In a recent interview with Andrew Hait, survey statistician and economist in the Office of Economic Outreach and Marketing Staff, International Trade Division of the United States Census Bureau, we learned more about the Census Business Builder tool and why making their data more accessible to a broader audience has become more popular. Simply put, the U.S. Census Bureau is making their data easier for businesses, and anyone else wanting to explore these statistics, to consume. Hait says, “We’re democratizing GIS. We’re making GIS accessible to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t be able to use it.”
If you are looking for data to help you start or grow a business, then the Census Business Builder may be a great place for you to start. Perhaps you want to understand the business landscape of a region; then again, the CBB is for you. According to their site, “The Census Business Builder (CBB) is a suite of services that provide selected demographic and economic data from the Census Bureau tailored to specific types of users in a simple to access and use format.” Hait shared, “CBB has been specifically designed for entrepreneurs, small business owners. It makes it easy for them to get to key business and demographic data that you would need in your business plan.” CBB debuted in 2016 and is updated every three to six months based on customer feedback.
In building the CBB tool they made some interesting technical advances that, according to Hait, “we’ll see more of in the future from the Census Bureau. CBB is the first census tool that consumes census data and is cloud deployed. In the process, we discovered problems with our own tools and learned some lessons.” In development, the CBB team worked with Esri to understand best practices, such as the color palette for maps. “We know how to collect and publish data, and appreciated their input on our maps. Someone asked the question, ‘Why aren’t you just directing people to Esri’s Business Analyst tool?’ When they found out that Esri was working with us on the project, they wondered how or why they would assist in building a tool that competes with their own tool.” Hait replied, “CBB is like Business Analyst 0.1.” For a first step in understanding basic data, it’s an easy entry point. Once a business grows and wants to expand, then they have the bandwidth and funds to invest in a more sophisticated tool like Business Analyst with a broader collection of data and tools.
The CBB has a Small Business Edition and a Regional Analyst Edition to serve a myriad of planning scenarios. With easy-to-use menus and search tools, their interactive maps, downloadable data, and customized dashboard make it easy to interact with the data and download customized reports for your area of interest.
Once you have a map, you can interact with all the census data as well as change variables and filters. Then, you can print the map, download the data from the map, or generate a report. The reports and printed maps are easy to include in a business plan.
To get up to speed, they provide flyers that you may use in workshops, as well as archived webinars. You can access online instructions for each edition along with feature instructions, using the tools, and tips and tricks.
APIs and Widgets
For developers, they have begun rolling out their datasets via APIs and provide a newsletter with updates. The Census Data API Discovery Tool provides a machine-readable dataset discovery service in three formats. According to their site, “The content of api.census.gov/data.json is based largely on the Open Project Data Common Core Metadata Schema and is extended to include metadata specific to Census Bureau datasets. The api.census.gov/data.xml URI may be used to access the same information as XML.” They have a widget available to embed into a web page.
Hait shared that grant writers, “who care nothing about opening a business, are using the tool and the easy-to-access data for their grant proposals. I helped a grant writer filter the data to find clear food deserts in her community.” It could be used by many people wanting simple access to census data, even in schools. The CBB has been an exciting project for Andrew Hait. The United States Census Bureau is excited to continue improving and developing more tools that make a difference.