The 2017 Economic Census

Participation and response is “mandatory” under federal law — and confidential
fili@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Break-out of specific products and services offered by US businesses — including those in American Samoa — is in a new questionnaire for the 2017 Economic Census, in which responses and participation is “mandatory” under federal law, according to two US Census Bureau officials, who “encourage” local businesses to participate.

With the new age of modern technology, businesses are encouraged to respond online, but businesses in the US insular areas will get paper back-up response forms, as the federal agency is aware of the internet situation in the territories.

Conducted every five-years, the 2017 Economic Census is now being prepared for American Samoa with the arrival Monday night of two US Census Bureau officials - Bill Samples, the Assistant Survey Director for the Economic Census and Robert Nusz, the Economic Census Assistant Survey Director, Staff Chief.

The pair, who traveled from Washington D.C. and depart the territory tonight, have been working this week with the ASG Commerce Department Statistical Division.

“The Economic Census is the official measure of the territory's business and economy,” DOC director Keniseli Lafaele said yesterday responding to Samoa News inquiries. “The Economic Census also serves as statistical benchmark for the Gross Domestic Product.”

“Data from the census is used by businesses, policy-makers, government and community for economic development, business decisions, and strategic planning,” he said when asked about the importance of the Economic Census.

This was echoed by Samples, during a Samoa News interview Tuesday with Nusz at the DOC office. He said data from the census is also used by trade associations, economic development agencies and the government “to help in making policy decisions and other business decisions.”

According to the Census Bureau information sheet, the Economic Census of the Insular Areas is the primary source of official statistics that a company can use to among other things, develop business plans, open new locations, access market trends and attract investment. More information on [www.census.gov/EconomicCensus]

Samples explained that data collection for the 2017 economic census is basically the same that the agency collects every five years — revenue, payroll, employment and other various industry data items. “And the data can be trended from five years ago to now, to see how the economy has changed for different industries,” he said.

Both Samples and Nusz emphasized that data collection and responses from businesses are “confidential” and covered by federal law: U.S. Code Title 26 covers data collected by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Code Title 13, covers all data collected by the Census Bureau.

“Census [Bureau] takes confidentiality very seriously,” said Nusz, adding that the Census Bureau has administrative records from the IRS and the IRS laws “covers our data as well.”

Keeping data collected and responses from businesses  “as confidential information” has been a major concern for local businesses over the years and the reason Samoa News pressed for specific information on confidentiality.

And what does the Census Bureau need from the business community for the economic census? Nusz said, “We need the private sector to respond, because that ensures the best quality data.”

“Because this is something we do every five years, as things change a lot in five years, this is a unique opportunity to collect these kinds of statistics,” said Nusz, who noted that he doesn’t think the territorial government collects “these detailed statistics on businesses here. So this is the main opportunity to collect this type of economic data about American Samoa.”

How useful is the economic data collected to a company looking to expand or invest in American Samoa? Nusz responded, “They can use the data to see trends, even though it’s trends from five years ago, they can see different industries increasing or decreasing from one economic census to the next.”

Samples added, a company “would [also] be able to see revenue, employment and payroll” data.

NEW ADDITION

For the 2017 economic census, a new addition has been added to the questionnaire dealing with specific products and services offered by all businesses.

“In the past, we didn’t collect very much detail on the products and services sold by businesses in American Samoa,” said Nusz, adding that “we had one questionnaire that covered all businesses in American Samoa in previous economic censuses.”

“This time we will have 8 industry specific questionnaires. We are able to put different things in those 8 questionnaires tailored to each industry that it covers,” he added.

Samples explained that this “is a breakout of the reported revenue. So if a business reports $100,000 in revenue, we then ask them to break that out into the different products and services that they offer.”

Asked if this will help with data collection and analysis, by breaking it down, Nusz said, “Yes, it will help us better classify [business] establishments. Sometimes it’s difficult to classify what industry they’re in, based on the responses.”

In the past, “one of the things that we do, is we ask  ‘what kind of business are you?’ And we list different choices, for them to check and provide them a place to write it in, if none of those apply,” he explained.

“Based on what they write in, it would be hard to determine what they mean. We also ask them - what types of products and services do you offer and that helps us classify establishments,” Nusz further explained.

However, the “new addition” of “products and services” provides a much clearer response, according to the Census Bureau officials.

Nusz explained, “Products and services is a new classification for the entire” US, called the North American Product Classification System (details on www.census.gov/NAPCS).

Also in the past, said Nusz, American Samoa had the types of products and services collected for the accommodations and food services sector only. “So now all sectors are going to have the ability to report this product and service data,” he noted.

DEADLINES AND RESPONSES

The Economic Census will be mailed out beginning May 1st, with a due date of June 12, “but we do have our collection window open for a long period of time, if responders reach out and ask for extensions,” Samples said.

The Census Bureau officials say the “response is mandatory”, required under Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Tentative date for release of the 2017 Economic Census is October 2019.

 “It takes time to analyze the data, as well as collect the data, even though there’s a due date of June 12, 2018,” said Samples, when asked why it takes so long for the economic census to be released. “We spend a lot of time doing non-response follow up, probably six months after our due date.”

“And so by the time, we get the data in the house, it takes us another six to 8 months to review the data and publish it,” he explained.

Asked if the response can be done online or can it be mailed back, Samples responded with a smile that this is the “first time we’ve actually pushed online. However, for small businesses in the US territories, we’re offering paper back-up option... as we know the difficulties of online access.”

Asked if a Samoan translator is made available to assist local Samoan businesses, Samples said the agency would set up a phone line at the DOC for businesses to contact if they have questions. If questions cannot be answered locally, “it's referred to us,” he said.

He noted that all businesses will receive in early May the package of the economic census and provides details of what’s expected of them and the requirement of reporting.

DOC has the American Samoa Business Registry — all businesses registered in the territory — that will be provided to the Census Bureau. DOC will also help in identifying the businesses.

Of note: If the business establishment has more than one location, each location needs to fill out an economic census form. Additionally, only businesses that have employees — a minimum of one employee — are included in the economic census. “It does not include non-employers,” said Samples.

“We’re trying to encourage electric reporting because it reduces cost, or paper collection,” said Nusz. “And if there are businesses with lots of different locations, it’s easier for them to do this electronically, rather than filling out the paper forms for each location.”

He said the “electronic reporting tool” has a spreadsheet option, that a business could download, then fill out the data for how many locations and submit it back into the ‘tool’.

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