An Insider’s Look at the State of Small Business in America

- By Angelica Wedell -

It can be said that small businesses are the realization of the American Dream, and that their success drives the U.S. economy as a whole.  Small businesses contribute resources to their communities, create jobs and give their Cities, Towns, Counties and Villages a touch of character.  Yet for all the benefits they provide, there are many challenges that small businesses face in their efforts to keep their slice of the American Dream alive.

Research indicates that the economic health of the community entire is tied to the health of its business environment, and that small businesses especially need the support of their respective communities to thrive.  Data from several different U.S. jurisdictions who have participated in The National Business SurveyTM by National Research Center, Inc. show that 71 percent of business owners in general view their city as a good place to do business and that 74 percent of business owners perceive their city to be economically healthy overall.  These perceptions are a major consideration for where small business owners choose to locate themselves.


Rating Business Environment InfographicThese data come from The National Business SurveyTM


The National Business Survey


While most business owners report the commercial environment positively, data also suggest local governments have work to do for improvement. Only half of business owners rated their communities “excellent or good” at nurturing a welcoming business environment, retaining/attracting businesses and supporting/creating new jobs.

It can be challenging for small businesses, organizations and foundations to find the right resources to help them succeed.  So we spoke to expert Tim Gaudette, Colorado Outreach Manager for Small Business Majority, which actively engages small business owners across America to drive smart public policy and provide entrepreneurs with what they need to thrive.


Q: How do you help small businesses and entrepreneurs?

A:  Small business owners are pragmatic, not ideological. And contrary to a long-held misconception, they are not reflexively anti-government. But, they want government to understand their needs and respond in a constructive manner. Therefore, we work with policymakers on a national and state level to advocate for policies that create jobs and maximize business opportunities and cost savings in tax reform, healthcare, clean energy, access to capital, infrastructure, workforce and more.


Q:  Why are small businesses and entrepreneurs important to the community and downtown economy?

A:  Small business is the backbone of the economy.

That phrase gets tossed around a lot. Too much, in fact. It’s a saying that should resonate with and be at the forefront of policymakers’ economic agendas, but has in many instances become little more than a feel-good bromide deployed while checking a political box.

The importance of small businesses is an economic reality and entrepreneurs deserve more than empty platitudes. Small businesses represent 99 percent of employer firms. They employ half of all private sector employees. They pay around 40 percent of U.S. private sector payroll. Small businesses and entrepreneurs have long been America’s engine for job growth and today more jobs are created by small businesses and the growing freelance workforce than any other way in America.

Small businesses aren’t simply the backbone of the American economy; they are its foundation. Indeed, entrepreneurship is essential to ensuring a truly inclusive economy that benefits all areas of the country, including ALL of our downtowns, large and small. As you may realize, a successful small business in an outlying or rural downtown can have a much larger impact that business might in a major city center. That is why ALL small businesses matter.


Q:  Why is access to capital a challenge for many small businesses and entrepreneurs?

A:  Access to capital has been a persistent problem for entrepreneurs, particularly since the recession. Small Business Majority’s opinion polling shows an overwhelming 90 percent of small business owners nationwide agree the availability of credit for small businesses is a problem, and 61 percent agree it’s harder to get a loan now than it was in 2008.

A report by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy found that for the past two decades, economists have seen a 27 percent decrease in the availability of small loans, and as a result, small businesses are seeking out alternative forms of capital—which includes crowdfunding and other sources of online lending.  The development of online lending holds the potential to get needed capital to entrepreneurs and to communities that have long been underserved, but it must proceed responsibly. This new breed of lending brings its own set of problems—unscrupulous actors who would take advantage of small business owners solely to pad their own pocketbooks. Not all online lenders are equal and some mask very high rates.

And while it has eased in some parts of the small business community, there are significant gaps that remain in critical areas, including in minority and rural communities and for women and veterans.

While women-owned firms are the fastest-growing segment of businesses, studies find that women do not get sufficient access to loans and venture investment. Women account for only 16 percent of conventional small business loans and 17 percent of SBA loans even though they represent 30 percent of all small companies.

Minority business development has also been on the rise—the rate of minority business ownership in 2012 was 14.6 percent, compared with 11.5 percent in 2007. However, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, African-American businesses received 2.3 percent of Small Business Administration loans in 2013, down from 11 percent in 2008.

Small Business Majority recently launched a new access to capital resource portal to help entrepreneurs explore their options for securing capital and connect with financial experts, organizations and information to help them get the funding they need for their small businesses' start up, survival and growth.


Q:  How can communities support the success of their small businesses?

A:  Communities can help by driving demand for [small businesses’] goods and services, building a strong infrastructure and leveling the playing field.  They can create a system that encourages prosperity for all by providing the resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs to be successful.  These resources include greater access to responsible credit and capital, availability of clear information, opportunities and programs that enable them to compete and grow and access to a properly-supported skilled workforce.


