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Thoughts of change, growth, and new opportunities accompany the start of any year. But 2020 in particular has special significance for a number of reasons. One of those is the fact that our nation’s decennial census will occur, a potentially crucial, constitutionally required event that will have implications for the business community and beyond.

The connection between our state’s economic interests and the U.S. Census may not be immediately apparent. However, as someone who has been a proud member of the business community here in West Virginia decades, I can attest to the fact that census data can be an important part of the decision-making process for employers of all sizes.

Companies rely on data from the census to aid many kinds of decision-making. Where and when to open a new location, what services to provide to employees, and whether a community has the appropriate infrastructure to support a new or existing workforce are all types of decisions that the census informs.

Yet, if the data from the census isn’t accurate, the decisions may not be, either.

That could mean lost job opportunities for a given area, or a costly mistake in an employer’s business plan that leads to economic challenges. Repeated over and over among the countless employers who rely directly or indirectly on census data, a lack of a complete count could create inefficiencies and problems that negatively impact the private sector and the economic fortunes of communities across the country.

As if that weren’t a compelling enough reason to try to make the census count as accurate as possible, there’s also the issue of resource allocation by the government. Each year, the federal government distributes more than $1.5 trillion through a group of approximately 300 programs. This group includes key programs for disadvantaged children that support the development of the current and future workforce, such as child care for working families.

Without a complete count, those resources won’t be allocated correctly, and some of the people who need them most will be left out.

And that’s a very real danger. Historically, the census has struggled to assess several different “hard-to-count” populations accurately, including people in rural communities and those who are geographically isolated, young children, lower-income people, immigrant communities and young adults who are highly mobile.

It’s important for businesses to play a key role in encouraging customers, employees, and other community members to fill out their census forms. To help with that effort, businesses can connect with one of the hundreds of Complete Count Committees forming around the country.

Brian Dayton, Vice President of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, participates in our state’s committee, and we are developing strategies and materials to make sure all West Virginians are counted. But, there are also local committees being developed around the state.

Employers also have the option of partnering with the Census Bureau directly. The Bureau has developed materials that help encourage customers, employees, and the public to fill out and return their census forms.

Finally, business leaders can join Business for the 2020 Census, a free, virtual, bipartisan network organized by the business-leader group ReadyNation. Business for the 2020 Census is raising the national business voice in support of an accurate count. The network helps businesses identify activities to encourage customers and employees to complete their census forms.

These efforts are important because the alternative to an accurate count is a weaker economy, and taxpayer dollars that aren’t being used as efficiently.

A full and robust census is good for business, good for our communities, and good for our nation.

Steve Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and a member of ReadyNation. West Virginia Chamber members are your small business neighbors and employ over half of West Virginia’s workforce.

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