$44 million and counting

Kathy Stady, the census hub coordinator for Berrien Community Foundation through 2020, was brought out of retirement for the job and her love of data.

For the next year, Kathy Stady will be focused on a number.

Forty-four million to be exact.

That’s how much funding is at stake for Berrien County with the 2020 census just around the corner.

Based on statistical analysis of the 2010 response rate, an estimated 11,921 Berrien households will require a follow-up visit to determine how many people live there. A decline in response rate for next year’s census puts $44 million in annual funding at risk.

As a result, Stady, a Lincoln Township resident, temporarily ended her retirement to become the Berrien Community Foundation census hub coordinator. 

Having grown up in Des Moines, Iowa, Stady was drawn to Southwest Michigan through Whirlpool Corp. After working for two companies over the course of 34 years, Stady is now giving nonprofit work a try.

Stady sat down with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski to talk census data and the importance of taking part in the census.

What is a census hub coordinator responsible for?

To motivate nonprofits in a grassroots effort to get a complete census count in Berrien County.

Why is this a part-time gig?

The timeframe for this job is for a year and a half because the census only occurs every 10 years. It needs to be a flexible position. Sometimes I have meetings in the evening or on the weekend.

How did you find yourself in this line of work?

I literally saw a description of this job and it combined both my experience and my interest. So, I wanted to look into it. It was a good match actually.

Nice, so are you a big stat nerd? This job seems like a calling for someone obsessed with numbers and data.

Not as much stat. I’ve used data in helping companies make decisions over my career. I value data and I value the role it has in helping communities and businesses make decisions.

You said data and numbers tend to go hand-in-hand with your career. What did you do professionally prior to this?

I spent half my career at Whirlpool in product development, sales and marketing. The other half of my career I spent with Smith-Dahmer Associates in St. Joe, where I was a marketing research consultant for a lot of different companies. I worked 17 years at each place.

Did you always know you would work in this industry?

I was always interested in products for the home and how consumers and users interact with those products. From college, I was always interested in that.

So, what was it about this job that brought you out of retirement?

Frankly, this job is so interesting and so important to the county. As part of my career, I traveled a lot and was not able to be involved in nonprofits or really watch local government a lot. I was so busy.

This seemed like a great opportunity for me to get to know Berrien County better. And to do it for something so important. We’re talking $44 million a year to the county.

Can you talk about that figure and how significant that is?

Forty-four million dollars represents the 16 largest census-based, federally funded programs. That is everything from roads to schools. Every person who is counted in Berrien County is worth $1,800 a year to the state of Michigan.

Plus, the census is only done every decade, so that’s really $440 million over 10 years that is at stake. See how important that is? It’s about getting our fair share of federal money.

Anything different for the upcoming census?

The primary methodology they’re using now is through the internet. We have people who may have filled it out in the past who may not be comfortable with the internet. There might be people in the more rural parts of the county who don’t have access to the internet. It opens up the challenge even more.

What is the foundation doing to help?

We have initiated grants and are encouraging nonprofits to educate their communities and hold special events in an effort help them complete the census. We would provide grant money to fund those activities if the nonprofits apply for the grants.

It used be done primarily through the mail. It’s one of the reasons why the (U.S.) Census Bureau is predicting an 80.9 percent response rate in the county.

In your opinion, how important is the census?

The census started in 1790, so it’s woven throughout all of our country’s systems. I am continually surprised by how census data is used. Like emergency management. If you’re undercounted by 30,000, how does emergency management prepare enough resources in a crisis?

It’s used everywhere. It determines our representation through state legislature. It affects our congressional representation in the electoral college in addition to funding. It’s the foundation for a lot of services we take for granted.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski