By Ron VandenBoom
It's not just important for political and social reasons, but Census 2000 is also important to business and business development in local economies.
Janet Clack, administrative officer for the Montana Census Economic Information Center, believes that census data can be vital to the economic well being of individual businesses, new starting businesses, and general economic health.
"It all depends on accurate census data," she said, in a telephone interview.
Census data is used to help determine the distribution of approximately $185 billion dollars to the states to be used for various government programs ranging from schools to health departments across the country.
Clack said that many of these funds will ultimately be spent within the communities where the programs exist. This could come in the form of additional employees, the purchase of supplies, or even the building of new facilities.
Geographic data and statistics on employment and the type of businesses already in a community can also be used to by businesses seeking to locate in a community. Businesses will also use the information for research markets, target advertising, and locate pools of skilled workers. The figures can also be used to help determine the need for job training.
Dick King, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, said Bear Paw uses a lot of the data provided by the census to help put together business plans for new businesses.
King said, not having the census data to depend on "would create a less reliable set of data and make lenders even more reluctant to lend to new ventures. That's crucial information."
Not having the data provided by the census would also force prospective, and existing businesses, to retrieve the information through other means, thus increasing the cost of starting a new business or expanding an existing business.
Figures from the 1997 Montana Business Census indicate that more than 29,000 Montana businesses, or 72.4 percent, employ 1-9 people while only 13 Montana businesses employ more than 500 people. This figure emphasizes the importance of small business in the state.