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On The Scene: A survey that counts

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On the Scene
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

As the 2010 Census rolls around, the U.S. Census Bureau is hitting the road to get citizens to participate. It’s an event that only comes around every 10 years, but it has huge implications for the nation and business, and with more than $400 billion in federal funds on the table for state and local governments, the Census Bureau is hoping people will take the count seriously.

Thirteen vehicles make up the fleet of the 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour, the largest of which made a stop in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square yesterday. Drawing in curious passersby with its 46-foot trailer and entertaining the crowd with live music (despite the misty weather), the event was aimed at helping Portlanders understand every aspect of the census process – how to fill out the 10-question census form, what the information is used for and the benefits of its findings.


People were even invited to share messages with other tour participants across the country in an interactive project explaining why the census is important to their communities. With the vehicles stopping at over 800 events collectively in 1,547 days, the tour is a major outreach effort, and this census also has an advantage that the previous count didn’t have: social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, blogs), which the Census Bureau is using substantially to spread awareness about the tour and its mission.

Samantha O’Neil, media relations specialist at the Census Bureau and also the tour’s producer, says language barriers and general awareness are two of the biggest challenges in getting people to participate in the census. But her hopes are that the tour – which made recent stops at high-profile events like the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 – will help Americans understand how the census benefits their communities on all levels before the forms arrive in mailboxes March 15-17.

The census benefits the economy, for one thing: The $400 billion in federal funds will be distributed to state and local governments based in part on census data, money that can go to local schools, medical services, roads and other transportation projects, says Eun Kim, public affairs specialist at the Census Bureau. And on a more immediate level, about 7,500 Oregonians will be employed for the census efforts, 3,000 of them in Portland.

As for the census’ implications for the business community, Kim says businesses highly value the demographic information that comes from census data because it helps them plan strategically. Family-friendly entrepreneurs, for example, will seek out areas where more schools are popping up according to census data.

Another major use of census data that affects businesses: planning urban land use. “How many people live here in Portland now, and how many people are expected to live in Portland in the next five to 10 years, they get that from census data,” O’Neil says. “So businesses are a huge partner in our outreach for the census. Making sure that they have accurate data about Portland and about the U.S. is very important to businesses.”

Among those partnering with the Census Bureau are 200,000 voluntary groups, including businesses, churches and community organizations, says Deni Luna, media specialist at the bureau's Seattle regional office. Some big corporate names have signed on to help as well, with Best Buy, BET, Google, MTV and others sponsoring the road tour. But Luna says any business can do their part to help the census efforts, regardless of size.

“We would love businesses and offices to hold brief census information reminders,” Luna says. “One example might be a brown-bag lunch session that might feature a census PSA. Even a few moments to remind employees to turn in their census forms would be greatly appreciated.”

Kevin Manahan is the online editor for Oregon Business.

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