Tim-Gaudette-head-web-200 copyColorado Outreach Manager for Small Business Majority, Tim Gaudette previously worked at a small business in Denver. His background includes significant finance and investment-related work in the regulatory, research and sales areas in Denver, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Tim also served as chairman and board member for the all-volunteer board of the Denver Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Tim is a member of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Leadership Denver class of 2009.  Gaudette has degrees from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and the University of Exeter, United Kingdom.  Image courtesy Tim Gaudette.


To learn more about Small Business Majority, you can visit their website


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protesting police violence

Do Americans Feel Law Enforcement Has Failed Them?​

-By Tom MillerAngelica Wedell, ed.-

Current news has been saturated with alleged incidents of racially aggravated police violence. Imagery depicting mostly young, black men shot by mostly white police officers has incited waves of further news and editorials, strong emotions and a national movement. A Google search of “Race and Police Brutality” pulls up scores of web-posts asserting ill-intent and bad behavior on the part of America’s police forces.

Questions are raised. Are African Americans disproportionately targeted by law enforcement?  Do people of color feel that police threaten them, while protecting others? Do stories of racially motivated police brutality affect the way average U.S. citizens view their own local police services?

There are few credible national statistics on incidents of police violence, and most of what is available excludes the race of the police officer even if it includes the race of the alleged offender.  While we may not have solid numbers to prove whether or not race is a factor in police judgement, we do know what average Americans, of diverse racial makeup, think about the police that are hired to serve and protect them in their own communities.

National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) has been conducting opinion surveys of representative cross-sections of America’s residents in cities, counties, towns and villages since 2002. In every one of 350 jurisdictions in 44 states, a random sample of residents of all races (as defined by the U.S. Census - data from Hispanic ethnicity perceptions on police to be released in a later article) has answered the same question asked in NRC’s The National Citizen Survey™,

“Please rate the quality of each of the following services in [community name]…Police”; “Fire”; etc.

With over 350,000 total respondents identified as White, African American, Asian or Native American, NRC can determine how average Americans regard their local police services.*


The National Citizen Survey


Does race play a part in how average Americans regard local law enforcement?

Overall, opinions by African Americans about local police services are not as negative as headlines lead one to assume. Across all participating jurisdictions of The National Citizen Survey™, the majority of White and Asian Americans gave noticeably positive ratings to the quality of their local police services, rating them as “Good” or “Excellent.” Nearly two-thirds of African American and American Indian residents also rated their police services well. These sentiments are meaningfully more positive than those from a 2014 Pew telephone survey of 153 Black Americansor a recent poll of Maryland residents.


Figure 1: Police Ratings By Race
*Source: National Research Center, Inc., The National Citizen Survey™


Although ratings of police by African Americans and American Indians were mostly positive, they fell 15 - 16 percentage points below ratings by white residents (on a 100 point scale).

Do sentiments about police from residents of various races change depending on the racial makeup of the community?

Figure 2 shows that the worst ratings of police occurred in the most diverse communities and the best ratings were given in the most white communities. Also true is that the pattern – lowest ratings of police given by Native Americans and African Americans; highest ratings given by Asian Americans and White Americans – remained the same across all communities, irrespective of the populations’ racial diversity.  Notably, white residents in the most diverse communities showed about the same sentiment regarding local police as did black residents in the least diverse communities.

Of all 350 participating jurisdictions, on average, the majority of residents of any race gave excellent or good ratings to local law enforcement. This was true every year going back to 2002 and remains true through most of 2015.

Figure 2: Police Ratings by Racial Makeup of Community
*Source: National Research Center, Inc., The National Citizen Survey™

Why do African Americans and Native Americans rate police services lower than residents of other races?

The data, in a sense, represent a scorecard, not a script explaining the reason for the ratings.  The data do not tell us if African Americans face different circumstances in predominantly white communities or if police attitudes change with darker community complexions.

But it is clear, across America, that there are differences in perspectives about police service depending on the diversity of the community and the race of the resident. It is also clear that, on average, Native Americans report the lowest opinion of police services compared to other races, followed by African American residents and that this trend sustains across communities with varying racial representation. And, finally, their much more positive ratings of fire services demonstrate that Native Americans’ and African Americans’ less favorable opinions about police are not fueled by generalized dislike or distrust of public service personnel and officials, as indicated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Fire Service Ratings by Race
*Source: National Research Center, Inc., The National Citizen Survey™

Since no single jurisdiction is identified in this study, city officials everywhere should seek to understand how different racial groups view their public safety services and racial groups’ sense of safety in the community. With even modest but regular community outreach, local government leaders everywhere can ask residents why they feel the way they do and make efforts to sustain or improve everyone’s confidence in law enforcement.


