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Economic Census Goes Online: Data to Provide Timely Information on the Health of the U.S. Economy

Letters from the U.S. Census Bureau are beginning to land in mailboxes and mailrooms of businesses as the collection of data for almost 4 million business locations begins as part of the 2017 Economic Census.

The Economic Census is the most comprehensive business survey in the United States. Conducted every five years, it is a cornerstone of many Census Bureau and other federal statistical programs that provide timely information on the health of the U.S. economy.

For the first time, the Economic Census will be conducted almost entirely online—maintaining the Census Bureau’s long tradition of maximizing data security while making it convenient for businesses to respond.

Drawing upon the latest technology, the Census Bureau created a new Respondent Portal for businesses to use to respond to the Economic Census. The letters mailed out to businesses — big and small, selected single-location companies and all multi-location companies — contain instructions on how respondents can create an account and use the authentication code provided in the letter to access their questionnaire.

Respondents create their own, unique passwords on the Respondent Portal, which provides an added layer of privacy where the respondent can manage their account online and decide if they want to share access with someone else.

“In 2012, the vast majority of companies were mailed paper forms,” said Shelley Karlsson, Assistant Division Chief for Collection in the Economic Management Division. “All businesses also had the option to respond online, and overall 53 percent of respondents chose to report electronically.”

This time, only single-location businesses that are located in U.S. territories will receive a paper form, as Census Bureau research shows that many have limited online access.

For the 2017 Economic Census, each respondent creates a private account and then gains access to the survey questionnaire using an authentication code provided in the letter received from the Census Bureau. Through this account, respondents are able to contact the Census Bureau via secure email, check their filing status, request a time extension, in addition to just completing the survey online.

In the past, respondents would have used three separate log-ins to access the above functionality. The Respondent Portal was designed to put all of these tools into one central portal. In addition, as the Economic Directorate migrates all of their surveys into this new portal in the coming years, respondents will be able to access all of their economic questionnaires using the same account and single password that they have created.  

The Economic Census provides industry and market statistics at the national, state and local levels and gives businesses the information they need to make informed decisions.

“As we move all of our economic surveys into the Respondent Portal, it will truly be a one-stop shop for business respondents,” Karlsson said.

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