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Sources of Secondary Socio-Economic Data

Publication Number: P2756
View as PDF: P2756.pdf

One of the most important factors in developing plans for the future of our communities or businesses is the availability and understanding of data. In Deller’s triangle (Deller, 2010), shown above, data is the basis for moving up a hierarchy to achieve innovation and a better quality of life. Gathering data is not the be-all and end-all, but it is a necessary place to start for understanding the economics and social factors present in an area.

Many community and business programs and planning activities require the use of accurate and timely data. For communities, initiatives that require the use of data include business creation, attraction, retention, and expansion programs; developing entrepreneurial community initiatives; addressing social concerns such as poverty, healthcare, youth, and other quality of life issues; conducting economic impact analysis or general community planning. For businesses, data is important in conducting market analysis, determining customer tastes and preferences, evaluating employee satisfaction to increase retention, determining financial position in relation to similar firms, and all aspects of business planning.

Many types and sources of data can be used to assist businesses and communities. This publication will focus on the more commonly used and publicly available secondary data sources that are typically used to describe a community and its economic sectors.

In Deller's triangle, data is at the base of the triangle while information is on the second level, knowledge is on the third level, and innovation is at the uppermost level.

What Is Secondary Data?

Data has two basic sources, and classification of these sources depends on the perspective of the user. Primary data is data that is generated by the user through surveys (for example, business retention and expansion visitation program surveys) or primary databases (for example, financial data input by the firms for research purposes).

Secondary data is data that is collected by someone other than you. This type of data often is gathered and reported by a governmental or quasi-governmental entity, an industry trade association, or a proprietary firm that sells estimates of socio-economic data. Prime examples of secondary data sources are the decennial U.S. Census, restaurant trade data, or economic impact analysis data estimates that are sold by firms such as the Minnesota IMPLAN Group (MIG), Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), Dun and Bradstreet, etc.

Primary and secondary data have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Collecting primary data is often necessary to gain insight into issues for which no other data sets are available, such as businesses’ opinions about the communities in which they operate or residents’ perceptions of the local school system. But primary data has some distinct disadvantages as well. It is often expensive to collect, and developing and implementing a survey program may take a substantial amount of time. In addition, developing an effective survey is no simple matter and, in some cases, residents or businesses simply won’t respond to questions.

Secondary data does have many advantages over primary data. First, an extraordinary amount of secondary data is available, and much of it is free, particularly if it is gathered and reported by governmental agencies. Secondary data also provides a broader and more comprehensive view of the issues than could be achieved by gathering primary data ourselves.

But secondary data does have its drawbacks. Data can have time lags ranging from 1–2 months to decades or more. Data websites often can be relatively complicated and require a learning curve to be used effectively. Also, downloading and manipulating large datasets requires a more than rudimentary knowledge of spreadsheet or database software. Finally, many secondary data sources, especially governmental sources, are required by law to prohibit the reporting of data that potentially could identify individual firms or people (called data nondisclosure). Nondisclosure poses a significant problem when dealing with smaller geographic areas such as counties, towns or cities, and census tracts or blocks.1

Despite these inherent drawbacks, secondary data can be extremely valuable and offers a means of describing the socio-economic conditions in a state, community, or market. Given this, the remainder of this publication will be devoted to listing and describing various data that typically are used in community and economic analysis.

1Census blocks and tracts are bounded geographic units used by the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct its surveys. Census blocks are areas bounded on all sides by visible features such as streets, roads, streams, and railroad tracks, and by invisible boundaries such as city, town, township, and county limits. Generally, census blocks are small in area (such as a block bounded by city streets). However, census blocks in remote areas may be large and irregular, and contain many square miles of land.
Census tracts are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county. Census tracts generally have between 1,500 and 8,000 people with an optimum size of 4,000 people (counties with fewer people have a single census tract).

