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Blog Entries from 2014

More Data in the Census Bureau API to Help You #hackforchange

Guest blog post by Logan Powell, Developer Engagement Lead, U.S. Census Bureau

Two years ago, the Census Bureau launched its application programming interface (API), giving developers access to a variety of high value data sets, including our flagship 2010 Census and American Community Survey five-year statistics, providing information for every neighborhood in the nation. Since that initial launch, we have added key economic indicators, as well as the 1990 and 2000 Censuses, and additional American Community Survey data and key economic indicators.

By continuing to release new data sets into the API, and adding more of the Census Bureau’s rich economic statistics to our demographic products, we are giving developers greater flexibility to create new tools to better understand our communities and solve real world issues. Recently, we released even more data sets to the API. These include population estimates, establishment and payroll data from county business patterns, nonemployer statistics, and the latest statistics from the 2012 Economic Census. These statistics allow developers to create a variety of apps and tools, such as ones that allow business owners to find the latest establishment data needed to plan for new or expanded business.

We are continuing to work toward meeting the goals of the Digital Government Strategy for a more “customer-centric” approach. For example, the Census Bureau partnered with Data Innovation DC, a Washington, D.C. meet up group of 1,000 members composed of data scientists, data journalists, civic hackers and data-oriented entrepreneurs, and participated in this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking. We asked real-life data users to discuss their data-related problems. By directly engaging with our customers, we can develop strategies to make our statistics easier to use so that customers can make data-driven decisions. 


We will continue searching for ways to make more of our data available for developers to build apps that make our public data more accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device. By taking part in both local and national “civic hacking” events, we hope these relationships will help us to build stronger ties with our customers while reaching new audiences with our statistics.

I encourage you to visit our API, look for ways to combine our statistics with other sources, and create useful apps that will benefit the public. We look forward to what you will create. 

Manufacturing: A New Commerce Department Report Shows Renewed Expansion

Guest blog post by Dr.Sue Helper, Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce

The U.S. manufacturing sector is rebounding at a rate unseen since the late 1990s.  For the first time in more than a decade, output and employment are steadily and simultaneously increasing. A new Commerce Department report, Manufacturing Since the Great Recession, provides an overview of the resurgence of this important economic sector, examining production, international trade and the labor market.

Some of the key findings included in the report are:

  • Manufacturing output has grown 38 percent since the second quarter of 2009 when the Great Recession ended, and accounts for 19 percent of the rise in real gross domestic product (GDP) since that time;
  • From March 2010 through May 2014, the manufacturing sector has added 646,000 jobs with an additional 243,000 positions yet to be filled. This is more than a cyclical rebound; the US has gained about four times as many manufacturing jobs since 2009 as would be expected from cyclical factors alone; and,
  • In 2013, average annual weekly hours for production workers in the manufacturing sector were at their highest level since the mid-1940s.

Manufacturing jobs are good jobs: workers earn 16 percent more in manufacturing jobs (in combined wages and benefits) than they would elsewhere. Not surprisingly, quit rates are also lower than in any non-government sector.

Celebrate our Natural Treasures During National Ocean Month

Celebrate our Natural Treasures During National Ocean Month

June is not only the beginning of summer, it’s also Oceans Month. President Obama proclaimed June as Oceans Month as a way to reaffirm our responsibility to keep our oceans and coastal ecosystems healthy and resilient. Our oceans are natural treasures, a source of food and energy, and a foundation for our way of life. U.S. fisheries play an enormous role in the nation’s economy. When stocks are rebuilt, they provide more economic opportunities for commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing.

Many Americans depend on the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes to earn a living and millions of tourists from all walks of life visit our natural treasures every year. Our oceans provide a habitat for scores of species. They are vital to our Nation's transportation, economy, and trade, linking us with countries across the globe and playing a role in our national security. Join us throughout the month of June as we celebrate National Oceans Month. Below are upcoming events NOAA is participating in to celebrate.

Every year, Capitol Hill Oceans Week (June 10-12) brings together Members of Congress, scientists, public-private stakeholders, community and federal leaders across interests to share their respective visions to shape our National Ocean Policy. Leaders will actively engage in dialogue that will help define how we live with our ocean and marine ecosystems. To learn more, visit http://nmsfocean.org/CHOW-2014.

On June 16-17, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, will participate in the State Department-hosted International Ocean Conference. NOAA is developing a Science on a Sphere presentation that will reflect conference themes: Ocean Acidification, Sustainable Fisheries and Marine Pollution, including Excess Nutrients. To learn more visit http://ourocean2014.state.gov/ and following us on Twitter with the hashtag #OurOcean2014.

Commerce in the Community: AmpleHarvest.org increases access to healthy foods through innovation, technology and local partnerships

Commerce in the Community: AmpleHarvest.org increases access to healthy foods through innovation, technology and local partnerships

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.

