When you're driving down the road, it's good to be able to see where you're going. The same thinking holds true for economic planning, which is why the U.S. Census Bureau is conducting its U.S. Economic Census.
Lee Wentela and Lillyana Najafzadeh of the bureau were on St. Thomas Wednesday after a visit to Puerto Rico. The two are spreading the word to the business and government community that the survey is getting started, and said the every-five-year effort is important for both business and government in planning the future.
"It gives us a benchmark, Wentela said. "It enables policy makers to have a comprehensive view of the state of the economy so when they make policy decisions that affect the economy they are well informed."
The economic census has been conducted every five years since 1958, authorized by Title 13 of the U.S. Code. In October the bureau will begin sending surveys to the businesses in the territory. Like the decennial census of the population, the responses are all confidential. But when put together with the rest of the responses, they paint a picture of what is happening in the local economy.
The data collected includes sales, employees, payroll, capital expenditures, whether the business is wholesale or retail, where its customers are and the citizenship of the owner. The material does not identify individual companies, the two bureau members said, but the aggregate can be very useful.
"The information is used by businesses and by profession organizations and the government of the Virgin Islands," Najafzadeh said.
Data collection will continue through Feb. 12, they said. Wentela added that, like the population census, compliance with the economic census is mandatory. But they also said the bureau provides plenty of help for anyone who needs assistance in completing the form. The bureau then will begin tracking down missing responses, then compile and analyze the data for release July 2014.
The biggest single economic event in the territory since the 2007 economic census was the closure of the Hovensa refinery. That and the ripples from it that have affected almost every business and government agency on St. Croix will be reflected in the report, Wentela said.