Federal Data

The federal government is the most prolific source of data for all sizes of geographic locations. Various data describe the socio-economic status of people, households, and families, the condition of businesses, and the level of economic activity. While the majority of this data is free to the public, it often is in large files that require knowledge of data naming nomenclature and fairly sophisticated spreadsheet or database techniques. Following are a number of the more commonly used types and sources of federal data.

U.S. Census/American Community Survey;

For many decades, the decennial census has been the authoritative source for data about the population of the United States. Despite being conducted only every 10 years, it provides remarkable insight into the demographic, economic, and housing characteristics of this country’s residents. Reported for a wide range of geographic regions, ranging from the nation as a whole all the way down to census blocks, the data is relatively easy to access through the website and its companion American Factfinder. In addition, many proprietary software packages made specific data access and mapping quite simple.

However, the relative infrequency with which the data are gathered and reported makes relevant analysis of today’s rapidly changing world quite difficult. For this reason, in 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau implemented the American Community Survey (ACS) as a strategy to provide timely data to communities and researchers. Based on annual sampling of a selected group of geographic areas, the ACS provides 1-, 3- and 5-year estimates of demographic, economic, and housing statistics through the Factfinder 2 website. While this website requires a fairly in-depth knowledge of variable naming conventions, the benefits to the user in terms of data availability and timeliness are great. The advent of the ACS program did bring significant changes to the decennial census. Instead of using the so-called “long form,” which was provided to one in six respondents for the gathering of nondemographic information, residents participating in the 2010 census were asked questions related to age, race, ethnicity, and a limited view of household composition.

The ACS data site can be relatively confusing. In order to assist users, the Census Bureau has developed a guide that provides insight into which estimate set (1-year, 3-year, or 5-year) might be best to use in a particular situation. This guide is available at

Also, the drop-down menu located under Current Data Profiles on the ACS main page provides a quick way to access national or state-level information without having to use the more detailed Factfinder 2 site. Once the desired state is selected, the user has a choice between demographic, economic, housing, or social (relationship status, marital status, educational attainment, veteran status, disability status, etc.) characteristics. These data are available on the Factfinder 2 site at levels subsequent to the state.

County Business Patterns

County Business Patterns is an employment-focused dataset reported by the Census Bureau. As the name suggests, the data is reported at the county level for two- through six-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code industries.2 The data is based on IRS Forms 940 (Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Tax Return) and 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return). The data is relatively easy to access and reports the numbers of paid employees for the pay period that includes March 12, the total first quarter payroll for the year, the total annual payroll, and the total number of establishments. However, the restriction to the March 12 pay period can be problematic when analyzing businesses that have a significant seasonal component (such as those in the tourism industry). The reported data normally has a 2-year lag, as well as substantial disclosure issues at the county level, particularly in less populated counties and when dealing with the higher-digit NAICS codes.

2The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments (it replaced the Standard Industrial Classification [SIC] system in 1997). There are five levels of classification ranging from 2-digit to 6-digit codes, with 2-digit being the most broadly defined and 6-digit being the most narrowly defined. Examples of the range of codes are:

  • NAICS Code 32 – Manufacturing (Manufacturing also includes codes 31 and 33)
  • NAICS Code 324 – Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing
  • NAICS Code 3241 – Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing
  • NAICS Code 32412 – Asphalt Paving, Roofing, and Saturated Materials Manufacturing
  • NAICS Code 324121 – Asphalt Paving Mixture and Block Manufacturing

In many cases, the business set is repeated for subsequent levels of delineation (see Codes 324 and 3241 in the example). Also, many of these codes indicate a tri-party agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico for business classification purposes. For further information, see

Nonemployer Statistics

One of the most valuable datasets in determining the levels of entrepreneurship at the county level is the Nonemployer Statistics reported by the Census Bureau. This data reports businesses that have no employees and have receipts of more than $1,000 for the reported year. This differs from the County Business Patterns data that reports firm employees. Data is gathered from the annual and quarterly business tax returns filed with the IRS. The reported data typically has a 2-year lag. Data include the number of firms and the annual receipts of the firms on a two- to six-digit NAICS code level.

Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates

The Census Bureau, with the support of other federal agencies, created this set of data to provide more current estimates of selected income and poverty statistics than are available from the decennial census. Data for the year in question are usually released in November of the next year. The data is provided on a state, county, and school district basis.

Reported data for school districts include the school district federal identification number, the grade range of population for the relevant district, total population, “relevant” age population of 5–17, and “relevant” age population of 5–17 of people in families in poverty. A particularly useful feature of this dataset is the option to access a map of the school district in question.

For the county and state levels, data reported includes estimates of the populations in poverty for several age divisions, including all ages, under 18 years, ages 5–17, and under age 5 (only available on the state level). Also reported is an estimate of median household income in current dollars.

Census of Agriculture

The Census Bureau conducts the Census of Agriculture every 5 years. It collects information concerning all areas of farming and ranching operations, including production expenses, the market value of products, and operator characteristics.

Data collection for the 2012 Census of Agriculture will begin in winter 2012–2013. The 2007 Census of Agriculture is available on the website and contains a large variety of information regarding the previously mentioned farming and ranching components. Much of the data is only available in .pdf format; however, these documents can be converted to spreadsheets with effort. Data is available at the state, county, zip code, and congressional district level.

Economic Census

The Economic Census is conducted by the Census Bureau and is the official measure of business and economic activity in the country. It is conducted every 5 years (survey forms were mailed starting in October 2012 for the 2012 business year) and surveys more than 4 million businesses representing all United States locations and industries. The first data will be released in late 2014 or 2015.

The web platform used for accessing the Economic Census is the same as for the decennial census and the American Community Survey. It reports data to the census tract level for all industries to the six-digit NAICS code level. The 2002 and 2007 Economic Censuses are currently available online.

Census of Governments

The Census Bureau conducts a Census of Governments every 5 years. This census is particularly important to rural areas because government at all levels is often the largest employer in the county. The census has the following goals:

  • Identify the scope and nature of the nation’s state and local governments
  • Classify local government organizations, powers, and activities
  • Provide benchmark data on public finance and employment
  • Measure state and local government fiscal relationships

A number of data are reported on the national, state, and local levels. Several categories of data are reported, including types of governments, government functions, employment, payroll, financial statistics, tax receipts, and federal funds distributed to states and localities.

Other U.S. Census Bureau Databases

The U.S. Census Bureau hosts several other databases that are reported on the national and/or state level, but not the county level. While apportioning these data to the county level would be difficult, if not impossible, they can be useful in determining trends for various topics and industries. These databases include:

Statistics of U.S. Businesses

This is a single-year set of databases that provides data for the number of firms, number of establishments, employment, and annual payroll for most United States business establishments. It is reported on the national and state levels.

International Trade

This database provides information on United States export and import statistics, export regulations, commodity classifications, firm ownership characteristics, and profiles of importing and exporting countries. Data is reported on a national level only.


The manufacturing sector consists of establishments engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products. These establishments typically are characterized as plants, factories, or mills, although establishments that process materials by hand or contract with other establishments for processing or assembly may be included, as well. Standard reports available include shipments, inventories, orders, sales, plant capacity utilization, and research and development. Data is reported on the national, state, metropolitan, and county levels.

Wholesale Trade

This sector consists of establishments engaged in wholesaling merchandise, typically without transformation, and rendering services incidental to the sale of merchandise. Merchandise described in this sector includes the outputs of commodity agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and certain information industries, such as publishing.

Reported data for the sector include statistics on sales, workforce, and inventory, as well as data reported in other sources. Data is reported on the national level only.


This sector consists of establishments primarily engaged in the construction of buildings, engineering sites for new construction, and establishments primarily engaged in subdividing land for sale as building sites. National data reported include building permits, new residential construction and sales, manufactured housing, construction spending, price indexes, workforce indicators, housing characteristics, and annual capital expenditures. Various datasets included in this series are reported on different geographic levels including the nation, region, state, metropolitan area, county, and permit issuing place.