*Notes on Research Methodology

The data represented in this summary were collected by National Research Center (NRC) from residents selected using probabilistic samplingwithin communities that hired NRC to conduct The National Citizen Survey™. The communities themselves were not selected at random and are not necessarily a representative cross-section of the country. The communities varied in population from approximately 1,500 to 1,200,000 (America’s largest and more diverse cities were not included, as they conduct custom surveys rather than surveys with common questions as is the case with The NCS™) and were located in 44 states (excepting Maine, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Alaska  and North Dakota). Data were collected beginning in 2002 continuing through June of 2015. The number of white residents, within rounding, included in the analysis reported in Figure 1 was 306,000; Native Americans, 7,900; African Americans, 23,000; and Asian Americans, 17,500. Similar numbers were included in the other graphical displays.

Most of the data were collected via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) mail or on the Web. Web responses were collected only from those residents selected to participate in the survey and invited by USPS post cards and letters. Therefore, none of the records included “opt-in” Web respondents and few were collected by telephone. In almost every survey, younger residents and residents of color (all non-white races), were underrepresented compared to known Census community characteristics and home owners were over represented. In some, but not all jurisdictions, surveys were available in Spanish and English. For each jurisdiction, weighting of respondents resulted in a close approximation of the location’s Census profile of race, age, gender and home ownership. For this aggregate presentation, no weighting was done.

The most likely reason our results were more positive than Pew's is that The NCS™ asked specifically about local police service, while Pew's questions asked about police in general.  Also the apparent difference may, in part, be explained by the fact that the biggest and more diverse cities in America were part of the Pew study but not this one; the Pew questions were about more specific police behaviors than overall ratings of police services; these data include ratings from the last 14 years whereas Pew data were from 2014; or the margin of error around the Pew sample includes the findings in this report.

Households were selected using systematic sampling, sometimes stratified by geographic areas with oversampling of attached units. A skip pattern was applied to an address-based sample and the adult (18+ years old) in the household with the most recent birthday was asked to respond. With three mailed contacts (post card notifying of selection, followed by two successive mailings of the questionnaire with a cover letter from the mayor or other senior official), typical response rates averaged about 40 percent until around 2010 when response rates began to decline to about 30 percent on average, where they stand now.


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Featured Image by Debra Sweet.  CCBY License. 

Gathering opinions of hard-to-reach residents. Image by Bryan Aspen. Unsplash. CC0.

Gathering the Opinions of Hard-to-Reach Residents

-By Tom Miller-

Survey Research Revolution Part V

Give Me Your Scared, Your Unempowered, Your Indifferent.

What is the number one question local leaders ask before they embark on a community survey? It’s this: how can we feel confident that the survey sample truly represents our entire adult population?

The answer is one that every local government wants to know and should ask about. Statistics prove that relatively small samples of residents selected at random create a group that reasonably reflects everyone – within a known range of uncertainty. However leaders of diverse communities often worry about receiving participation from their less engaged demographics.

Whether collecting data by mail, phone or web, survey researchers these days have discovered that just about everyone is part of the “hard to reach” public. But the hardest to reach populations tend to be lower income residents, youth, undocumented residents, racial and ethnic minorities and folks whose first language is not English. Encouraging these residents to respond to a survey from the City can be resource intensive, and without a robust effort, ineffective.

Local government leaders of diverse communities should especially consider these ways to get more participation from hard-to-reach residents.


1. Survey in Multiple Languages

Hola_Jon Tyson_Unsplash_CC0

Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the U.S., so a large number of local governments seek feedback from Spanish-speaking residents. To reach those for whom English is a second language, offer the survey in the city’s other dominant languages. When mailing the survey or invitations to Spanish-speaking areas, address the envelope in both Spanish and English (e.g. “Residente Actual/Current Resident”) to encourage response by Latinos.


2. Partner with Trusted Community Leaders

Community Leader_thiago-barletta-unsplash-CC0

It is common for general distrust of government to deter hard-to-reach residents from taking city-sponsored surveys. However, a good word from a trusted community leader can encourage more of these residents to participate. Faith-based organizations, youth groups and community centers are good places to recruit responses from lower income residents, young people, people of color or those who speak languages other than English.


3. Oversample Neighborhoods of Hard-to-Reach Groups


Reliably representative survey results ensure that opinions from minority groups are not crowded out. Survey researchers may oversample those groups to bring the total number of responses to an amount that better reflects the city. Oversample neighborhoods based on known resident or housing characteristics.  These may include areas with low-income housing, aging-housing, slower growing housing values or immigrant neighborhoods.


4. Oversample Attached Units

Multiple attached units_ paul-nylund-Unsplash-CC0

Single family housing may take up a large amount of surface area. However apartment complexes and duplexes, by their nature, hold more households per acre. They also tend to house larger proportions of lower income families and young adults. It is best practice to oversample multiple attached units (compared to single family housing).


