Over the past 160 years, immigrants from more than 60 countries came to Minnesota, building a state that benefits from a rich cultural diversity. Our state’s character is inseparable from the story of immigration. That’s why our business community is taking an active role in ensuring that everyone is counted in the upcoming census.
Businesses rely on accurate census data to make smart decisions about where to invest and how many employees we hire. It’s also the basis of federal funding decisions to invest in infrastructure essential to Minnesota.
We depend on a welcoming culture to help meet our workforce needs and drive the next cycle of innovation and growth. All these issues are at stake in the fight over the Trump administration’s efforts to politicize the census. We are speaking up about this issue not despite being business leaders, but because of it.
The Constitution mandates that every 10 years we count everyone living here, regardless of their citizenship status. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the Trump administration added an untested and unnecessary citizenship question to the 2020 census, and the result will be a count that is less accurate. The Census Bureau has already warned that the citizenship question will distort the count. Its own research indicates that the question would prevent 6.5 million people from participating in 2020.
Good census information is the basis not just for government decisions, but also investment and operational decisions for businesses throughout our region.
We are concerned that the citizenship question will discourage immigrants from participating, regardless of their citizenship status, and jeopardize the accuracy of the census. Undercounting those residents will lead to inadequate funding for key resources that our communities rely on, such as health care, education, housing and transit.
An inaccurate census will hurt our businesses, and a census that miscounts immigrants will hurt Minnesota disproportionately.
First, start with the bottom-line realities of running a business: data, data and more data. Businesses rely on accurate, complete census data to analyze demographic and economic trends essential for business strategy. We use census data to determine where to locate stores and facilities, find qualified workers, and market products and services.
Willie Sutton famously said he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is”; businesses can’t make sound decisions without confidence that we know where customers and workers are located. For small businesses with little margin for miscalculation, opening a storefront based on bad data can be catastrophic. If we don’t have good data about what our own cities look like, how can we effectively provide goods and services?
Second, census data influence the allocation of $800 billion in federal funding, affecting critical infrastructure from roads and bridges to mass transit and housing. If Minnesota is shortchanged on its federal funding because of an inaccurate census, businesses will be forced to shoulder even more of the burden of local and state taxes to carry this load.
Third, Minnesota is home to 17 Fortune 500 companies. Businesses are headquartered in Minnesota and stay in Minnesota because of our workforce, our talent and our diversity. We’ve always been a welcoming state. Hospitality magnate Mahendra Nath of Nath Companies is just one example of an immigrant who chose our state and gave back to the economy thousands of times over. Whether it was the Swedes, Irish, Germans or Norwegians of the 1800s, or the Hmong, Vietnamese and Somali people who have helped write a new chapter of our story, Minnesota’s DNA has always been stamped by immigration. That’s why we are so troubled by the citizenship question and why we have joined other businesses in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a lower court’s ruling ordering its removal from the 2020 census.
As Minnesotans, we oppose the effort to politicize the census because it’s the right thing to do — and as business leaders, we oppose it because it’s the smart thing to do for the workers who keep Minnesota open for business.
Jonathan Weinhagen is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber (mplschamber.com). On Twitter: @jweinhagen. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the census question is expected this month.