Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ignore at Your Peril

From our friends a J.J. Hill Library: Twitter, Pownce, Facebook, Plurk - online communities are as plentiful as they are nonsensically named. And they're coming into the mainstream. Might your business benefit by joining the conversation?

A white paper from Rubicon Consulting called Online Communities and Their Impact on Business can help you decide. The study identifies how information about businesses is spread online and how businesses can best interact in that conversation.

Access the full report in PDF

No so incidentally, the title of this post is the subtitle of the white paper.

Friday, December 19, 2008

BNET's Best Business Books 2008

Once again, I have found a list of business books that I would like to share. The books in BNET's Best Business Books of 2008 were voted on by BNET readers and the article includes synopses, reviews, and more. The topics range from microfinance explained in terms for four to eight year old children to a book titled "The Back of a Napkin", the theme of which is how to solve business problems through illustrating.

If anyone who reads this post has business book recommendations, we at the Research Network would love to read your comments. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Books in the Collection

2009 Directory of Department Stores
Chain Store Guide
Department Stores
Shoe Stores
Resident Buyers
Jewelry Retailers
Optical Retailers
Product Lines
Apparel Price Lines

They offer some statistical analysis as well as profiles of companies. The profile includes address, contact details, total sales, breakdown by product, number of units, buyers by department, parent company.

Although available online, we have the print version of the 2007 Traffic Data Report for New York State from the NYS Department of Transportation. The data is available on the Highway Data Services Bureau's web page:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2009

Do you like data? If the answer is “yes,” you’ll certainly enjoy the Census’s Bureau’s 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States. Just released today, the almanac includes “more than 1,400 tables of social, political and economic facts about our nation and the world. Among topics covered in the 49 new tables in this edition are the religious composition of our nation’s population, osteopathic physicians, online news consumption, expenditures for wildlife-related recreation and women in parliaments around the globe. Although the emphasis is on national-level statistics, some tables present state- and even city- and metropolitan-level data as well.”

Check it out (along with previous years back to 2006) in PDF form here:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Using a "Secret Shopper"

I found an interesting article about using a secret shopper. I've actually been a secret shopper for friends in business; I think it's fun.

The writer's wife's friend is the manager of a store. "Getting someone to participate as a secret shopper could give you the insight you need for evaluating employee performance. There are programs out there that will connect businesses with secret shoppers, or you can just get someone you know to do it if they are willing."

Here's the downside: "the possibility of losing the respect of your employees. If you do engage in a secret shopper situation, it is probably best that the employees never find out about it. They will not appreciate being spied on, and no longer trust you. If your employees can't trust you and/or respect you, they're not going to be happy working for you, and will quite possibly begin looking for another job."

Bottom line: "If you do use a secret shopper and all of your employees pass the test with flying colors, reward them. Even if they don't know why you're rewarding them, you can show them that you appreciate the work they've been doing, and they will surely respect that."

I would also suggest that it's not just the retail establishment that needs to be secretly shopped. How easily the online store actually works or how quickly and politely employees answer the phone may be something an employer might want to check out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Census Bureau: New Database for Tracking Business Activity

We get lots of requests that try & show the growth, or decline, of certain industries (or of small business in general) over a given time period, or in a given place. Our responses have always required getting a bit of data here, and a bit of data there, and involving way too much formatting of spreadsheets.

I've just learned of the Census Bureau's new "Business Dynamics Statistics" website. (A lot of people just learned of the site - it just rolled out on December 1st.) However, after reading what it's all about, I'm tempted to say that we'll now be able to answer these questions a whole lot more easily.

Here's a press release from Census, telling us just what to expect:

"The U.S. Census Bureau announces the release of the Business Dynamics Statistics (BDS), a data series that allows users to track annual changes in employment for growing and shrinking businesses at the establishment level.

There are more than 6 million establishments with paid employees in the United States. These businesses are dynamic: opening and closing, adding and losing employees.

The BDS monitors this activity, tracking annual job creation and destruction at the establishment level using elements not found in similar databases, such as firm age and size. Tracking by firm age, for example, allows users to distinguish between new establishments of new firms and new establishments of mature firms. These statistics are crucial to understanding current and historical entrepreneurial activity in the U.S."