5. Host Forums and Focus Groups

Community Forum_CC0

Surveys are not the only tools local governments can use to hear from hard-to-reach groups. Hold community forums and focus groups to bring in the voice of youth, people of color and lower income residents. You can offer incentives to residents to boost attendance.


6. Make Sure Phone Surveys Target Cellphones


The majority of Americans today own a cellphone. And a growing number of people use a cellphone as their primary mode of contact (preferring a mobile device over a landline phone). Furthermore younger, minority and low-income residents are more likely to be cellphone dependent. Many of them do not own a landline phone at all and may rely on their mobile device exclusively for online access. When collecting responses by phone, target at least 50% of the surveys to be completed by cellphones. Web surveys should also be designed with cellphone use in mind.


7. Send Reminder Calls

Phone call_CC0

Some residents may need additional encouragement to complete the survey. Place phone calls to selected households where a phone number (especially cellphone number) can be linked to an address; and remind residents to take the survey they received in the mail. Remind respondents by phone, but don’t interview them. Answers given to a person over the phone regarding questions about community quality or satisfaction are less candid and, therefore, more susceptible to inflated evaluations.


8. Survey on the Web

Survey on web_CC0

Make your community survey more accessible by allowing residents to complete it on the web. Reminders, and the questionnaire itself, sent to sampled households should include clear instructions on how take the survey online. Cities can also conduct an online survey that is completely open to the public and encourage responses from traditionally hard-to-reach residents.


9. Feature Testimonials to Engage Younger Residents

Feature youth_CC0

Consensus from peers can be a powerful motivator for completing a survey. On your jurisdiction’s website, feature youth leaders (18-35 years old) who offer testimonials about participating in surveys and community discussions. Make sure to post a link to these testimonials and stories on social media sites that are popular with younger audiences, including Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat. If you have an open-participation survey online, make sure to include the link on the testimonials page itself.


10. Communicate the Value of the Survey

Love neighborhood_nina_strehl-unsplash-CC0

For any resident to feel motivated to take a citizen survey, they must understand what their feedback means for the good of their neighborhood and their own family. They need to know how their city will use the results, and trust that their local government will act in their best interest. When publicizing a community survey, sending reminders and partnering with community leaders to spread the word, appeal to residents’ sense of civic duty and keep your message consistent. This type of messaging helps to build trust with underrepresented populations, and that trust helps to encourage participation.


When a goal of a resident survey is to give a voice to the voiceless, these ten tips are well worth the expense, time and effort.


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local government employees survey image

Local Government Employees Reveal What Makes for Job Satisfaction

- By Tom Miller -

Over three years, a city manager developed a plan to improve what, to her, were lackluster employee ratings of organizational quality – work environment, wages and benefits, communication and the like. By the end of the period, not only were employees reporting better work conditions, but here was the big surprise – in a citizen survey, residents also gave improved ratings of their community and local government.

Local government employee satisfaction also affects resident ratings of their communities

The link between employee perspectives and customer attitudes has been demonstrated in many studies. In the private sector, evidence shows that better organizational commitment to service (measured by employee surveys) links not only to better client relations, but is a bridge to better company financials. (See Schneider, B et al. “Organizational Service Climate Drivers of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and Financial and Market Performance.” Journal of Service Research. Volume 12 Number 1, August 2009 3-14, c 2009.)

Bottom line: the analogue to company financials for local governments is community livability. If you improve employee motivation, engagement and satisfaction, you make it more likely that you’ll be able to build a stronger, more livable community - just as tuning all the parts of a stock car engine is the necessary precursor to winning the Daytona 500.

Local government employee opinion is now being researched

Much of the research on government employee attitudes has come from regular federal government reports of its employees.  Now, a large database unique to local government employee opinion is aggregating survey data from thousands of employees in cities and counties across America.  The National Employee Survey (The NES™), conducted by National Research Center, provides results that help managers understand what already is well-oiled in the organizational machine, what still needs tuning and which parts of the machine matter most to success.

For each employee survey conducted in jurisdictions across the U.S., scores of answers are categorized into twelve dimensions of service: employee performance evaluation, communication and decision making, employee development, morale and modeling, wages and benefits, employee-supervisor relationship, quality of internal support services, timeliness of internal support services, department performance, employee contribution and fit, physical work environment, job satisfaction plus quality and timeliness of internal services. (Several survey questions on The NES™ come from The National Citizen Survey, allowing these two survey tools to work together in a powerful way.)

What survey data reveal

Where jurisdictions have conducted The NES, employees view these dimensions of work quite differently. But when we aggregate results from thousands of participating employees across a wide variety of jurisdictions in the U.S., we can see common, essential characteristics of the local government work environment.  This graph shows two important results from these surveys: the ratings of each dimension of work and the two dimensions that are most closely linked to employee satisfaction.


Twelve Dimensions of Work and Two That Best Predict Overall Employee Satisfaction.

