Most people are familiar with the U.S. Census, which is supposed to count every U.S. resident and is conducted every 10 years. (2010 is a census year - so if you have not returned your census form yet, here is what your community stands to gain by having a high participation rate.)
However, the Census Bureau also conducts an Economic Census. This is done every 5 years, the most recent one being from 2007. The data collected provides a detailed snapshot of the U.S. economy, by counting the number of establishments nationwide, their sales, their annual payroll, and the number of their employees. The Census Bureau then assigns each establishment to a specific industry, according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The 2007 NAICS is comprised of 1,175 industries grouped into 20 sectors, and by means of the Economic Census, these industries can in turn be viewed from the national to the local level.
Why would someone who is not a government official be interested in such things? The statistics can provide a tool to identifying business markets and competition. Comparing changes from one census to the next can illustrate trends in industries by location (or for that matter, trends in different locations by industry).
It takes some time before the Economic Census data is compiled and released. This is done in stages, and the bulk of the data sets are available 2-3 years after the census is conducted.
Not surprisingly, finding and using the data effectively can be a challenge, but there are tools available to help.
One is a reference book held by the Sawyer Library: Industry Research Using the Economic Census : How to Find It, How to Use It, by Jennifer C. Boettcher and Leonard M. Gaines.
Other tools come from the Census Bureau itself, which has posted a User Guide and instruction materials (Power Point slides and handouts) from conference lectures held around the country. The instruction materials and included exercises are especially helpful, since they provide an insight into the types of queries the Economic Census can answer.