Want to start or move a business? Check out the city’s economic development profile | submitted by Bill Pinkovitz

When the focus turns to economic development, one of the first things on the agenda for many communities is creating a community economic profile.

A good profile gives potential businesses and entrepreneurs a sense of the community’s character and the advantages it can offer by providing information on local demographics, housing, the workforce, schools, transportation, major employers, recreational opportunities, health care providers, tax structure, and other important variables.

The UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension Center for Community and Economic Development has evaluated and compiled a list of several free online resources that provide much of the information a county or community will need to develop a customized economic development profile.

Here are a few of the resources recommended by Extension community economic development specialists.

American Human Development (HD) Index: Don’t let the name fool you. The HD Index is one of the more unique online economic development data tools. Developed by the American Human Development Project, the HD Index includes much of the traditional economic data. However, it also provides additional valuable information that can help distinguish your community from the rest.

The HD Index was developed as a quality-of-life indicator comprised of three elements: health, knowledge, and standard of living. The three components are based on over 100 variables ranging from typical demographic data such as education, income, and employment to health measures including the percentage of the population with diabetes, the number of practicing physicians per 10,000 population, and 16 other specific health factors. The HD also includes economic development data (such as state spending on R&D) and detailed environmental information such as the number of acres of protected forest land.

The index provides a single number (ranging from 0 to 10) that enables easy comparison among states. Indices for health, education, and income are also included. For example, Wisconsin’s overall HD index is 5.23. This compares to a U.S. HD index of 5.17 and ranks 21st among all 50 states. Wisconsin’s health index of 5.55 is higher that the U.S. average. Wisconsin’s education index (5.19), based on 23 variables, is only marginally higher than the national average (5.17), while the income index (4.95) is slightly lower than the national average.

Interactive maps enable users to obtain HD indices (and limited data) at the congressional district level. This site also includes interactive charts that list the variables used to calculate each index.

However, perhaps the most useful feature of this site is the ability to download the 100-plus variables for all 50 states. And, the most valuable feature is the fact that all the sources are included for each variable when you download the data. This enables users to relatively easily obtain similar local data for many of the variables.

This site also provides a quick tutorial to help you get started.

County Business Patterns (2008): County Business Patterns (CBP) provides detailed annual information on the number of business establishments, number of employees, and quarterly and annual payroll for most of the 1,100 industries covered at the national, state, and county levels. CBP includes data on establishments, employment, and payroll at the six-digit NAICS Code (depending on the size of the population). It is important to note that CBP does not include data on self-employed individuals, employees of private households, railroad employees, agricultural production employees, and most government employees.

What about businesses without employees? Try the U.S. Census Nonemployer Statistics, an annual series of information about businesses without paid employees that are subject to federal income tax. Most non-employers are self-employed individuals operating very small unincorporated businesses, which may or may not be the owner’s principal source of income. These firms are excluded from most other business statistics (the primary exception being the Survey of Business Owners).

USA Counties: Another data profile site from the U.S. Census, USA Counties features over 6,800 data items for the U.S., the individual states, and counties from a variety of sources. Much of the data is as recent as 2009. USA Counties also includes many items from the 2000 Census of Population and Housing, the 1990 census, the 1980 census, and the economic censuses from 1977 to 2007.

A wide variety of profiles are available at the county level, including general demographic, agriculture, ancestry, banking, building permits, business patterns, crime, earnings, education, elections, employment, government, health, households, housing, income, labor force, manufacturers, population, poverty, retail trade, social programs, veterans, vital statistics, water use, and wholesale trade.

There are many more sources of online data available on the Center for Community and Economic Development County/Community PROFILES blog.

If you have questions or need more information, contact the Cooperative Extension Center for Community and Economic Development.

Bill Pinkovitz is a business management specialist with UW-Extension, Cooperative Extension.

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.