Budget cuts threaten data-driven growth

  • Article by: TODD KLINGEL
  • Updated: May 22, 2014 - 6:01 PM

Making the American Community Survey voluntary would hurt businesses that rely on it.

The yearly American Community Survey (ACS, or long-form census data) produces one of our nation’s, and Minnesota’s, most valuable economic development tools: federal statistics. Minnesotans pride themselves on being “above average” — our schools, business growth, workforce and job market are all among the best in the country. ACS data prove it.

Lawmakers in Washington will soon consider the Census Bureau’s funding for 2015. At risk is the ACS, and with it the high-quality, consistent and timely data on which businesses — and state and local leaders — rely to make smart decisions about new facilities, new products, hiring, job training programs, infrastructure, schools, recreational areas and more. Without the survey, we lose data to prove our story and attract business growth.

Here at the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, we use ACS data to inform our Annual Business Vitality Index (released at the end of this month), comparing the metro area to nine regional competitors across the country. The results help guide our initiatives as we work to close gaps and remain competitive. ACS data are the backbone of infrastructure and business growth decisions.

Cities, counties, community and economic development agencies, and nonprofit housing organizations rely on ACS data to allocate resources and make sound decisions to address housing needs. Retailers and shopping centers use ACS data to develop new locations or refurbish existing ones, merchandise and market their products, and hire new workers.

Here’s the rub: Some lawmakers oppose continuing the ACS as a mandatory survey. They are being shortsighted. A voluntary ACS would actually cost more to get a minimal number of completed surveys, while generating less reliable data. ACS data are considered the gold standard in part because response to the survey, like the decennial census, is required by law.

Canada made the mistake of making its version of the ACS voluntary, and results from the 2011 Canadian census prove how risky a voluntary survey can be: More than 25 percent of Canadian places, mostly small cities and rural areas, had no long-form data published due to the poor quality of the statistics.

When Congress debates the Census Bureau’s 2015 funding bill, it should allocate sufficient resources for 2020 census planning. I encourage every Minnesotan to let their federal legislators know that a mandatory ACS is pro-Minnesota and essential for our future success as a state.


Todd Klingel president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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