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Go Figure

Census Bureau statistics give entrepreneurs a marketing edge.

Every 10 years the country gets caught up in a frenzy of numbers. States, cities, and organizations jockey to make sure all their constituents are noted during the deci-annual U.S. census. And politicians bluster and spout about equality and district lines.

But once all the heads are counted and the population number is determined, what can be done with all the facts, figures, and statistics the Census Bureau has laboriously collected?

Homebased business owners will find that the answer to this question is . . . quite a lot. We dove head first into the Census Bureau to find out exactly how this number-crunching behemoth can help your small business.

One of the quickest and most obvious ways to find out what's available is to visit the Census' Web site at (Why don't you join our tour? We'll wait while you log on.) John Kavaliunas, assistant chief of marketing services and conductor of our tour of the site, starts us off on the Just For Fun page. Map Stats is the centerpiece of Just For Fun; Kavaliunas describes it as "a quick and easy way to find out the demographics and other characteristics of your area."

Considering our area happens to be California, let's click on Map Stats, which yields a map of the United States. Now click on California to behold an enlarged view of the state. Click on Southern California to call forth its counties; let's select, say, Orange.

You've got a couple of options here: You can click on Map, 1990 STF1A or STF3A Tables, USA Counties General Profile, or County Business Patterns Economic Profile. Kavaliunas' personal preference? "I would look at USA Counties General Profile," he suggests. "You get a quick profile for the area. It includes information not only from the Census but from other Census Bureau programs, such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as data sources such as the National Center for Health Statistics."

What we got was a thumbnail sketch of Orange County, including data such as population, births, deaths and educational level. Now it's up to you to match these general statistics with your specific needs. For example, if you run a service targeting seniors, it's important to note that about 10 percent of the population are social security recipients; if you own a retail store, pay particular attention to statistics like per capita retail spending and personal income levels.

Next, let's return to the page titled Orange County, California, and click on County Business Patterns. This section features facts such as the number of employees, annual payroll and total number of establishments in a particular SIC Code. The data is divided by industry, and then further divided into business sizes. "An entrepreneur could use these statistics to see what competition is in the area," says Kavaliunas.

If you need to know specific characteristics of a population, backtrack to the Orange County page and click on STF3A Tables. Here you get a long list of data, ranging from race and family type to the time residents leave for work. Check off the information you want, hit the Submit button, and you can download the information.

What you now have is a customized collection of data to use for your marketing plan. "If you choose Place of Work, for example, you can find out what the daytime population is [in your business's area]," Kavaliunas says.

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