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Why Businesses Should Pay Attention to the 2020 Census An accurate population count could have huge economic implications, but you can help.

By Allison Sullivan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The 2020 Census starts next April 1, and while that may seem far away, think of it like this: The government has to get every person in the United States to take action. If you've ever tried to get a large group of people to do something -- even something simple like RSVPing for an event -- you know that this is no small undertaking, and preparations should begin as early as possible.

Not only is the Census tackling an already-difficult task, but 2020 is facing a number of issues, from the limited budget to near-historically low levels of trust in government. The magnitude of the challenges is so severe that the upcoming Census is on the U.S. Government Accountability Office's list of high-risk programs -- defined as those that are "vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, or that need transformation." This is a huge problem for U.S. businesses for a number of reasons.

Related: By the Numbers: The Census Report on Franchises

First, Census data guides federal funding. If a region is undercounted, it will be underfunded, impacting everything from education to transportation -- factors that all play into the state of the local economy. Census data also guides Congressional seat allocation, meaning some areas will have fewer advocates representing their business interests at the national level than they deserve based on population counts.

Perhaps less publicized, but equally important, an inaccurate Census count means business decisions will be made on faulty information. For example, if a bank wants to build an app to better serve its customers, it depends on Census data to determine the app's marketability, design and overall success. Retailers and manufacturers rely on the same data to decide where to build their next manufacturing plant or distribution center. For marketing and research firms, Census data plays an integral role in measurement. If the data is inaccurate, that will mean major headaches for advertisers.

While the issues surrounding the 2020 Census and their potential ramifications to businesses may seem insurmountable, the effort to gather an accurate Census is not completely bleak, and there is still time to take action. Here are some ways local business leaders can help:

1. Use your platform and rally your neighbors.

Many localities are setting up groups to coordinate efforts to drive participation in their areas. A great place to start is with the list of regional Complete Count Committees. If one doesn't already exist nearby, consider reaching out to your regional census office.

2. Use your expertise.

Look for consulting projects (even if you can't commit to joining a local group). Census campaigns should be treated like any other marketing campaign, i.e. the right messaging will speak to the right audience and influence behavior. If you have a background in marketing, data or research, chances are high that your skills could be invaluable.

3. Change starts at home.

Educate your employees and those around you. Most people don't realize how the Census works and its importance. Your trusted voice can have a great impact just spreading the word.

Related: Hacking the U.S. Census for Market Research

Looking for more information? Get better versed on the 2020 Census, and how to ensure its accuracy, in the links below.

Allison Sullivan

Senior Survey Scientist

Allison Sullivan is a senior survey scientist at Civis Analytics. Civis Analytics is a leading data science technology and services startup, helping organizations leverage their data to develop smarter strategy and make better decisions. 

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