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By | May 26, 2012

Dear Toolkit,

I'm commencing work on some market research for a new business and I'd like to know what reliable resources might be available to a do-it-yourself seeker-of-facts such as myself.

Digital Diogenes

Dear DD,

The U.S. Census Bureau's latest--and final--edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States is a good place to begin. After 2012, the information will still be collected, but it will not be packaged so neatly.

Article I of our Constitution requires that a census be taken every ten years. In 1790 only four million people lived in our fledgling nation while today there are more than 311 million folks living in all corners of the USA. This rate of population growth creates a huge, amorphous mass of information to be derived from the Decennial Census these days, so the Bureau slices and dices it into more manageable pieces.

As a business market researcher, you'll likely be more interested in the less unwieldy Economic Census results. The Census Bureau's excellent glossary, found on their handy American FactFinder site, defines Economic Census data as "the censuses of construction, manufactures, minerals, minority- and women-owned businesses, retail trade, service industries, transportation, and wholesale trade, conducted by the Census Bureau every five years." Sounds like that just about covers the universe.

But when it comes to analysis--that's the art of gleaning meaningful conclusions from raw data--you're strictly on your own. The Census Bureau gives you a comprehensive menu of statistics, but it's your job to digest them for yourself.

While the Statistical Abstract is useful, the Census Product Catalog also offers a range of very useful CDs and DVDs, such as this one of interest to local business owners:

County Business Patterns: Provides data by 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code on total number of establishments, mid-March employment, first quarter and annual payroll, and number of establishments by employment-size classes.  for every county in the nation.

Browse around the catalog and see what you might find to suit your research objectives. If you get stuck, hop on down to your friendly local library where the research librarian will be glad help you unravel the mysteries of her realm.

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