Below is an interview with Gary Oppenheimer, the Executive Director and Founder of AmpleHarvest.org. As director of a community garden in 2009, Gary learned about the wasted food in many plots and created a program called "Ample Harvest" to get the excess food to local food pantries. Realizing this as a nationwide problem, he created AmpleHarvest.org to use the Internet educate, encourage and enable millions of growers nationwide to share their ample harvest with local food pantries in all 50 states.

Question 1: Tell us about AmpleHarvest.org. What is your mission and main focus?

While more than 50 million Americans live in food insecure homes (including a quarter of all children under the age of six), more than 42 million Americans grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and nuts in home gardens - often more than they can use, preserve or give to friends. It doesn't have to be that way. Struggling to feed their families, many Americans - both those chronically economically challenged as well as those now impacted by the economic downturn - have come to rely on the more than 33,500 food pantries (also called food shelves, food closets, food cupboards or food banks in some areas) across America to help feed their families. These food pantries, relying on donated and purchased foods, almost never have fresh produce and instead rely on canned or processed produce shipped from across the country at significant cost, both economic and environmental. At the same time, millions of home and community gardeners nationwide with an abundant harvest do not know that they can share their harvest, do not know how to share their harvest and do not know where to share their harvest. AmpleHarvest.org solves that for them. AmpleHarvest.org envisions an America where millions of gardeners eliminate malnutrition and hunger in their own community. To accomplish this, AmpleHarvest.org, moving information instead of food to diminish hunger and malnutrition in America, is educating, encouraging and empowering growers to share their excess harvest with the needy in their community instead of letting it rot in the garden. Our "No Food Left Behind" goal is a healthier and, by extension, wealthier America.

Collecting Reliable, Timely and Local Census Data

The map shows the percentages under the current, mandatory approach. As a mandatory survey, less than five percent of counties have 80 percent or more of their tracts with unacceptable levels of quality data. This impacts about 15 million people.

Cros-blog post by John H. Thompson, U.S. Census Bureau Direrector

I was pleased to recently participate in the inaugural conference of the American Community Survey Data Users Group. This conference brought together a diverse group of data-loving number crunchers from local governments, nonprofits, economic development agencies, researchers and private sector companies from across the U.S. Their common connection: the reliable, timely and local data about their communities provided by the American Community Survey.

Sessions included case studies on how the American Community Survey statistics are used by cities, rural communities and businesses to measure disaster impacts, create jobs and develop policy for transit, housing and health care. Data users said the ACS is the most authoritative source of data on these topics for communities of every size, and how they rely on the availability of a common source of reliable data.

I was also asked about the challenges to survey data collection, the availability of the data and the impacts to the American Community Survey. They asked me what would happen to the survey if it were not mandated by law. As we have explained in the past, we have looked at this question and our research shows that a voluntary survey would reduce the self-response rates significantly. To make up the shortfall, we would have to increase the number of households surveyed and conduct much more in-person follow-up, at an additional cost of more than $90 million annually. If we weren’t able to increase the number of households surveyed we would collect much less data and accuracy would decrease due to increased sampling variation. This would disproportionately affect the accuracy of the results that we produce for many small areas and small population groups.

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides data every year -- giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.  Data are used to help decide everything from school lunch programs to new hospitals.

American Firms are Key to Building Trade Relationship between U.S. and Burma

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker celebrated the growing commercial relationship between the United States and Burma on Friday, as part of her week-long commercial diplomacy mission to the ASEAN region.

Since President Obama visited Burma in 2012, the country has undertaken reforms to improve its business climate. Two years ago, the United States began allowing investment in Burma for the first time in 15 years, and shortly thereafter, Burma’s President signed a law to help attract more foreign commercial engagement. As a result U.S. foreign direct investment in Burma has now reached $250 million.

The U.S. government is encouraging American companies to evaluate growing mutually-beneficial opportunities in Burma, because responsible investment by U.S. firms can help facilitate broad-based economic growth and prosperity for the country’s people. American companies and products are among the finest in the world, and when U.S. businesses make investments, they bring with them the highest standards, including a commitment to corporate and social responsibility.

As a way to build on the growing trade and investment relationship between the U.S. and Burma, Secretary Pritzker formally announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce will soon open its first-ever Foreign Commercial Service office in the country, to be headquartered in Rangoon. Foreign Commercial Service offices, which are located in U.S. embassies all over the world, help American companies enter overseas markets so they can expand their operations and find new customers.

During her visit, Secretary Pritzker also highlighted the contributions that U.S. firms are already making in Burma. 

Secretary Pritzker Concludes Commercial Diplomacy Trip to ASEAN Region

Today in Rangoon, Myanmar, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker concluded a week-long commercial diplomacy trip, after making stops in Hanoi, Vietnam; Manila, Philippines; and Naypyitaw, Myanmar. All three countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a region that is the United States’ fourth-largest export market and the fifth-largest overall trading partner. The ten dynamic countries that comprise ASEAN have an economy valued at $2.4 trillion.