I'm writing this post to let you know of its existence, but, honestly, it's more for my future reference. Some of the data available on this site, once accessed, is a bit confusing to understand. It'll take us some time to decipher just what we're looking at. Stay tuned.


And have a wonderful holiday season, everyone!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

American Community Survey 2005-2007 Data Release

On December 9, 2008, the Census Bureau will release the first set of three-year American Community Survey data for all geographies with populations greater than 20,000. The release will provide the first look at detailed socioeconomic and housing characteristics for geographies between 20,000 and 64,999 since Census 2000. The type of data released and geographies covered can be found here.

Different from a point-in-time estimate

Before I talk about multiyear estimates, it’s important to understand the concept of a period estimate because all ACS estimates are period estimates.

The ACS produces period estimates of socioeconomic and housing characteristics. It is designed to provide estimates that describe the average characteristics of an area over a specific time period. In the case of ACS one-year estimates, the period is the calendar year. For example, the 2007 ACS data describe the population and housing characteristics of an area from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007, not for any specific day within the year.

A period estimate is different from a point-in-time estimate. A point-in-time estimate is designed to measure characteristics as of a certain date or narrow time period. For example, the purpose of the decennial census is to count the population living in the United States on a specific date, which is traditionally April 1. Although decennial census data are actually collected over several months, they are designed to provide a snapshot of the U.S. population as of April 1.

Understanding Multiyear Estimates in the American Community Survey

Period for ACS multiyear estimates is either 3 or 5 calendar years. A multiyear estimate is simply a period estimate that encompasses more than one calendar year. In the case of ACS multiyear estimates, the period is either three or five calendar years.

While a one-year estimate includes information collected from independent monthly samples over a 12-month period, a three-year estimate represents data collected from independent samples over a 36-month period, and a five-year estimate includes data collected over a 60-month period. For example, the 2005-2007 ACS three-year estimates describe the population and housing characteristics of an area for the period January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2007, not for any specific day, month, or year within that time period.

The types of ACS estimates published for a particular area or population group are based on established population thresholds. Geographic areas with at least 65,000 people will receive one-, three-, and five-year ACS estimates. Areas with 20,000 or more people will receive three- and five-year estimates. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. ZIP code tabulation areas, census tracts, and block groups, regardless of their population size, will only receive five-year estimates. Areas with less than 20,000 people, down to the block group level, will only receive five-year estimates.

ACS estimates based on data collected from 2005-2007 should not be labeled "2006" or "2007" estimates. Multiyear estimates do not represent any one year or the midpoint of a period. The correct labeling for multiyear estimate: "The child poverty rate for the 2005-2007 period was X percent."

Perhaps it is obvious, but multiyear estimates must be used when no one-year estimate is available. Unless a geographic area has a population larger than 65,000, that geography will be reliant on multiyear estimates.

Multiyear estimates should also be used when analyzing data for small population groups due to the higher margins of error associated with them. An example of a small population group could be "Families with Female Householder with own Children under 18". The choices posed for using mulityear estimates is more than simply a choice between using the one-year or the multiyear estimates, however, because for many areas there will also be the choice of which multiyear estimate to use, three- or five-year.

For small areas, only five-year estimates are released, but for larger areas, each annual release will provide one-, three-, and five-year estimates. For example, in 2010, there will be three sets of commuting data for San Diego County – one-year estimates for 2009, three-year estimates reflecting 2007-2009, and five-year estimates for the period of 2005-2009. Users need to decide which is the most appropriate for their needs.

In making this choice, one need to consider the tradeoff between currency and reliability. The one-year estimates for an area reflect the most current data but they tend to have higher margins of error than the three- and five-year estimates because they are based on a smaller sample.

The three-year and five-year estimates for an area have larger samples and smaller margins of error than the one-year estimates, but they are less current because the larger samples include data that were collected in earlier years. The main advantage of using multiyear estimates is the increased statistical reliability for smaller geographic areas and small population groups.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on choosing between one-, three-, and five-year data, but the margins of error provided with ACS data can help data users decide on the tradeoff between currency and reliability.

Only compare the same type of estimate:
1-year estimates to other 1-year estimates
3-year estimates to other 3-year estimates
5-year estimates to other 5-year estimates

When comparing estimates from two multiyear periods, it is easier to make comparisons between non-overlapping periods. This is because the difference between two estimates of overlapping periods is driven by the non-overlapping years. To illustrate what I mean, consider the 2005-2007 period and the 2007-2009 period estimates. Both contain the year 2007. Thus, the difference between the 2005-2007 and 2007-2009 estimates is determined by the difference between the 2005 and 2006 estimates versus the 2008 and 2009 estimates.

