Libraries Build Community Partnerships in the Name of Economic Development

The Decatur Public Library, Forsyth Public Library, Mt. Zion Public Library, and several local entities joined forces in the name of economic development to offer DemographicsNow: Business & People, an online business tool that provides detailed demographic data on more than 24 million active businesses, and 206 million consumers. This new resource makes it easy for all types of users to collect, analyze and act upon information, all from a single location.

Watch this video from Decatur & Macon County to see how DemographicsNow can help local entrepreneurs.

Reprinted from 

by Allison Petty


DECATUR – As he talked to people throughout the community, City Librarian Rick Meyer kept hearing the same question: How can the Decatur Public Library help with economic development?

On Tuesday, Meyer and representatives from multiple organizations revealed a new tool that could help answer that question. It’s called DemographicsNow, and it allows existing and potential business owners to conduct market research they need, for free and on their own schedules.

“To get this information could cost you thousands of dollars as an individual entrepreneur,” Meyer said.

Partners in the endeavor include public libraries in Forsyth and Mount Zion, whose cardholders can also access the tool; Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County; city of Decatur; Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce; Millikin University; Richland Community College; the village of Mount Zion; the Mount Zion Chamber of Commerce; and Mount Zion Economic Development Office.
The partnership helped spread out the roughly $12,000 cost among multiple entities. It is also meant to help ensure that the database gets used.

“It helps us promote this resource to the people who need it and can most benefit from it, and hopefully I think it opens doors for us to work together on projects,” Meyer said.

The database uses Experian and other sources to help answer questions about the demographics and purchasing habits of certain areas. For instance, users can target a specific area to find out how much people living there spent on certain types of goods, such as furniture or breakfast food, in the previous year.

The tool is available on the Web for anyone with a library card at the Decatur, Mount Zion or Forsyth libraries, or people can visit the libraries to use it. Richland officials plan to offer training sessions soon.

After Meyer saw a demonstration of the tool last year, he approached EDC President Ryan McCrady, who was excited by the concept. But McCrady thought the benefit could be expanded even further, which led to the involvement of the other libraries, educational and business entities.

McCrady said the database provides a great way for budding entrepreneurs to gather the market research they need to present to banks and financial backers, and to design their business plans. It also can allow existing companies to identify target areas to expand or increase promotion.

A big plus is that the business owners can use DemographicsNow on their own schedules.

“During the day, they’re busy running their business, and they have to be able to get this information when they have time to look it up. That’s what’s really nice about this,” McCrady said. “We’d love for them to come to the libraries … but if they can’t, they can still get the information and consume it in the way that’s easiest for them.”

Elizabeth Bondie, a sales representative for Cengage Learning, which offers the database, said public libraries across the country are using it to turn outward and build relationships in their communities.

For instance, in Phoenix, a police department is using the tool to determine where to station Spanish-speaking officers. In Mount Prospect, Ill., local business owners who attended a recent training were brimming with enthusiasm for the power of the database and detailed information it gave them.

“It really is such a robust resource,” she said.

DemographicsNow is one of multiple online educational resources that are available to Decatur Public Library cardholders, Meyer said.

The library’s website is

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