The economies of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Burma present enormous opportunity for U.S. businesses, which is why a delegation of U.S. CEOs and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council joined Secretary Pritzker to further commercial ties as well as strengthen our bilateral relationship in the region.

The Obama Administration has made a deliberate decision to deepen U.S. engagement with Asia, and throughout the week, Secretary Pritzker elaborated on the economic dimension of this commitment, which includes deepening trade and investment ties with existing partners, building the soft and hard infrastructure necessary to support the growth of emerging partners, and taking the steps necessary to level the playing field for commerce across the region.

Secretary Pritzker Affirms U.S. Support for Burmese Political and Economic Reforms

Good discussion on US business investment with Aung San Suu Kyi

As part of her week-long commercial diplomacy mission to Asia this week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker met today with supporters of Burma’s transition to democracy and the ongoing national peace process. At a roundtable with Burmese civil society leaders, she took the opportunity to learn more about the complexities of political and economic reform and to hear their concerns and views about future challenges for Burma.

In her remarks at the roundtable, Secretary Pritzker affirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting positive political and economic reforms in Burma. She urged the Burmese government to build on that progress by implementing measures that increase inclusive economic development and promote government transparency and accountability. Noting that a strong and vibrant civil society is critical to institutionalizing reforms and ensuring government accountability, Secretary Pritzker applauded the efforts of Burmese civil society leaders to advance citizen interests in pursuit of democracy.

The Commerce Department takes these issues very seriously. Since 2010, training in human rights, rule of law, and corporate social responsibility has been mandatory for Foreign Commercial Service Officers. Attention to these critical social issues not only strengthens the Department’s culture, but enhances its ability to support American companies as they expand overseas.

The Apprentice: A Tale of Life, Love and Much Else

Guest blog post by Stacey Wagner, crossposted from the NIST Manufacturing Innovation Blog.

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by apprenticeships – really!  I was an avid reader of history, ancient and otherwise, and apprenticeships always meant adventure.  One could apprentice with Greek philosophers, British knights, Teutonic alchemists, and farmers, tradespeople and barbers (who were also doctors).  You could apprentice in a household or a business.  And once your apprenticeship was complete, you commanded respect as a trained and educated person with skills to play a useful role in society.

Apprenticeships have always been a stepping stone for both a good job and a great story.  Those tantalizing tales I read as a kid centered, mostly, on a young person’s indenture to some mysterious craftsperson and it always lead to mischief: wild chases, first-time love affairs, and messy screw-ups.  But they also led to the apprentice learning about life, love and labor – specifically the skills to be someone you weren’t before, but better.

The master-storyteller, Walt Disney, even got into the act when he produced the iconic movie, “Fantasia,” with a scene called The Sorcerers’ Apprentice, which to this day still spooks me.  There are also plenty of modern-day books about apprentices: “The Apprentice” (Lewis Libby), “The Apprentice” (Tess Gerritsen), “The Apprentice Series” (James Bryan Smith) and “Rangers Apprentice” (John Flanagan), to name just a few, and a TV show by that name as well (I know I don’t need to tell you who stars in that!). In the modern vernacular, the term sorcerers’ apprentice, was immortalized by “The Sorcerers’ Apprentice,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe written in 1797.

Spotlight on Commerce: Phu Huynh, Chief of Staff (Acting), International Trade Administration

Phu Huynh, Chief of Staff (Acting), International Trade Administration

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda Strategic Plan.

Guest blog post by Phu Huynh, Chief of Staff (Acting), International Trade Administration

I was born in Saigon, five years before the Vietnam War ended. My family made a tough decision, one that benefitted me for a lifetime. My mother, five aunts, one uncle, four sisters and I were airlifted to the U.S. as Saigon fell. When we arrived in Chantilly, Virginia, we had very little.  But, we had each other, the support of a local church and our public school. My mother and aunts taught us about our Vietnamese and Chinese heritages, which fortunately centered around great food. Just as important, they pushed us to learn English and become thoroughly integrated in the American experience. I’ve been given the opportunity in my lifetime to take the best from both worlds—from my Asian heritage and from the rich diversity that is America. The values I extrapolated from both backgrounds are so similar and are shared across the globe—dedication to family, hard work, respect of others and their cultures and faiths.  I’m as likely to watch a Washington Nationals game with either Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or a hot dog.

I graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in history, high hopes and no job.  I’d like to tell you that I’m here because I executed each element of my master plan perfectly or that I had good fortune. But, opportunities don’t just happen without context. I applied hard earned skills and landed an internship at the White House. I worked hard to perfect my technical skills, becoming expert on every administration department and agency.  I became a valued member of the team, in large measure, because no one else wanted to do the huge volume of detailed, non-political, technical work.  But I learned something else even more valuable—that leaders in politics are often in short supply, peace and prosperity don’t just happen and that enlightened leadership was more critical than the technical aspects of my work. I was genuinely willing to learn from those I believed were the best leaders, and they were willing to share their experience and wisdom with me. I got hooked on Washington and this inexplicable political world in which we operate.