“Statistics. You can prove anything with statistics.” – Sir Humphrey Appleby in “The Smoke Screen” on Yes, Prime Minister
“Statistics are as dull as dishwater, but they don’t lie.” – My high school US History teacher
There are two schools of thought out there about statistics, and you’ve just heard a little from each of them. No matter how you feel about statistics in general, they always become immediately fascinating to you if they have something to do with your everyday life, especially if it involves your own business venture.
Unfortunately, searching for statistics and demographics can be very overwhelming even for the seasoned researcher. Let’s step back a minute and take a look at some of my favorite places to turn when searching out the elusive numbers you’re looking for. First, we’ll cover resources for the Charleston or SC area, then we’ll look at sources of regional or national statistics.
Charleston Area and South Carolina Resources
Access this database from home with your CCPL Library card at http://tinyurl.com/ccplbusinessdatabases
The first place you should check for demographics is our database called DemographicsNow. It’s one of the easiest business databases I have ever used and can often be a one-stop shop for your demographic needs for any geographical area in the United States. This database lets you choose your geographical location, then it creates everything you need on-the-fly, from tables and charts to maps tailored to your input. You can search by City, ZIP Code, and customized drivetimes as well as 10 other kinds of geographical divisions. Once you choose your location, the database generates 36 summary reports, 33 comparison reports, 11 types of ranking reports, and a cutomizable, interactive map. The data your get covers everything from population to consumer expenditure for the recent past, the current year, and even projections for the next 5 years. My recommendation is to save everything you can as either a PDF, Word, or Excel file (you can choose which you want) and take the time to study the reports in detail later. They even look good enough to append to the back of your business plan if you want to!
Still need some information? Okay, here are some other resources to check for local or SC demographics:
BCD Council of Government’s Online Mapping Tool
The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Government’s Mapping & GIS Department provides an Online Mapping Tool that lets you easily search for demographics in the tri-county area. Some other specialty maps are also available through the BCDCOG. Contact Harun Rashid, Senior GIS Planner for more information.
Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Market Facts
Available at the Main Library on the Business Center’s periodical shelf. May also be available at some of the Regional Libraries. Call ahead to verify.
Published once a year by the Charleston Regional Business Journal, the Market Facts supplement has a lot of great local demographics and other statistical information about our local market. Categories of information include: Commercial Real Estate, Residential Real Estate, Demographics, Employment, Education, Import/Export, Hospitality & Tourism, Medical & Health, Business Resources, and Government. No matter how often I look in here, I always find something new and useful for the question I’m researching. I really like that the editors give you the source for each bit of information listed. That way, if you have a question or need some advice, you can try to contact the expert yourself and see what else they might know that can help you out.
South Carolina Department of Transportation’s Traffic Polling & Analysis System
One amazing thing about statistics is that just when you think it’s not possible to find something for free…there it is, waiting for you online. SCDOT allows the public to access their traffic count data for free at this site. Why should you care? If you’re trying to figure out exactly where you want to locate your business, it can be good to know how much traffic is passing your door. Data is not available for every street corner in SC of course, but you can still find a wealth of data here.
Regional / National Demographics
Census.gov and American Factfinder
The main source of our nation’s demographics, the US Census Bureau produces many surveys & data products in addition to the Census that is conducted every 10 years. Pay attention especially to the American Community Survey for the most up-to-date information about communities around the country and to the link to American Factfinder for easy access to the latest population, housing, economic, and geographic data. (Don’t forget to check out their information about US Business & Industry for some helpful industry statistics while you’re there.)
Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2012
www.census.gov/compendia/statab/ or available in any branch at 317.3 Stati 2012
This publication is one of the first and best places to turn for US government statistics. Check the Index for keywords that relate to your target market or your industry. Note that the numbers in the index refer to table numbers, not to page numbers. Enjoy this source while you can: due to budget cuts, the Census Bureau ceased data collection on October 1, 2011. The 2012 edition is the last release of this title. (Tip: Most US states also have a statistical abstract which is free to view online. Use Google to track them down using searches like South Carolina Statistical Abstract, which in SC’s case is located at http://abstract.sc.gov.)
New Strategist Publications
Available in the Main Library’s Business Center or access the eBook in the Gale Virtual Reference Library database from home with your CCPL Library card
The publisher New Strategist takes Census data & crunches the numbers in ways that turn the raw data into a format more easily applied to starting a business. Check these sources for your most useful national demographic information about people:
- Best Customers (in GVRL)
- American Men (Bus Ref 331 American and in GVRL)
- American Women (Bus Ref 331.4 American and in GVRL)
- Household Spending (in GVRL)
Also be sure to check the Library’s catalog (http://catalog.ccpl.org) for other New Strategist publications not shelved in the Business Ref area. (Follow the link or do a keyword search for New Strategist Publications.)
Remember that researching statistics can feel like a huge and overwhelming task, so if you find yourself bogging down, it’s good to keep these things in mind:
- The smaller the geographic area you’re searching, the fewer information resources are available. This rule of thumb makes sense if you think about it. Apart from the government, groups who collect data need to be able to make a profit from selling the information. The smaller the geographic area, the fewer people there are to sell it to.
- If you’re stuck, stop your research and ask yourself, “Who would possibly want or need to know this information?” Sometimes you’ll find that you already know which organization or government office to ask for help if you think about it from that point of view.
- Ask experts. Remember that most reference books tell you where their information comes from. New Strategist publications also list experts in the field in the back of their books. Census Bureau folks can sometimes be helpful resources via email or on the phone. Don’t hesitate to ask these experts about their data.
- If you’re gathering data for your business plan, keep in mind that what you’re collecting only has value if either a) it helps you get business financing or b) it helps you understand your potential customers or your industry in a way you can actually act on. Keep these goals in mind as you search so you don’t get bogged down in a level of detail that’s not going to put money in your pocket.
Article History: published July 1, 2008, updated December 20, 2012