1Indices are based on more than 7,000 employees answering all questions

First, the aspects of local government work that are least favored by employees are employee performance evaluations followed closely by communication and decision making and opportunities for development. At the top of the ratings are job satisfaction, the physical work environment and employee contribution and fit to the job. Broadly, these top-rated dimensions are working best for the staff who are charged with providing top quality service to city or county residents.

The key drivers for overall job satisfaction: Morale and Modeling, Contribution and Fit

The dimensions of employment that have the strongest influence are those that matter most for better overall job satisfaction. The graph shows the most important aspects of work environment are morale and modeling combined with contribution and fit. As the key drivers of job satisfaction, these two dimensions are most closely associated with employees’ job satisfaction ratings (even though the dimension morale and modeling, on average, is rated lower).

Employees are most likely to express the greatest job satisfaction when they sense strong organizational morale, have trust in their leadership, their jobs fit their talents and they are able to make meaningful contributions. When organizational morale and personal fit are weak, job satisfaction suffers.

These insights offer a starting point as managers seek to improve the work-place: the engine that drives excellent service delivery and resident opinion about the quality of community life.  You can tune up your organization by asking your employees to reflect on their jobs, commitment, colleagues, leadership and to determine the factors that are most important to them for a more satisfying job experience.


The National Employee Survey

The NES™ communicates the needs and opinions of employees who drive resident satisfaction. This survey allows organizations to gauge work climate and engagement, ensure employee satisfaction and plan for the future. Get candid answers to tough questions with The NES, and gain insight into how employee efforts impact the community at large.  Learn More

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The Council Round Table_Citizen Survey

How to Convince Council It's Time for a Citizen Survey

-By Tom Miller-

So your council members say they are in touch with their constituents and don’t need a resident survey to know what’s right for the community. Maybe they hesitate to ask residents questions whose answers council doesn’t already know.  Or perhaps the electeds are simply unfamiliar with the business value of surveys. For all those city staff members who have asked us how to convince council of the wisdom to conduct a broad resident survey about quality of community life, service delivery and public trust, here are the top ten reasons elected officials should consider a citizen survey.

Top Ten Reasons for Council To Consider a Citizen Survey

  1. The voice of the typical resident has broader value (and may be different) than the voice of the gadfly or those with more access to elected officials.
  2. Results identify what residents think is most important for the community to do.
  3. Data from surveys provide evidence of what is working and what needs help.
  4. Resident opinion underpins strategic planning.
  5. Survey data quantify resident opinion so that changes can be tracked over time as the community changes or improves.
  6. Surveys offer entry points to engage residents, businesses and non-profits to improve the community.
  7. Results permit tracking the success of policies and programs with metrics from resident opinion.
  8. Residents want councils to base plans on what the entire community cares about.
  9. Independent survey results add credibility to the evaluation of community and services.
  10. With surveys, councils no longer need to rely on advocacy groups’ assertions that those groups speak for the entire community, because the voice of the entire community is represented in quality survey data.


The National Citizen Survey


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Older Adults_Aging Population

How to Prepare Your Community for the Aging Population

By 2040, one in four Americans will be advanced in age, according to the U.S. Census.  In order to prepare communities for the aging demographic, it has become increasingly essential for local governments to understand the needs and strengths of their older adult populations. 

National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) has surveyed thousands of older residents from across the United States about the livability of their communities.  In this video, NRC’s Vice President Michelle Kobayashi shares the data that leaders need to know in order to best serve the advanced age adults who live there now and in the future.

These data come from the Community Assessment for Older Adults™ (CASOA™) and The National Citizen Survey™ (The NCS™).


Top Ten Things You Need to Know to Prepare Your Community for the Aging Population


1. Communities are forever changed

  • Advanced age populations in the U.S. are quickly increasing.
  • Older adults are assets to the community.

2. Older residents like where they live

  • Most of them would recommend their community to others and plan to remain there.

3.  Our society is data rich but information poor

  • 5 in 10 said availability of information about resources for older adults is excellent or good.

4.  Many older adults have too much time and not enough to do

  • While religious/spiritual opportunities rated highly, many older adults are unsatisfied with social and cultural activities in their communities.

5.  Call for the Encore

  • Many older adults reported problems with finding work after retirement and with finances.

6.  Health and Wellness

  • Most older adults reported “excellent” or “good” overall physical health.
  • Many of them reported having problems with physical health, fitness, healthy diet, mental health and falls.

7.    Aging in Place

  • About half of older residents are happy with the variety of affordable housing and care options.
  • They may need assistance with heavy house and yard work.

8.  Caregiving

  • Adults ages 50+ often take care of other older adults.
  • Some of them reported feeling emotionally, physically or financially burdened.

9.  Mobility

  • Nearly 3 in 10 reported problems with safe and affordable travel.

