Group rounds up business help for Census

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As co-chairmen of Indianapolis’ Complete Count Committee, Stephen Smith and Amos Brown are taking a new approach to help the city with the 2010 U.S. Census.

Instead of business as usual, Smith and Brown are turning to a resource they think is underutilized in census efforts—Indianapolis businesses.

Complete Count Committees throughout the country consist of community and government leaders charged with building awareness of the census and promoting the value of accurate and complete census data.

Smith and Brown decided to focus on encouraging area companies to provide funding for local marketing and events designed to encourage local citizens to fill out their census forms. The group also wanted to use company databases to gain contact information on employees and clients. Brown, a well-known media executive and radio personality, said it’s all part of an effort to communicate the importance of the census more frequently and effectively.

The results: $25,000 in contributions from Indianapolis companies, an e-mail database of area businesses provided by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and help from several companies in coordinating census-related events.

Smith, also the chairman of the Indianapolis Housing Agency, said the donations are far short of what they'd ideally receive, but that's understandable when considering this is the first focused local effort at mobilizing businesses to help with the census.

“The lesson learned for 2020 is to start [the fund raising and committee formation] earlier—probably two years in advance,” Smith said. “I feel good, though, that people understand that the census is under way. If all we do is raise awareness, I think we’ve done a good job.”

The Indianapolis census drive would ultimately strive to be more like the one in Houston, where its Complete Count Committee spends more than $100,000 for marketing and events, Smith said, and resembles “more of a political campaign.”

Most of what the local committee has received has been donations under $1,000. The largest contribution was a $2,500 from Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties. Smith said the hours donated by area businesses to help organize events and host events to rally participation has been worth roughly double what the committee received in funding.

By April 1, "National Census Day," Smith and Brown want everyone from Indianapolis and the surrounding area to be counted. The day will be used to host events at area companies to attract citizens to fill out forms. One such event will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday at grocery store Carniceria Guanajuato at Pike Plaza and Lafayette Road, where Brown and Smith will promote census participation by the city’s Hispanic community.

“We are most concerned about making sure we have a complete count in the Hispanic community because of the population growth there,” Smith said. “We’ve had a very good response to date.”

The April 1 deadline to fill out the 2010 United States Census form is a key date as cities and towns across Indiana in their attempt to deliver the most accurate count possible. As of Wednesday afternoon, 51 percent of Indianapolis residents had returned their census forms, placing the city's response rate near the top of America’s 25 largest metro areas.

 “It’ll affect our ability to attract and maintain business here in Indianapolis,” Smith said. “[The census] is how you stake your claim.”

Population statistics from the census determine the number of Congressional representatives and also decide how certain federal and state funds and grants are allocated.

Matt Kinghorn, an economic analyst for the Indiana Business Research Center, said getting accurate information will have a big impact on whether companies decide to move to the city.

“This kind of data is key for market-driven research,” Kinghorn said. “For the private sector, it’s important for understanding site selection, where to locate retail outlets, good areas to locate industrial facilities and whether there is a good labor force there.”

Brown said the count is especially important for a city and surrounding area that has grown since 2000.  In 2008, census estimates projected Indianapolis' population at 880,000, growth of almost 20,000 residents since the turn of the decade. The census predicted Indianapolis would experience the highest  growth percentage of any Midwest market and the third highest number of additional residents.

“That’s like a preseason ranking in sports though,” Brown said. “The census is the real game.”

Beyond city borders, the metro area is expected to experience even greater growth, as much as 12 percent since the last census, according to some estimates. To capitalize on the growth, individual local government officials are doing their own counts.

Gary Huff, town manager of Fishers, has dispatched his own committee to tally the more then 68,000 estimated residents in the fast-growing town. Graduates of the Fishers’ Town Government Academy (a nine-week program teaching residents about local government activities and organizational structure) will be Huff’s frontline in the fight to make sure all the town’s citizens fill out a form.

“You can tie almost anything we do with the count,” Huff said. “All those number come into play we talk about any of the city’s services. Every dollar is extremely important.”

Census projections identify Hamilton County as the epicenter of Indiana growth. Population totals are expected to jump almost 50 percent since 2000, adding about 90,000 citizens to bring the total number close to 270,000.

For Huff, maintaining a close count is not a project to be tackled every decade. Each month, the town manager said Fishers receives population estimates based on counts of building and residential permits. Huff said he also works closely with the U.S. Census Department to do additional counts in between the 10-year gaps. Fishers participated in Census counts in both 2003 and 2007.

“For every person, that’s $4,000 dollars a year that comes in various funding sources of federal money,” he said. “Many of the revenues from state we get come from formulas based on populations, too. We want to get our due from the federal and state government so we can completely provide the services in town.”

The allocation of federal funds determined by the census is something Indianapolis Economic Development Corp. President Scott Miller said will be crucial for improving the city. Miller said the census will determine how about $300 billion in annual federal government funding for “critical community service” will be distributed across the country. Miller said these programs will go a long way toward developing better infrastructure and making capital improvements.

“We have to make sure we’re in the pipeline for that federal funding,” he said. “Having those types of resources makes us a stronger community.”

Those resources determined by the Census include Title I grants to school districts, Head Start programs, WIC food grants, public transportation, road rehabilitation and construction, programs for the elderly, emergency food and shelter and empowerment zones.

Brown said Marion County will see immediate benefits due to the census. Brown said 5,000 to 7,000 temporary, part-time positions will be made available for the county. Positions as census takers vary in pay, but provide short-term employment from April through July for locating households, encouraging participation and performing other information-gathering duties.

“It’s going to be a nice employment boost for the area,” he said.

After the deadline passes, non-participants will be sent a “last chance” form. Census workers will be deployed around late April to go door-to-door to encourage participation as well.

All Indiana census forms are processed in the National Processing Center in Jeffersonville. By law, Indianapolis’ Census information must be delivered to the federal bureau before December. The results will be announced in March of the next year.

Those promoting the census would rather see the task accomplished earlier.

“If you’re a living, breathing human being in this city,” Smith said. “On April 1, you should be counted.”

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