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More than five million American businesses received 1997 Economic Census forms from the U.S. Census Bureau in December. Completed questionnaires are due February 12, 1998, and all those receiving a form are required to respond.

Taken every five years, the Economic Census identifies national and local business trends that are essential to measuring and encouraging economic growth. Census figures help update such widely used figures as the gross domestic product and monthly retail sales.

Census information is analyzed into the facts and figures that Federal, state, and local organizations--and firms and companies--rely on for sound decisions and sensible economic planning. For example, information collected includes the number of employees, payroll, and the types and value of goods and services provided during 1997. Census results provide the information for strategic planning and many statistics that investors have come to expect in a business plan.

Technology and Classification Changes

According to the bureau, this is the most ambitious Economic Census ever and will be the first published entirely on the Internet. Early in 1999, a new advance report will present totals for the entire economy. All data also will be on CD-ROMs with highlights in printed reports.

The 1997 census also marks the debut of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) in a major statistical report. Developed cooperatively by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, NAICS replaces the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system to provide greater comparability with international statistics. NAICS is intended to more accurately portray the way the economy is now structured, and the new system recognizes the profound changes in technology and the growth of services that have marked recent decades.

Bureau officials estimate that most businesses can complete their census form in about an hour and state that results are strictly confidential. By law, only sworn Census Bureau employees may see individual questionnaires. Business responses are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act; no competitors can obtain the data.

For more information, including sample forms and results from the 1992 Census, see the Census Bureau's website at www.census.gov/econ97. *

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