Monthly and Annual Retail Trade

Retail trade is a critical factor in the lifeblood of most community economies. Several reports are presented, including sales, inventories, and financial statistics reports. This data is reported on the national level only.

Annual and Quarterly Services

This database provides national-level data on a variety of service sectors, including utilities (NAICS 22); transportation and warehousing (NAICS 48-49); information services (NAICS 51); finance and insurance (NAICS 52); real estate and rental and leasing services (NAICS 53); professional, scientific, and technical services (NAICS 54); administrative and support, and waste management and remediation services (NAICS 56); educational services (NAICS 61); healthcare and social assistance (NAICS 62); arts, entertainment, and recreation (NAICS 71); and other services (except public administration) (NAICS 81). Reported data are total revenues on a quarterly basis to the four-digit NAICS level. Data is reported on the national level only.

E-Stats – Measuring the Electronic Economy

E-Stats is the Census Bureau’s website devoted to the electronic economy. The site features data releases (national-level only), information on the methodology used to collect the data, and background papers describing trends in the use of online technology that are being observed.

Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Program

The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program is a partnership between federal and state governments to combine data on employers and employees with Census Bureau censuses and surveys. The umbrella LEHD program has several major components.

Quarterly Workforce Indicators

The Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) dataset provides detail on the dynamics of local labor markets. The dataset provides quarterly information at the state, county, metropolitan area, and Workforce Investment Area (WIA) levels. Data can be obtained at the 2-, 3- or 4-digit NAICS code level. Delineations can be made regarding age group/sex, education/sex, or race/ethnicity, and a variety of factors affecting the workforce are reported, including total employment, net job flows, job creation, new hires, separations, turnover, average monthly earnings, and average new hire earnings. Comparison tables are provided to access multiple years/quarters, and data can be easily copied and pasted to a spreadsheet or database for further analysis.


OnTheMap is an online mapping and reporting application that shows where people work and where workers live. It provides an easy-to-use interface for creating, viewing, printing, and downloading workforce related maps, profiles, and underlying data. An interactive map viewer displays workplace and residential distributions by user defined geographies at census block level detail. The application also provides companion reports on worker and firm characteristics, employment and residential area comparisons, worker flows, and commuting patterns. Statistics can be generated for specific segments of the workforce, including ages, earnings, or industry groupings.

Department of Commerce/Bureau of Economic Analysis

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), housed in the Department of Commerce, provides several data series that are extremely useful for assessing the economic situation of local areas to the county level. The data is assembled from a number of sources, including other units in the Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Department of Agriculture. While these data typically suffer a 2-year reporting lag, time series dating from 1969 are readily available and easily accessible. Available data are presented in tables with standardized nomenclature. Local area statistics data include:

  • CA1-3 Personal income (including sources of personal income), per-capita personal income (personal income divided by population), and population.
  • CA34 Average wage per job, wage and salary disbursements, and employment totals for the area and year being reported.
  • CA04 Personal income (including sources of personal income) and employment summary.
  • CA05/CA05N Personal income and earnings by industry (a consolidated industry four-digit NAICS or SIC reporting basis). Table CA05 reports the data on a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code basis; Table CA05N reports the data on a NAICS code basis. Table CA05 reports data from 1969–2000; Table CA05N reports data from 2001 forward.
  • CA06/CA06N Compensation of employees by industry (a consolidated industry four-digit reporting basis). Table CA06 reports the data on an SIC code basis; Table CA06N reports the data on a NAICS code basis. Table CA06 reports data from 1969–2000; Table CA06N reports data from 2001 forward.
  • CA25/CA25N Total full-time and part-time employment by industry (a consolidated industry four-digit reporting basis). Table CA25 reports the data on an SIC code basis; Table CA25N reports the data on a NAICS code basis. Table CA25 reports data from 1969–2000; Table CA25N reports data from 2001 forward.
  • CA30 Economic profiles. This table provides a compilation summary of personal income, earnings, and employment and population statistics by county.
  • CA35 Personal current transfer receipts including retirement, medical, income maintenance, unemployment, and veterans benefits. Also includes education and training assistance and transfer receipts of nonprofit institutions from government and businesses.
  • CA45 Farm income and expenses. This dataset provides a view of farm income and expenses. Income categories include crop, livestock, and other income (other income includes government payments). Other detailed categories include production expenses (feed, seed, purchased livestock, fertilizer and lime, petroleum products, hired labor, and other production expenses), value of inventory changed, and the derivation of farm and proprietors’ income.
  • CA91 Gross flow of earnings. This tables includes estimates concerning the inflow of earnings originating from outside the reporting county (earnings from workers who work outside the reporting county but live in the county), the earnings that flow out of the reporting county or region (workers who live outside the county but work in the county), and the county’s residence adjustment (inflows of earnings minus outflows of earnings).

The BEA also offers a number of state-level data series that can, with appropriate methods, be apportioned to the county level. Data that are particularly useful for local area profiles include:

  • Gross domestic product is a measure of the value-added output of the state that is reported on a consolidated four-digit SIC or NAICS code level. An appropriate methodology for apportioning these numbers to the county level can be found in Estimating GDP at the Parish (County) Level: An Evaluation of Alternative Approaches (Barreca, Fannin, and Detre, 2012).
  • Subsidies are the monetary grants paid by government agencies to private businesses or to government entities at another level of government.
  • Taxes on production are tax liabilities, such as general sales and imports and property taxes, that are charged as business expenses in the calculation of profit-type incomes.

Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Local Area Unemployment database presents information to the local level (counties, cities above 25,000 population, and census divisions) on labor force, people who are employed and unemployed, and the employment and unemployment rates.

Department of Agriculture/Economic Research Service

The Economic Research Service (ERS) provides a large number of datasets reported at the county level. While most of these focus on rural communities and issues, they do not exclude the more urban areas. The reporting lag for the information contained in the databases may be quite long. This information is calculated from raw data, and the calculation itself can be quite intensive. However, ERS does provide the methodology for calculating the information. These databases include:

Commuting Zones and Labor Market Areas

Commuting Zones and Labor Market Areas were developed first in the 1980s to better delineate local economies because county boundaries do not always define local economies. The definitions presented here are intended to more closely reflect the local economy where people live and work. The latest set of codes was developed in 2000; 1980 and 1990 code databases also are provided.

County-level Datasets

The ERS provides four sets of socio-economic indicator databases that report poverty, population, unemployment and median household income, and education. The data are current to the extent that the gathering agency (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, etc.) reports the data. National, state, and county level maps, as well as raw datasets, are available for downloading.

County Typology Codes

The 2004 County Typology Codes (previously issued in 1989, 1986, and 1979) classify all United States counties into six non-overlapping categories of economic dependence and seven overlapping categories of policy-relevant themes. The economic types include farming, mining, manufacturing, services, federal/state government, and unspecialized counties. The policy types include housing stress, low education, low employment, persistent poverty, population loss, non-metro recreation, and retirement destination. In addition, the database provides a code that identifies counties with persistent child poverty.

Creative Class County Codes

The Creative Class County Codes database provides a code that indicates a county’s share of the population employed in occupations that require “creative thinking” (such as engineers, architects, artists, etc.). Variables used to construct the measure include the number and percent employed in creative class occupations and a metro/non-metro indicator for all counties. A break-out of employment in the arts is included.

Farm Household Income and Characteristics

In many rural areas, production agriculture is still a dominant industry. This dataset presents the latest household income forecast and estimates for United States family farms.

Federal Funds

The source of the ERS federal funds database is the Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Reports on federal expenditures and obligations for grants, salaries and wages, procurements, direct payments, direct loans, guaranteed loans, and insurance obtained from federal government agencies. The data for each federal program is screened for accuracy at the county level and then presented by function and type of program for each county and state.