In this example, the simplest comparison is between the 2005-2007 estimate and the 2008-2010 estimate, which do not include any overlapping years.

There are global differences that exist between the ACS and Census 2000. These include differences in residence rules, universes, and reference periods. For example, the ACS uses a "two-month" residence rule - defined as anyone living for more than two months in the sample unit when the unit is interviewed. On the other hand, Census 2000 used a "usual residence" rule - defined as the place where a person lives or stays most of the time.

The reference periods between the ACS and Census 2000 also differ. For example, the ACS asks respondents to report their income for the 12 months preceding the interview date while Census 2000 asked for a respondent’s income in calendar year 1999.

Also, as discussed earlier, the ACS produces period estimates whereas Census 2000 data are interpreted to be a snapshot of April 1, 2000.

The Census Bureau subject matter specialists have considered all of these differences and have determined that for most population and housing subjects, comparisons can be made. Further information about comparing measures from the ACS and Census 2000 can be found here.

There are other subtlies of ACS data which I'll not touch on, such as controlling to county population estimates.

The ACS Web Site is offering handbooks providing "user-friendly information about the ACS and the new multiyear estimates... Each handbook targets a specific user group including first time ACS data users."

The ACS Compass Presentations, from which this post was partially purloined, can be found here.

Data Analysis and User Education Branch: 301.763.3655

Friday, December 05, 2008

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property, as defined by Wikipedia, is "a legal field that refers to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; inventions; and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and related rights." Often times our clients who have created an original product or idea become confused when they want to protect their creation over whether they need to apply for a copyright, trademark, or patent. Below are explanations on the three types of protection and what is protected by each.

Copyright is for original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Copyrights are registered with the United States Copyright Office and have an expiration date. The length of the copyright depends on when the work was first created.

Trademark covers words, names, symbols, and devices used to identify goods or services in commerce. Federal regulations are available through the United States Patent and Trademark Office and trademarks cans be renewed indefinitely.

Patents fall into three main categories: utility, plant, and design. Utility patents are good for twenty years and are applied to new or newly improved processes, machines, manufacturing procedures, or the composition of matter. Plant patents last for twenty years as well and are applied to plants that have been newly produced asexually, not from seed. Design patents last for fourteen years and apply to new, original, and ornamental designs for articles. For example, a better functioning baby bottle would be a utility patent while a better looking bottle would be a design patent. For more information on patents, go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Smart Moves

I spotted Ira Davidson quoted in the December issue of Entrepreneur Magazine in an article entitled Smart Moves in a Bad Economy. Good on you, Ira. This is a hot topic and one we are all interested in hearing more about. Increasingly we asked how small business owners should handle their marketing during lean times. This article encourages owners to think carefully about where they cut and warn against cutting valuable people or marketing dollars so severely they spite themselves.

Please remember to let us know when you are interviewed in print or broadcast. We want to know!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Government Tweets

"We continue to discuss how to best use a single Twitter channel for a 17,000-person agency covering many complex, interdisciplinary issues."

This was the first post I read on the EPA's Twitter feed. So apparently we're not alone in trying to figure out this Twitter thing! At least there are less than 200 of us...

Want to see how more government agencies are using Twitter? Use the GovTwit directory to find Twitter accounts for state, local and federal, as well as contractors, reporters, academics.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

International Program Center

Here's a Census website I did not know about until recently: the International Programs Center (IPC) "conducts demographic and socioeconomic studies and strengthens statistical development around the world through technical assistance, training, and software products." I knew Census had a world population clock, but didn't notice that IPC was the source the information. IPC assists "in the collection, processing, analysis, dissemination, and use of statistics with counterpart governments throughout the world." Also note these handy links to international statistical agencies.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Small Business Year-End Tax Strategies

Here's an article that appears in today's Los Angeles Times:,0,5978675.story

According to it, accountants in this part of the country are talking to their small business clients about: deferring deductions and accelerating income; increasing the deduction for expenses; taking a bonus depreciation deduction; and taking a deduction for losses.