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  The American Surveyor     

Surveying & Mapping Industry Economics: Part 4—State Of Recovery Print E-mail
Written by Lee Lovell, PS   
Saturday, 27 May 2017

A 6.755Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

This article continues an inquiry into the economic conditions of the Surveying and Mapping industry (NAICS 541370) using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The prior articles presented information on the industry at the national level. This article is based on the County Business Pattern data at the state level. The 2015 data was released on 4/20/2017. The employee count in 13 states is not consistently reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in order to prevent disclosing the operations of individual employers. The total of the 50 states is lower than the national total by about 10 to 1000 employees in a given year.

If you want to look at data in a specific state use the American Factfinder, advanced search, select industry and enter 541370 Surveying and Mapping, select state-040 in geography options, select a state and the select Geography Area Series: County Business Patterns--2015. A table viewer will open. The data from 2005 through 2015 can be viewed.

Trends in a Sample of States
Figure 1 shows the number of employees in 7 states. Colorado is above the pre-recession peak. Texas was making good progress but appears to have stalled out in 2014. Arizona, Indiana and Virginia continue a gradual decline. The average of the 50 states continues a gradual decline.

Figure 2 shows the number of establishments in 7 states. As of 2015 only 4 out of the 50 states have shown an average increase of 3 establishments. The average of the 50 states continues a gradual decline.

Figure 3 shows the number of states that added or lost employees from year to year. The additions and loses are net numbers for a given state. This does not reflect information related to the actual number of business startups, ongoing operations and closures in a given state.

Figure 4 shows the number of states that added or lost establishments year to year. The additions and loses are net numbers for a given state. This does not reflect information related to the actual number of business startups, ongoing operations and closures in a given state.

A Review of the Census Data
The state level County Business Pattern data shows the diversity in the Surveying and Mapping Industry among the different states. The number of establishments per state varies from 3 to over 800. The number of employees varies from 30 to 9000. The numbers do not come close to telling the story about surveying businesses and employment in states with diverse economies. The sample of states mentioned in this article indicates historic patterns of economic growth vary state to state. The sample also shows the recovery from the 2007 Recession is uneven. The national data shows the industry reached peak economic activity in 2007. The data for each state shows the peak occurred between 2005 and 2010. The national data shows the contraction ended in 2011 and then a recovery started. The data for each state shows the contraction ends in different years and in some instances it is difficult to say a recovery has started in certain states. Where the national data portrays a clearly defined cycle of contraction and expansion that lasted 4 years, the state data indicates the cycle last 2 to 6 years and possibly longer.

The year to year changes in employment prior to 2007 show on average employment tends to expand every 2 years and then contracts some for a year. The cumulative result was growth. Unfortunately this average hides the fact that some states do not appear to be growing. About 10 out of the 50 states appear to be in a condition of gradual contraction. About 9 states account for most of the apparent employment growth in the industry. Since 2011, the employment in about 18 states appears to be gradually contracting while 6 states are contributing most of the growth. The term about is being used because the Census data is an estimate based on a sample rather than an actual count.

The recovery in employment is doing better than the recovery of business establishments. Prior to 2007 the industry added 2 establishments for everyone that was lost. About 14 states were losing establishments faster than they were adding them. Since 2011 about 10 states have continued to lose establishments and show no additions. About 15 states are showing growth in the number of establishments. The rest of the states are losing business establishments at a rate faster than they are adding them. Business formation has declined in more places.

The continued decline in business establishments is a bit unsettling; however further research may reveal the problem may not be as bad as it seems. Demographic shifts, increased productivity, population migrations and other factors can explain changes in the number of businesses. It is also possible the next generation of entrepreneurs is not quite ready to take their place on the stage of business enterprise. The profession is expressing concerns about the aging of professional surveyors. In the near term it may be more important to focus on the demographics of people who start viable businesses. As it turns out, aging has some clear advantages when it comes to business startups. 

Note: To see how the recovery is going in your state, you can download a copy of the County Business Pattern data used in this article. The data is in a 2010 format EXCEL worksheet. The contents of the worksheet is described in the Readme tab. http://www.amerisurv.com/docs/19882015_CBP_States_Upload.xlsx

Lee Lovell is a registered land surveyor in Colorado and Nebraska and has accumulated 34 years of professional experience. He resides in Parker, Colorado where he was part of Western States Surveying for 20+ years.

A 6.755Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

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