Unfortunately, due to the termination of the Federal Financial Statistics program, the federal funds related reports from ERS and the Census Bureau are no longer available except in a historical context. However, (maintained by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget) does provide some information regarding federal grants and contracts on a geographic basis.

Food Access Research Atlas and Food Environment Atlas

The Food Access Research Atlas presents a spatial overview of where food-desert census tracts are located, as well as selected population characteristics and downloadable data of those tracts. In addition, the Food Environment Atlas provides a wider set of statistics on food choices, health and well-being, and community characteristics than does the Food Desert Locator.

Frontier and Remote Area Codes

The Frontier and Remote Area (FAR) Codes provide information about conditions in sparsely settled, remote areas of the United States. The FAR term is used in this instance to describe territory characterized by a combination of low population and a high degree of geographic remoteness. FAR has four distinct definition levels, ranging from relatively inclusive (communities that do not have access to high-order goods and services such as advanced medical procedures and regional airport hubs) to relatively restrictive (communities that have difficulties accessing low-order goods such as grocery stores, gas stations, and basic healthcare needs).

Natural Amenities Scale

This index is a measure of the physical characteristics of a county that enhance its desirability as a place to live. The scale was constructed by combining six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer. These measures include warm winter, winter sun, temperate summer, low summer humidity, topographic variation, and water area.

Rural Definitions

This database uses a set of nine rural definitions and compares social and economic indicators from the 2000 decennial census to delineate the differences between urban and rural areas. While not presented at the county level, it does provide a sense of the rurality of the state.

Rural Urban Commuting Codes

This code set classifies United States census tracts (based on the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses) using measures of population density, urbanization, and daily commuting. The census tracts are classified on two levels. First, metropolitan, micropolitan, small town, and rural commuting areas are assigned based on the size and direction of the largest commuting flows. These sectors are further divided to permit stricter or looser definition of commuting areas based on the second-largest commuting flows.

Rural Urban Continuum Codes

This 2003 classification (previously developed in 1993, 1983, and 1974) distinguishes metropolitan counties by size and nonmetropolitan counties by their degree of urbanization and geographic proximity to metro areas. Instead of the classification by the Office of Management and Budget that divided counties into metro and non-metro categories, this formulation uses a nine-part county codification.

Urban Influence Codes

This 2003 database classifies metropolitan counties by size and nonmetropolitan counties by the size of the largest city or town and proximity to metro and micro areas. Similar to the Rural Urban Continuum Codes, the Influence Codes break county data into 12 classifications for finer analysis of trends in non-metro areas that are related to population density and metro influence.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

While the primary focus of this publication is socio-economic data sources, the Federal Bureau of Investigation provides a comprehensive set of crime statistics at the county level dating from 1960 to a lag of 1 year. While some datasets may be incomplete due to non-reporting of data by local law enforcement agencies, these datasets do provide a picture of the relative safety of a local area.

Series reported by the FBI include uniform crime reports (violent and property crimes), hate crime statistics, law enforcement officers killed and assaulted reports, bank crime reports, financial crime reports, financial institution fraud and failure reports, internet crime reports, mass-marketing fraud threat assessments, mortgage fraud reports, national drug threat assessments, national gang threat assessments, and terrorism incident reports. Additional information can be found on the Bureau of Justice Statistics website (

Health Resources and Services Administration

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides a wealth of information regarding the health services offered in individual counties. Through its Area Resource File (ARF) database, HRSA offers information on such topics as healthcare professions and training and health facilities (including types of facilities and hospital utilization and expenditures). The database also offers demographic (including vital statistics and health insurance statistics), environmental, and county typology code information on the county level. The ARF is a collection of data from more than 50 sources, including the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and National Center for Health Statistics.

While the HRSA offers several ways to access the database, perhaps the most efficient method is to download and install the Microsoft Access Database version. This stand-alone database has easy-to use menus and comes with detailed documentation. Other methods include accessing the data from the main HRSA webpage in a “browser query” format.