10.  You are not alone

  • For help in serving advanced age populations, look to government, community based organizations, private sector and residents.



National Research Center’s COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT SURVEY FOR OLDER ADULTS asks advanced aged citizens themselves about their circumstances and needs.  CASOA assesses multiple community dimensions as they relate to older adults, and has been named “The best fit for measuring age friendliness of a community” by the City of London, Ontario.


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Residents of Every Generation Reveal What Makes a Community Worth Recommending

-By Tom Miller-

You can tell a book by its cover

Often the cover of a book gives away clues to the style of the story, the investment in the work and the willingness of people to lend their reputations to support the book. In the same way, a community’s appearance may reveal its investments, connections, safety, planning and pride.

National Research Center, Inc. has found that the appearance of a community is one of two features that are most closely linked to the willingness of residents in every age group to recommend their community to others.

Beautiful Hawaii City. Courtesy Angelica

Beautiful City in Hawaii.  Courtesy Angelica Wedell

The second characteristic that predicts the likelihood of a resident at any age recommending the community is its K-12 education.


Grade-school children learning. CC0

Grade-school children.  CC0

In our research, when ratings of both K-12 education and community appearance were low, so was the likelihood that residents would endorse the community to others. When people thought well of the local aesthetics and public schools, they were more likely to recommend their community as a place to live.

What Else Matters Depends on the Age of Residents

While older and younger residents may agree on community appearance and K-12 education as the touchstones of community quality, opinions differ on some other key drivers of quality. For Millennials (18-34 years old), additional key correlates of community quality were recreation opportunities, affordable cost of living and public places to hang out.

Curiously, public meeting places were important to Baby Boomer and Silent generation adults (55+) too. Older adults also were looking for affordable, quality health care when considering whether to recommend a place to others.

And for Generation X adults (ages 35-50), neighborliness of the community was a key driver of quality.

What Makes a Place Recommendable by Age Group

Why People Would Recommend Their City to Others

Data and Image by National Research Center, Inc.

As communities consider how to attract and keep residents who are untethered to jobs – because of retirement or virtual work opportunities – it is essential that local leaders understand the characteristics that matter most to potential citizens.

Recommending their community as a place to live may be the highest praise a resident can give.  And factors contributing to that commendation are only in part the same for every age group – community appearance and K-12 education. A more complete picture of the drivers of community success requires a more varied understanding of market segments in the emerging world of competitive residential relocation. These key drivers are supported by other community features such as ease of mobility, safety, economic opportunities, volunteer opportunities and cultural events.

These key drivers represent market knowledge derived from National Research Center’s analysis of tens of thousands of individual responses to a set of standard questions asked in over 100 jurisdictions across the U.S. in the last several years. We examined how resident responses to questions about the quality of community services and community characteristics correlated with resident likelihood of recommending the community as a place to live.

So, strong public education and community appearance will appeal to potential residents at any age.  But, if you seek younger adults, also pay attention to recreation, cost of living and community gathering places. Oldest residents will take note of health care, neighborliness and gathering places. And middle aged adults (more often with children) will harken to how welcoming their neighbors are.


Neighborhood. CC0

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Top 10 for a Top Ten List Image

Top Ten Reasons to Write a Top Ten List

-By Angelica Wedell-

Lists are everywhere, and as cliché as they may have become, I’m going to tell you why you should write one.  When it comes to communicating ideas for any reason and in any profession, a list is your best friend.

1.  Ten is a magical number

Children first learn to count to ten.  Most humans have ten fingers and ten toes.  We measure large numbers in multiples of ten.  Top Ten lists don’t show just one useful thing, but 10 of them.


2.  Lists deliver on a promise

It can be easy to under deliver in writing, but a top ten list keeps you on track and is committed to providing exactly what it says.  Your readers know what they’re in for when they see the headline.


3.  They are easy to consume

Readers are busy with work, studies, life and a million other competing articles.  A list needs no time spent searching for takeaways.  Most web readers look at headlines first (or only) and content second.  Since lists are really a series of headlines, they are an easy win.


4.  They are clickable

Top Ten lists are all over the Internet, and for good reason: they are irresistible.  They appeal to our primal sense of curiosity.  Don’t you want to know the top ten things to eat this season?  I certainly do.


5.  They are sharable

Look at your Facebook feed.  I bet you saw a list.  People love sharing lists to prove a point, compile must-reads, have a chuckle with friends or enlighten their following.  Lists end up all over cork-boards, refrigerators, common-room doors and social media.


6.  They are concise

Lists, by their very nature, keep content to the point.  There is no room for long addendums causing readership drop-off.


7.  People actually read them

“Readers” are really “Scanners” online.  If they are not entertained within 5 seconds (or less) they “bounce” out.  Long, windy articles (and videos) - even if beautifully executed - tend to have low retention online.  Slate studied their readership behavior and confirmed that people will even Tweet an article without ever taking the time to read anything but the headline!  But if readers like the content, they’ll take the time to get through a list.  And the more scannable the list is, the more likely they will stick around to finish it.


