December 2011 Featured Article
Utlizing Census Data to Identify Funding
Strategies and Plan for Change
Now that the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey updates have been released by the United State Census, your community can utilize this information to plan for the future in terms of potential funding sources as well as typical planning functions.
To begin, there are certainly differences between the American Community Survey and the 2010 Decennial Census. The American Community Survey is an ongoing monthly survey that is tabulated every month throughout the United States. This sample data is collected and used to create five, three or one year estimates for statistical indicators that were collected through the 2000 decennial census long form, which is no longer used. Thus, the American Community Survey provides more than a one-time snap shot of information like the decennial census, providing multiple or single year estimates based on information gathered over a one, three or five year interval.
There are limitations to this information, however, since it is only sample data and comes with some substantial margins of error. The information is still very powerful in providing economic, social and demographic information down to the block level. The 2010 census on the other hand is a snap shot of information taken on April 1 of each census year. The census gathers information from every housing unit on a specific date, therefore it is available for the smallest geographic area (called the census block level). The American Community Survey is only available down to the census block group level since such sample tabulations cannot be performed on such small geographic areas.
Now that we understand what census information is available, how can the census data help determine eligibility for grants, loans, state and federal programs?
Many grant and funding opportunities are driven by data. For example, does your community qualify for a specific grant, loan or designation based on the economic and demographic criteria? The key to unraveling opportunities is to know your stats. While many municipal officials are working diligently on the day to day challenges, truly understanding your community and its demographic, economic and social make up is also important. For example, the following are three demographic, economic and social indicators that are useful in determining eligibility for grant opportunities, as well as other strategies that will help your community and region remain successful in the competitive grant climate.
Unemployment Statistics – Tracking unemployment information for your specific community and comparing it to the nation and your state is very important and beneficial. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent for September 2011. A community with an unemployment rate one point higher than the nation’s, over a two year period, is eligible for grant and loan opportunities through the United State Economic Development Agency (USEDA). The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development tracks the unemployment rate for municipalities and counties on a monthly basis. Get your community in the habit of maintaining and updating the unemployment information and compare it to neighboring communities, counties, states, metropolitan areas and the nation. Maintain this and other economic data in a place that is available for all departments to utilize, and an opportunity may arise that may not have been identified if someone did not have the information conveniently available.
Understanding the unemployment rate in your community, as well as the industries that suffer the greater unemployment rate, is also helpful in identify gaps in skills that are necessary for jobs that are in demand. Working in concert with the local community college, chamber of commerce and other economic development agencies can generate ideas to help close the gaps between the supply and demand of potential employees and can be a strategy to encourage businesses to locate in your community which may come out of knowing your skills base and available workforce numbers.
Additionally, don’t limit your opportunities to your community alone, regional economic growth and clusters is an integral part of the national economic development strategy. If your county is not performing up to nation, then your municipality can benefit from this, especially if the proposed company or industry is one that fits into the regional economic clusters identified by the USEDA.
County Business Patterns – County Business Pattern information is gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau and tracks industry trends by county or zip code under the North American Industry Classification System commonly referred to as “NAICS”. This information, like unemployment rate statistics, are helpful to track because they identify which industries are growing, declining or remaining stable in your community. County Business Pattern information helps identify which industries are beginning to take a strong hold in the region and which industries are in decline. For example, in many communities there has been a decline in manufacturing over the last decade, but an increase in health care and related industries. The County Business Pattern Data provide highly detailed information regarding the specific types of jobs and businesses in each industry classification so specific strategies can be tailored to your community based on these findings. Understanding the historical and employment trends of the industry will provide insight as to the types of businesses and industry you are likely to attract in the future and where your local infrastructure resources will most effectively be utilized. It is also useful to understand the regional industry and job trends, as regional industry clusters are more stable than stand alone industries.
Household Income Statistics - Determining the percentage of low and moderate income households is most likely already tracked through your local housing department. However, several levels of municipal and county government can utilize these statistics to request funding through the Department of Community Affairs, through various programs such as Small Cities, Community Development Block Grant Funds or through other various Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administered programs. HUD releases the low and moderate income levels by metropolitan area annually and defines each income level according to the household size. Since the cost of living varies drastically, what is considered low income in Newark may not be the same in Atlantic City. Keeping track of this information as well as the percentages of households in each category is useful in utilizing these programs and other social service programs available both through foundation funding and state and federal programs.
This article has only outlined a sample of the data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. There is a plethora of information available awaiting interpretation and utilization. In addition to the data crunching that is essential in understanding the nuances of your community, it is very important to practice classical planning techniques such as town hall meetings, master plan updates and community outreach techniques as alternative methods to understanding the topics of concern in your community. Maintaining an open dialogue with residents in the community will only make change and adoption of positive change even easier and help you in keeping your grant and funding options viable.
Published December 1, 2011.
Triad Associates is currently the League’s Grant Consulting Firm. Their firm, which is known for its expertise in community and economic development, including strategic planning, redevelopment, acquisition, relocation and funding, has brought diverse plans and projects to life by generating more than $580,000,000 for over 120 public, private and nonprofit clients throughout the Northeast region since 1978. Every member of the Triad team is personally committed and dedicated to the success of its clients and the projects that benefit communities.
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