National Atlas – The National Map

You have most likely heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Using maps to help describe your community’s situation can be a very effective tool to convey opportunities and challenges to your audience. Unfortunately, mapping software can be very expensive and require a steep learning curve.

The National Atlas Map Maker, a service of the U.S. Geological Survey with the Department of the Interior, is an Internet-based service that provides a large amount of data that can be mapped on the national, state, and local levels. From basic information that includes city, town, and county boundaries; roads (interstates and United States highways); and streams and other water bodies, to more in-depth topics, such as agriculture, biology, climate, the environment, geology, government, history, people, transportation, and water, the service can provide a vast amount of data that can be used to tell your community’s story.

State Data

While the federal government definitely has the largest amount of secondary data available for public use, individual states have data that is critical to describing the health of the local economy. In many cases, the types of data that are available at the state level may not be available from the federal government and, if they are provided by the federal government, will likely not be as current as the same data furnished by state agencies. A listing of state agency websites for the types of data described below can be found in the appendix at the end of this document.

State Census Data Centers

The State Census Data Centers Program is one of the Census Bureau’s longest partnerships. The purpose of the program is to have an established entity within each state to provide public access to census data. Each state or territory’s lead agency for the program is appointed by that state’s/territory’s governor. A complete listing of the individual state census data centers can be found in the appendix.

Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration

The U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration provides access information for a number of state workforce investment and employment websites that may not be readily accessible through other means. Since the website primarily provides links to state sites, the quantity and type of information may vary substantially.

Department of Revenue/State Tax Commission

The Departments of Revenue (sometimes referred to as the State Tax Commission) in most states provide a wealth of information regarding the level of sales, amount of tax collected, and number of entities paying the tax. While the majority of people who access these sites are searching for sales and use tax data that provide information on the various sectors for which these types of taxes are collected, other important data that are on these sites typically include motor vehicle and title taxes and fees, petroleum taxes for various fuels, income and franchise taxes, and general fund receipts by the states. A complete listing of the individual state departments of revenue can be found in the appendix.

Department of Education

The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 requires that school, district, and state report cards contain certain information. In most cases, these report cards are housed at the state department of education and accessible through the department’s website. Report cards contain various NCLB test results, as well as school populations and demographic information, such as race, gender, and poverty levels. This type of data can be very beneficial in determining the motives of businesses planning to leave an area. A complete listing of the individual state departments of education can be found in the appendix.

Economic Development Agencies

State economic development agencies often host a significant amount of data that can be used to understand a local area’s economy. While the types of data and information presented on these websites vary greatly from state to state, most states’ sites have several common elements.

  • Local area economic development profiles that provide information on utilities, transportation, and infrastructure.
  • Policies relevant to the state and specific local areas that address economic development incentives for the creation, attraction, retention, and expansion of businesses.
  • Buildings and sites in the community and surrounding areas that are specifically targeted for economic development activities.
  • Various directories that provide information on specific types of businesses (manufacturing, minority-owned businesses, etc.).

A complete listing of the individual state departments of economic development can be found in the appendix.

State Offices of Rural Health

In many communities (particularly rural communities), the healthcare industry is one of the largest sectors in the economy. The state offices of rural health often host or can provide a significant amount of data that addresses the status of this important sector. While some of the data typically hosted by these state-level offices also can be found in the Area Resource File database with the Health Resources and Services Administration (see above), the state offices of rural health often have data that is more detailed and current. These data typically include healthcare facility directories, information regarding the healthcare professionals in the state, hospital admission and discharge statistics, and chronic disease statistics at the local (usually county) level. A complete listing of the individual state offices of rural health can be found in the appendix.

Other Data Sources

There are a tremendous number of other data sources available to the general public and economic development professionals. These sources range from state government agencies to non-profit organizations/foundations to proprietary firms. The examples provided below are not meant to favor one source over another (particularly with respect to the proprietary sources), but are meant as examples of the types of data that are available.