8.  They are useful

Step-by-step procedures are effortless to follow in list form.  They are easy to take notes from and refer to.  They can teach you a new skill and even improve your career.


9.  They are organized

Lists keep thoughts in order and help us get things done.  Visually, they are nice and tidy and according to The New Yorker, our brains love them.


10.  Lists are fun to write

Personally, I love lists.  To-do lists keep me productive.  Shopping lists keep my fridge well-stocked.  Bucket lists compel me to follow my dreams.  Writing a list feels like scratching an itch and I end up writing them all the time.  I also love reading them for all the reasons I’ve already listed.


Check out The Local Gov Top Ten for more of these lists from NRC!


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Fruit Fights_Funny Verbatims_1_Funny Survey Responses

“Fruit Fights” and Other Funny Survey Responses

Survey researchers read the funniest verbatim responses to open-ended questions.

-By Angelica Wedell-

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Bonus Funny Verbatims!

“When someone asks me to recycle, I burn three tires and empty a can of Aqua Net into the atmosphere.”

“I’ve been listening to Harry Potter in AudioBooks and read this entire questionnaire in a British accent.”

“I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to take this survey.”

Local governments often use community surveys to better understand what residents think of their city or town. Sometimes, a topic calls for an open-ended question or two. For NRC survey researchers who review, analyze and present the results, these types of questions can yield a few laughs when residents show their sense of humor.

When asked for ideas on improving green-space, some residents get quite creative. One resident asked for a greater variety of plants. “The City should include fruit trees and bushes in the parks. Enough so that people don’t fight [over] the fruit.”

In every community, Safety is ranked one of the very most important aspects of livability. One resident took a moment to express their appreciation for the local law enforcement. “Our cops are hot dogs and don’t fool around with trouble makers. If you come to this City, you’d better behave because the cops are watching and that’s just how I like it.”

Sometimes residents read the survey questions with great attention. A resident once shared their thoughts on our use of the word “email”. “Just so you know, ‘electronic mail’ could be ‘e-mail’, ‘Email’ or ‘email’.”

Community engagement professionals always look forward to receiving ideas on improving opportunities for Education and Enrichment. One resident suggested a few themes to consider. “The City should focus activities around children and dating/romantic activities.  Separately, obviously.”

We love those moments when a survey response breaks up the work-day with a little fun. Both researchers and local government leaders truly appreciate every resident who takes the time to complete their community survey. Positive, negative or funny, every response ultimately leads to results that can be used to make the city or town a better place to live!

Here are a few tips on crafting open-ended survey questions that will get you the most useful responses:

  1. Have a goal. Before you ask an open-ended question, make sure you and your stakeholders know why you are asking it and how you plan to use the results.

  3. Avoid “Yes” or “No” questions. Open-ended questions are an opportunity to gain a little insight to the “Why” or “How” residents think about a topic. So a “Why” or “How” question will draw out a more thoughtful, useful answer.

  5. Make the question simple and specific. To garner a useful response, it’s best to ensure that an open-ended question only asks about one, very specific issue. This will cut down on confusion and help residents give you the kind of feedback you really want to know.


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What’s the funniest survey response or public comment you’ve ever seen?

Top Ten 2017_happy-new-year_pixabay_CC0

NRC’s Top Ten 2017 Web Articles

-By Angelica Wedell-

As a company full of data scientists, National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) loves that special time of year when we get to dig into our website analytics and review our top posts. In 2017 we shared our favorite tips and tricks for survey success, recapped our local government conference adventures and shared stories about clients who have used their results in award-winning ways. It was a big year for content and engagement, and the best part of it all has been the opportunity to connect with you!

This list counts the ten most popular web articles published on in 2017 (excluding posts primarily for webinar, vlog and video show-notes). Here they are in chronological order:

1. Connecting with the Nation’s Largest Generation

Top Ten 2017_DCI-Conference-Staff-2_Millennials_Photo-by-Angelica-Wedell

Census data show that Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the United States.  Adults age 18 to 34 comprise the largest portion of the new workforce.  Moving into their 30’s, many younger adults are getting married and starting families.  Millennial consumer habits, along with more connected technologies, have created a thriving “sharing economy.”  And speaking of connected tech, today’s younger adults are the first generation to have grown up with the Internet.  In short, Millennials are no longer “the future of America” but major stakeholders in the success of their communities. The contributions and needs of younger adults cannot be overlooked by local governments wanting to move their communities forward.  And many jurisdictions are asking how they can better engage their younger demographic…


