Co-ops back in U.S. Census after 20-year absence

Including co-ops in the 2017 Economic Census will help pinpoint the scope and impact of cooperative businesses nationwide.Including co-ops in the 2017 Economic Census will help pinpoint the scope and impact of cooperative businesses nationwide.Including co-ops in the 2017 Economic Census will help pinpoint the scope and impact of cooperative businesses nationwide.NCBA CLUSA is thrilled to announce that a decades-long absence of federally-reported data on co-ops in the U.S. will end with the 2017 Economic Census. The Office of Management and Budget on Friday approved without change or question the main 2017 Economic Census package, which includes a question identifying cooperative businesses.

“This is a breakthrough moment for cooperatives nationwide,” said Judy Ziewacz, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “The data gathered by the 2017 Economic Survey will fill a critical gap within the cooperative sector, allowing us to tell the story of cooperative economic impact in a more compelling way.”

NCBA CLUSA has worked diligently on behalf of its members, co-ops across the country and cooperative researchers to make sure co-op businesses are identified in the 2017 Economic Census.

In 2007, a group of researchers led by Brent Hueth, director of Agriculture and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, conducted their own research on the economic impact of cooperatives. That study found that there were 29,000 co-ops in the U.S. that account for more than $3 trillion in assets, more than $500 billion in revenue and sustain nearly two million jobs. 

Now a decade later, NCBA CLUSA estimates that there are closer to 40,000 cooperative businesses in the U.S., but census data is needed to confirm that number. Since the UW Center for Cooperatives study, Hueth, the USDA, NCBA CLUSA and other stakeholders have worked to transfer the collection and ownership of that data back to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Commerce committed to “researching the feasibility” of a request made on behalf of NCBA CLUSA by the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus to reinstate a question recognizing cooperative businesses that was dropped from the census in the 90s.


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Approval of that question on Friday by the OMB is among the final steps toward a more timely and relevant picture of the cooperative economy. While the question approved applies to single-unit cooperative businesses, a question for multi-unit companies will be submitted later in the year as part of a supplementary OMB package, said Andrew Baer, Assistant Division Chief for the Economy-Wide Statistics Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

“OMB had no questions or concerns about the cooperative portion of the single unit survey, so we are hopeful that it will flow through smoothly for the multi-unit companies as well,” Baer said. Census applies the "single-unit" definition to a local co-op staffed by a handful of people with a small economic footprint; "multi-unit" refers to a co-op with multiple stores and significant sales. This distinction governs how co-ops receive the census, or report form: all multi-unit co-ops receive the report form, while a sampling is taken of the single-unit co-ops. 

Electronic collection of data is expected to begin in early 2018. In an effort to produce cleaner data faster and cheaper, the U.S. Census Bureau will for the first time in 2017 conduct its census electronically. 

“We look forward to following this process and really quantifying the scope and impact of the cooperative economy,” said Alan Knapp, Vice President of Advocacy for NCBA CLUSA. “Having concrete data about cooperatives is crucial to advance the sector.”

Conducted every five years, the Economic Census provides a snapshot of the U.S. economy that informs legislation and guides policy decisions.

The OMB’s approval Friday builds on a string of recent wins for NCBA CLUSA members and supporters in the U.S., including the Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus, the Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development and the newly-established Council of Cooperative Economists.

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