STATS Indiana

While STATS Indiana is the official statistics site for the state of Indiana, it contains a variety of national- and state-level data that can be useful for analyzing other regions. In particular, the County/Metro Side-by-Side feature allows the comparison of up to four county or metro regions. The site also contains a number of information tools that provide useful analysis of the data, such as cost of living indices, location quotients, etc.


YourEconomy is an interactive website developed by the Edward Lowe Foundation in 2007. Its goal is to provide data and information on establishments (businesses, agencies, and organizations) and jobs at the national, state, metropolitan statistical area, and county levels. The website provides three levels of access to the data, with the more detailed access requiring a paid subscription.

Non-subscription data available include composition and growth and sales data for establishments by employment size classes for the years 1995–2009. In addition to employment size classes, establishments are also classified as resident (stand-alone businesses in the area or businesses with headquarters in the same state), nonresident (businesses located in the area but that are headquartered in a different state), and noncommercial (educational institutions, post offices, government agencies, and other nonprofit organizations).

Southern Rural Development Data Center

The Southern Rural Development Center has assembled a set of demographic and economic data to create county-level data profiles for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Data are presented in an attractive .pdf format, but the reporting lag for some variables is substantial.

Lightcast (formerly Emsi)

Lightcast (commonly referred to as Emsi) is a subscription-based data site that contains a wide variety of historical and projected data for easily defined user regions of interest. Economic overviews include data on industry, jobs, occupations, and educational factors. Data is available at the six-digit NAICS code level for industries and for all O*NET occupation classifications. University researchers interested in rural, urban, or regional economics are commonly using this source of data. Economics or agricultural economics department faculty at regional, state, or land-grant universities may be able to provide analysis based on this data source for the community.

Woods & Poole Economics

Woods & Poole Economics is an economic forecasting firm specializing in national, state, metropolitan statistical area, and county demographic and economic forecasting. Data are provided to customers in either printed or spreadsheet form (both forms have complete documentation). Industry data are reported and forecasted at the 2-digit NAICS code level, and the dataset also has the relatively unique feature of reporting and forecasting standard components of retail sales. Depending on the purchased package, data and forecasts are available from 1970–2040.


There are many different sources of publicly available secondary data at the federal and state levels. These data can be used to assist in describing a local area’s particular social or economic situation. It is important to remember that estimated data (either past estimations or future projections) is only as good as the algorithm used to create it.

However, some words of caution! Data alone do not tell the whole community story. The user must transform the data into information that can, in turn, be used to supplement knowledge and initiate innovation in the local community.

Also, different datasets are designed for different purposes. Users should carefully read the documentation that accompanies each dataset and understand the inherent limitations. If you still have questions, there are many educational, governmental, and technical assistance providers that are able to help. One of the closest and most knowledgeable is the Cooperative Extension System (CES) located within the nation’s land-grant universities. For information on the Extension office nearest you, see the comprehensive listing at


Barreca, John D., J. Matthew Fannin & Joshua D. Detre. Estimating GDP at the Parish (County) Level: An Evaluation of Alternative Approaches. Publication B890. LSU AgCenter. 2012. Available online at

Deller, Steven C. 2010. National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals Annual Conference. Bloomington, MN.

Lightcast. Available online at

Mississippi State University Extension Service/Southern Rural Development Center. Available online at

STATS Indiana. Available online at

U.S. Census Bureau. Various websites.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Various websites.

U.S. Department of Commerce/Bureau of Economic Analysis. Available online at

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Health Resources and Services Administration. Available online at

U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available online at

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Available online at

U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Available online

U.S. National Map. Available online at

Woods & Poole Economics. Available online at

YourEconomy. Available online at


This appendix contains a set of data sites for each state. In order, the appendix includes the URLs for the state census data center, the department of revenue/tax commission, the department of education, the state’s economic development agency, and the state office of rural health.





























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia



Publication 2756 (POD-12-22)

By Alan Barefield, PhD, Extension Professor, Agricultural Economics, and Kathleen Tweeten, NDSU Extension Service Center for Community Vitality Director and Community Economic Development Specialist.

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