2.  Top Takeaways from CCCMA’s 2017 Winter Conference

Top Ten 2017_CCCMA 2017 Winter Conference Highlights

Cheery handshakes between colleagues, notes on paper, the smell of hot-springs, grand views of snowcapped mountains and a palpable sense of history has signified the Colorado City County Management Association (CCCMA) Winter Conference for the last two decades.  Once again, Colorado local government professionals started the new year with a trip to the century-old Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs to illuminate the profession they love and prepare their home-state communities for the future…


3. Top Ten Local Government Innovations of 2017

Top Ten 2017_TLG Conference 2017

Public sector leaders, planners and creative thinkers go to the Alliance for Innovation (AFI) Transforming Local Government conference each year to discover the best new practices, all in one place.  “It’s worth it to be exposed to something that could be so far from where people are standing right now,” said AFI West Regional Director Nijah Fudge, recognizing that innovation comes with a level of risk. “It will challenge leaders to say, ‘Maybe I can meet somewhere in the middle. Maybe I can get there eventually…


4. Seven Biggest Challenges for Colorado Municipalities

Top Ten 2017_ CML 17

The Annual Colorado Municipal League (CML) Conference continues to be one of the premiere local government events in the Centennial State. A healthy mix of elected officials and staff, from cities and towns all over Colorado, gather for the essential training, advocacy and information they can rely on to move their communities forward. CML’s most recent conference in Breckenridge, CO came at a crucial time for local leaders. As the state ranks among the very top for population growth and economic changes over the last few years, decision-makers face a myriad of challenges related to everything from accommodating working residents to resiliency…


5. Public Engagement in the Digital Age: Local Governments Surmounting Internet Negativity

Top Ten 2017_Public Enagagement_Internet Negativity

The Internet allows for quick and convenient public engagement through social media, forums and comments.  Businesses and local governments alike can use it to spread their brand and reach larger audiences.  But in many ways, the Web is still a wild west – rife with trolls, cyber-security dangers and rampant rumors. The truth is that your communications department has no control over what others post about your organization, and everything ever published online lives forever in cyberspace – even if it’s been deleted from the timeline.  Cindy Reents, City Manager of Richland, WA said it best, “Social media is a help because we can get information out.  But it’s not a help when bad information gets out there, because you can’t pull it back…


6. Why Surveys Are Still Valuable for Finding Out What Residents Want and Need

Top Ten 2017_Surveys Valuable for What Residents Need

What Makes for a Credible Resident Survey? “Nobody wants more taxes to fund a homeless shelter!”  “People don’t feel safe here anymore!”  “You cannot expect the community to support one-way streets downtown!”  “We need branch libraries out east!”  If you haven’t heard self-appointed community spokespeople make these very statements, you’ve likely heard plenty of other proclamations in public testimony or read countless letters to the editor from residents sure that they speak for everyone…


7. Women in Law Enforcement

Top Ten 2017_Women in Law Enforcement

Diversity and inclusivity in law enforcement have become paramount concerns for American society in the 21st Century. We’ve seen this evidenced in news media saturation, guidelines at the federal level and efforts at the local level to bridge gaps between police and the general population. “Having diverse people in the agency that reflect the community that you serve is very important,” said Carmen Best, Seattle, WA Police Department Deputy Chief. “[It is] very crucial to the credibility and legitimacy of the police agency...


8. The Challenge for Government Communicators: Don’t Think Like Government

Top Ten 2017_Government Communicators

If there is one challenge I face daily in my role as Director of Communications for a local municipality, it is not thinking like government. Part of this challenge is easy to address in that I didn’t begin my career working for a government agency. My first job out of college was at a local news station. From there I worked at a large energy company in Houston, then a local non-profit, finally landing in my current job. If there is one thing that I have learned over the years working for a local municipality, it’s that the experiences from my previous roles allow me to move beyond what’s expected of a government communications shop.  I have made it my daily mantra not to think government and here’s why…


9. Local Government Employees and Residents Don’t Always See Eye to Eye on Big Strategic Issues

Top Ten 2017_opposite views_pixabay_CC0

What would you do if you discovered that your employees have different priorities than the residents they serve? Or what if your residents think more poorly of some aspects of the community than do your employees who help to improve those community qualities? These aren’t just hypothetical questions with impossible answers. The National Employee Survey™ (The NES™) includes a set of questions about service quality and community priorities that are asked of residents on The National Citizen Survey™ (The NCS™)...


10. The 2017 Voice of the People Awards Winners and Finalists

Top Ten 2017_2017 VOP Winners and Finalists with ICMA Executive Director Marc Ott. 

National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) is proud to announce the 2017 Voice of the People (VOP) Awards winners and finalists!  These awards are only given to top performing jurisdictions that best listen and act for the benefit their communities. The Voice of the People Awards stand alone as the only award given in local government based on community opinion.  Residents in winning cities and towns either reported the highest or most improved levels of satisfaction compared with all other jurisdictions that participated in The National Citizen Survey™ (The NCS™)...


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