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Ohio State University Extension


Utilizing Secondary Data for Business Retention and Expansion Planning and Reporting

Gwynn Stewart, Community Development Educator III, Ohio State University Extension, Noble County
Joe Lucente, Associate Professor and Ohio Sea Grant College Program, Lucas County

Before implementing a Business Retention Expansion (BRE) program, community partners and professionals often identify reliable, existing data to help develop a better understanding of the community and its business trends. Data can be facts or figures from which conclusions may be drawn (Ajayi 2017). There are a variety of local, state, regional, and national data sources available for consideration. When coordinating a BRE program in a community, it is important to carefully gather reliable community data from both internal and external sources. 

The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Data Resources

Primary data is collected directly from the data source. Primary data is often reliable, authentic, and objective because it is usually collected with the purpose of addressing a particular research problem or community need (Formplus 2020). In a BRE program, primary data is collected through surveys, interviews, and questionnaires. 

Hand holding a silver pen, marking a check box on a questionnaire.

Figure 1. Primary data is collected through surveys, interviews, and questionnaires. Photo: Andreas Breitling, Pixabay.

Secondary data is information which a researcher has not collected or created themselves (Rutgers 2021). Secondary data is easily accessible and can be readily shared with community leaders and BRE volunteers. Sources include, but are not limited to, reports, books, web sites, journals, blogs, government sources, and more.

This fact sheet is intended as a guide for community planners, economic development professionals, extension professionals, and volunteers in a community BRE program. It provides background information about using secondary data to develop a final report that communicates the story of a local community’s economy. 

Local Community Resources

There are many local community resources that a BRE team can utilize at the outset of a program planning effort to gather useful information: 

  • the county’s strategic economic development plan
  • local planning commission resources
  • information from local port authorities
  • the Ohio Township Association (
  • the Ohio Municipal League (
  • the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (

Community Health Improvement Plans are also an excellent source of information and are required by local health departments. These plans include an area’s health priorities which can impact a community’s workforce. Local, regional, state, and federal government websites, and economic development and planning department documents are also great resources for compiling local data. And remember to review the directory of regional councils that is available through The Ohio Association of Regional Councils. This association represents 24 member agencies serving more than 1,500 municipalities, villages, townships, and counties across the state and can be accessed at

Ohio Data Resources

There are a wide variety of state-specific, online data resources:

 BRE teams should also research:

  • reports, maps, and databases on economic activities in Ohio.
  • population trends of cities, villages, townships, and counties.
  • reports on major employers, annual exports, gross state product, private investment survey, industry reports, and county, and city population estimates (ODSA, 2021). 

County Profiles

The State of Ohio provides county profiles with data for each of the state’s 88 counties. A report on Ohio's 32-county Appalachian Region is also available through their website at

Ohio county profiles include population overviews by village or township, taxes, land use, household income, poverty and crime rates, births and deaths, and family types. These profiles also document major and notable employers, travel time to work, education, types of housing, cost of living indicators, and details on the local labor force.

Another resource is The Ohio State University Knowledge Exchange. It features a community profile tool with up-to-date census data for all 88 Ohio counties. The Knowledge Exchange provides data on population, transportation, agriculture, housing, the economy, and more from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Agriculture and Statistics Service. Review the Knowledge Exchange at

Ohio Industries

The Ohio Development Services Agency has an Office of Research data center that provides detailed, statewide economic information for a wide range of categories:

  • gross domestic product by sector
  • numbers and types of businesses
  • population centers
  • leading industries
  • contributions to Ohio’s economy by industry
  • employment data and trends
  • company highlights
  • recent sector investments

Some recent and notable industry additions include advance manufacturing, aerospace and aviation, automotive, biohealth, chemicals, financial services, food processing, information technology, logistics, paper, polymers, and research and development.

Workforce Trends

Labor market, workforce development, and job trend data is critical as you plan for a BRE program. Whether you want to know more about a community’s job creation, job retention, access to education, or career training for future growth, a variety of data resources are available. 

