Most of you know the U.S. Census Bureau as the government agency that counts people every 10 years. You may also know that the data collected in that survey helps determine how well you're represented in the U.S. Congress and how much federal aid your state gets for public services and capital projects. But the Census also conducts regular economic surveys, and last month began mailing an economic survey to remodeling contractors. You've never gotten one before because remodeling companies never had their own industry code. With this survey, remodeling contractors will, for the first time ever, be counted as a discrete part of the construction universe. The survey is short and if you're not looking for it you might miss it. That would be a shame because this survey is one of the most important developments to hit our business since the invention of hammer and nail.

How so? Until now, the Census has collected data from construction firms involved in commercial, industrial, and institutional work, or from new home builders. That meant that when state and government agencies, industry associations, or the business press tried to find reliable data on the size of the remodeling work force, say, or the number of remodeling companies with a payroll, there wasn't any. The SIC (Standard Industry Code) classification system didn't distinguish between new construction and remodeling. As far as the statistics were concerned, remodeling didn't exist.

That's changing. The 2002 Economic Census will be compatible with the North American Industry Classification System, which includes a separate code for remodeling. This number, which you will be instructed to use on future tax returns and other official documents, will identify the data from your business as belonging to the remodeling industry.

The upshot is that beginning in the first quarter of 2004, when the first of some 1,600 reports are due to be released, we'll know a lot more about our industry than we ever have. Soon we'll be able to determine with confidence the number of companies whose primary business is remodeling. We'll know how many workers the industry employs, how their numbers fluctuate with changing economic conditions, and what share of national payroll goes to remodeling employees. And we'll have a much better idea of where the major remodeling markets are and how they're changing.

The 2002 Economic Census is a major breakthrough in how remodeling is perceived, and it will certainly have a strong effect on federal economic policy. Equally important, it will bring the true dimension of the remodeling market to the attention of building material manufacturers, who until now have concentrated on the new construction market for the simple reason that the builders were easier to find.

At the local level, it will also change the way the business community views our industry. For example, bankers will now be able to make financing decisions about your company based on government-sanctioned national benchmarks.

And finally, because the business and shelter press will have access to reliable remodeling statistics, this survey marks the start of a change in how the public thinks about our industry. The popular press will start to distinguish between "new construction" and "residential remodeling" in ways that will draw attention to and promote a better understanding of the differences in how builders and remodelers operate.

The Census has developed its mailing list using federal employer ID numbers, so only companies with payroll are targeted. Not all of you will receive a survey, but those of you who do owe it to yourselves and your industry to fill it out as accurately as possible and send it in on time. Not only are you required by law to do so, but in ways you can't yet imagine, your future depends on it.

For more information on the 2002 Economic Census, and to find out how to report online, visit

Sal Alfano, Editor-in-Chief