How to Access Free Government Data

By Kathryn Hawkins Monday, August 26, 2013

When you’re developing a new business or growing an existing one, it can be beneficial to gain access to as much data as possible relating to your business strategy, whether you’re looking at factors such as average product or service pricing, average salaries for a region or the most lucrative prospects to approach as investors, to name a few. While there are many premium services that can provide you with this information for a fee, there are ways you can find this information free of charge. Here are some free sources of data that can help your business:

Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data – The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a useful resource for helping you set fair, competitive wages in your market. You can view wage data according to industry or occupation, and group the data by region, state, or metropolitan area. There may be a large difference in average salary for a computer programmer in Maine and one in California, for instance. Researching the BLS data can help you set a fair price for your given area to help you set an appropriate budget for your staffing needs.

State and County Quickfacts – This free resource available from the United States Census can provide you with a detailed overview of the demographics of a particular state, county, city, or town. This information can be especially useful if you are considering opening a store in a particular city, or marketing heavily to consumers in a particular region. By getting a town-by-town overview of the most common age ranges and household make-ups, for instance, you’ll be able to get a better sense of whether a product or shop that appeals to families with young children is likely to find a suitable audience in a given area.

Monthly and Annual Retail Trade – The retail trade chart is updated monthly with the latest available data on sales of all types of retail products and goods, broken down into categories including food service, furniture and home furnishings, automotive purchases, clothing stores, and a number of other verticals. If you are opening a retail or e-commerce store or a restaurant, these charts can help you get a good sense of current sales trends for particular categories, and help you estimate seasonal fluctuation in item sales. Annual and quarterly reports are also available, providing a deeper dive into each industry’s annual sales, inventory, operating expenses, and other factors. The annual report is only available up until 2011, so for a more current look at the retail climate, the monthly and quarterly reports will likely prove more helpful.

Many more free sources of government data are available to help you with your business. In order to find the sources that are most relevant to you, visit the USA’s business page here: www.usa.gov/business/business-data, which offers links to dozens of additional business data resources.

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