The Ohio Bureau of Labor provides current labor force statistics and current employment statistics by industry sector. To access this data, go to the Market Information section of Ohio Means Jobs at

County economic profiles offer a customized snapshot of a county’s key economic indicators. This data is collected and published by various entities including the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information, Ohio Department of Education (,, U.S. Census Bureau (, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 

Unemployment rates can also be useful for understanding the overall status of a local economy (Zimmerman and Kahl 2018). Unemployment rates, rankings, and trends for Ohio’s counties are available monthly through the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.

Other Possible Data Sources

Many U.S. government agencies collect and distribute data on a routine basis. Some sources to investigate are the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, the National Center for Education Statistics (, and the Economic Development Administration (

Industry clusters are another potential area of rich data. These clusters represent geographic concentrations of interrelated businesses, vendors, service providers, academic institutions, and other affiliated organizations surrounding a specific industry (Michaud and Jolley 2017). The U.S. Cluster Mapping Project from Harvard University is a respected resource for identifying industry clusters. It is an accessible, nonproprietary online tool that offers strong surface-level data on employment and wages, as well as numerous data visualization tools (U.S. Cluster Mapping Project 2014).

Your Economy (YE) is an online research tool used by academic researchers, policy makers, and economic development analysts. It tracks companies, identifying where they are closing or establishing locations across the U.S. YE tracks the growth and contraction of all establishments and their associated jobs, including for-profit (both privately-owned and publicly-traded), non-profits, and government from 2004–2019. YE is a true business census of the U.S. economy (

Data Visualization

How data is presented matters, especially when aiming to inform a general audience (Grimwade 2019). Effective data accounts for the target audience—how much the audience may already know about the local community and how the data should be presented in the final BRE report. It is challenging to share stories in ways others can interpret and understand (Rome et al. 2020). Utilize narratives with the data if necessary. Consider using charts, infographics, or other visuals to present data as another option but be aware of the pitfalls inherent in a “design conquers all” way of thinking. Respect the data and tell the story within it (Grimwade 2019). 


Reliable data is an important tool for telling a community’s story. There is a wealth of secondary data that is easily attainable, providing the BRE team with many options for compiling community information. Whether the BRE program you are coordinating needs to share data on demographics, commuting patterns, labor losses, educational attainment, or workforce training, there are easily accessible, no-cost secondary data sets available. Secondary information can enhance the primary data collected during BRE business surveys or interviews. Presented collectively and in an appealing visual fashion, primary and secondary data can provide a well-rounded story about the local community’s economy.



Ajayi, Victor. 2017. “Primary Sources of Data and Secondary Sources of Data.” Doctoral dissertation. Makurdi, Nigeria: Benue State University.

Caillouet, Olivia, Matt Benge, and Amy Harder, 2020. “Existing Data Sources as Tools for Entry-Stage Extension Professionals.” Journal of Extension, Volume 58 Number 6 Article 2.

Formplus. “Primary vs Secondary Data: 15 Key Differences & Similarities.” Formplus Blog, Formplus, Accessed July 27, 2021.

Formplus, “What is Secondary Data? + [Examples, Sources, & Analysis].” Formplus Blog, Formplus, Accessed July 27, 2021.

Grimwade, John. 2019. “Data Visualization That Works: From Spreadsheets to Compelling Visuals.” International Economic Development Council, ED Now (newsletter).

Michaud, Gilbert, and G. Jason Jolley. 2017. “Using Proprietary Databases to Overcome Data Suppression in Industry Cluster Analysis.” Journal of Extension 55 (4), Article 8.

Rome, Clea, Debra Hansen, Rebecca Sero, and Lorie Higgins. 2020. “Using Data Visualization to Demonstrate Outcomes—Examples From Ripple Effects Mapping.” Journal of Extension 58 (6), Ideas at Work v58-6iw3.

Rutgers University Libraries. n.d. “Data by Subject: Finding Secondary Data. Selected data resources categorized by academic discipline.” Research Guides. Accessed July 28, 2021.

U.S. Cluster Mapping Project. 2014. Cluster Mapping Methodology. Harvard Business School, Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness; U.S. Department of Commerce; and U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Zimmerman, Julie, and Daniel Kahl. 2018. “Finding Publicly Available Data for Extension Planning and Programming: Developing Community Portraits Programming: Developing Community Portraits.” Journal of Extension 56 (3), Article 1.

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Originally posted Aug 3, 2021.