The editors of Electrical Wholesaling magazine spend a fair amount of time poking around the Web and other resources looking for demographic data. Here are a few of our favorite resources.

2002 Survey of Buying Power

Published by Sales and Marketing Management magazine, this is one of the bibles in the demographics field. It's packed with local market data, including five-year population growth forecasts. For information, check out www.salesandmarketing.com.

Rand McNally Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide

This book offers a ton of easy-to-find demographic information, as well as the maps of all Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the United States. Good business libraries will have this resource.

Statistical Reference Shelf

This Web site, located at www.fedstats.gov/fast.html, is packed with demographic information. The resources available here include the Statistical Abstract of the United States and the State and Metropolitan Data Book. More than 70 federal government agencies, including the Census Bureau, can be searched in one stroke from the www.fedstats.gov Web site.

U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau tracks a wide variety of economic indicators, such as housing starts, construction spending and manufacturing output. You can access this information at www.census.gov.

The nearest Federal Reserve Bank

These banks often have excellent regional economic data. The Web sites of the San Francisco and St. Louis Federal Reserve Banks are particularly good. To find the Web site of the nearest Federal Reserve, go to www.ny.frb.org/links.html and click on the map in the appropriate region.

Departments of economic development

Any state actively courting new businesses usually has a Web site with some basic economic information.

Chambers of commerce

While some chambers of commerce offer little more than the phone numbers of the local welcome wagons, others may have the information you need. It's worth a shot, but don't get your hopes up.

Local union chapters

When looking for employment statistics on the number of electrical contractors in your area, don't forget to check with the local union hall.

Local home builders' associations

These groups often have statistics on housing starts or building permits. The local Board of Realtors may also have this information.

Business department of a college or university

You may be surprised with the amount of data business schools collect on the local economy. It's a mixed bag as to how to access this data. Sometimes it's available for free on the Web; at times it may be a for-pay proposition. The University of Michigan offers a ton of national and regional economic and demographic data online at www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/stats.html

Banks

You have a decent chance of finding some free statistics at good-sized banks in your area. Some of them may even offer this information online.

Local newspapers

Many newspapers do a nice job of archiving business articles of interest to the local community. Sometimes there is a per-article fee to access a newspaper's database.

Manufacturers

Hopefully, your friendly suppliers are loaded with exactly the type of market data you need. Don't bet on it, but some electrical manufacturers invest a lot of time into researching end-user market potential.

Customers

Your salespeople's Rolodexes are probably the best reference sources for forecasting future sales. Good salespeople always keep an ear to the ground for leads on expansion plans or new bids.