which critical measures of the economy depend – including Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other principal economic indicators, including the Supplemental Poverty Measure.

The good news is that the President’s FY 2015 budget aligns with the FY 2014 appropriations. Our FY 2015 request supports critical, targeted investments in research, testing and IT infrastructure. Millions in investment in research, testing and enterprise systems will save billions in the 2020 Census and result in smart system solutions across the enterprise. The budget request also supports continued investments in the comprehensive and relevant data that are necessary for informed decision-making by the private sector, public sector and individuals. These investments are balanced with efficiencies and attention to reduced burden for those who respond to our surveys.

FY 2015 will be the final year of funding for the early research, planning, development and testing for the 2020 Census, and is the first year of funding operations and infrastructure investment to incorporate the results of the research and testing program. The program will focus on completing research and testing needed to make major design decisions required to contain the cost of the 2020 Census by the end of FY15. The funding in this year’s budget allows us to conduct the necessary research to re-engineer the way we conduct the 2020 Census.

Using information already provided to the government to gather data on households that do not initially respond to the census; reengineering field operations; leveraging the Internet to make it more convenient for people to fill out their questionnaire; and developing new methods to ensure we have an up to date address list are all promising, cost-saving areas.

We are optimistic that the results of this research have the potential to save the American taxpayers more than $5 billion.

The FY 2015 budget request also supports a Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing Initiative that will create integrated and standardized systems, replacing unique, survey-specific systems. This solution will work not only for the 2020 Census, but also for all of our survey operations.

The budget supports major data releases for the 2012 Economic Census, which are the basis for key economic indicators like BEA’s Gross Domestic Product. It also supports planning for the 2017 Economic Census and Census of Governments.

Finally, the FY 2015 budget contains funding to enhance the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Business Database. The improvements will enable the database to provide more information about business innovation and entrepreneurship. Greater access to new data products will increase our understanding of innovation in the U.S. economy.

As you can see, these are exciting times for the Census Bureau. Much work needs to be done to accomplish these proposed improvements, but all of us at the Bureau will be working diligently with our partners at the Department of Commerce to communicate the importance of fully funding the FY 2015 request so that we can keep moving toward our ambitious goals. Census data touches every American and informs daily business decisions, so we are focused, as we must be, on ensuring American tax dollars are invested wisely in the Census Bureau’s current and future efforts.

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Changing the Way We Do Business

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Written by John H. Thompson

Since 1790, we have collected the data that tell America’s story—about our people, places and economy. However, as technology changes, we are updating our processes at every level, including how we best deliver the resulting statistics to you.

You may have already noticed these changes, through our website, our application programming interface, our Web and mobile apps, and other data dissemination efforts. Guided by customer feedback, we are investigating a range of ways to improve our data dissemination capabilities at the Census Bureau.  

As we continue to improve our processes, we are excited to announce that we will be seeking a Presidential Innovation Fellow. The Census Bureau collects and produces a wealth of geospatial, demographic, and economic data resources, and is seeking an individual to conduct innovative research that will draw upon these diverse data sets to produce products and tools that support increased economic growth and further the planning for the 2020 Census.

The Presidential Innovation Fellow’s Data Innovation effort focuses on making the government’s information resources more accessible for the public and entrepreneurs to create new products, services and jobs by bringing innovators from outside the government to work in agencies for specific three- to six-month periods.

The Presidential Innovation Fellow is just another way we are changing how we do business. In a few weeks, you will see the launch of the new census.gov, which is now available to preview in beta.  In addition, you may be familiar with some of our other digital initiatives, such as the ability to respond to many of our surveys online, including the American Community Survey. 

New data tools, such as Census Explorer, make it easier to find the statistics you need. Our API is one example of how we are making our information more flexible and customizable so that developers can create their own tools, fueled by Census Bureau statistics. In addition, we have released two mobile apps, America’s Economy and dwellr, which allow you to quickly access economic and demographic statistics right from your smartphone and make data-driven decisions.

You may have a favorite among our other tools, such as QuickFacts, which averages 1 million visitors per month, or OntheMap, which provides information on where people work. Our recently updated Flows Mapper is another mapping tool that allows you to select a county in the U.S. and view the outbound, inbound and net migration flows for that county. Similar to QuickFacts, Easy Stats uses the Census Bureau’s API to give you quick and easy access to selected statistics collected through the American Community Survey. I encourage you to visit our website and explore the variety of demographic and economic statistics available through these tools.

I’m really excited about the prospect of welcoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow, who can leverage the great tools we at the Census Bureau have made available and help us to innovate further to provide statistics that help businesses grow to fuel economic growth and job creation.

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