National Clothesline
Feds take a shot at counting cleaners
The federal government is taking a stab at a question that is often asked but never definitively answered: How many drycleaners are there in the United States?
Every five years, the Department of Commerce undertakes its economic census of U.S. businesses, drycleaners included, which gathers information on the number of establishments, annual receipts, number of employees and payroll and industry specific topics such as the products and services the businesses provide.
Forms were mailed to some four million business late last year. The deadline for submitting the information is Feb. 12.
“The economic census provides accurate benchmark statistics that are fundamental building blocks of economic indicators, such as the gross domestic product, monthly retail sales and the producer price index,” said Thomas Mesenbourg, acting director of the Census Bureau.
What the number say Drycleaning & laundry Establishments	Receip
The 2012 census should, among other things, show the impact of the recession on businesses. Economists generally agree that the last recession began in December 2007, thus the numbers from the 2007 economic census would be considered pre-recession.
That census counted 26,093 drycleaning establishments in the U.S., a seven percent decline from 27,939 in 1997. The decline was steady, with about half of it occurring in each five-year interval between the two censuses.
Receipts for the industry totaled $8 billion in 2007, a full one billion more than 1997, but that 14 percent increase lagged far behind the general inflation rate of 30 percent over the same 10-year period. And in the five years from 2002 to 2007, gross receipts increased just over 4 percent, a period when the inflation rate was nearly 16 percent.
At the same time, the 2007 numbers reflected a growth in average annual receipts per plant, clocking in at $310,000 per plant, a 22 percent increase over the average from 1997. The 2007 numbers also showed a decline in the average number of employees per plant and in payroll as a percentage of total receipts.
While the five-year census provides a useful measure of industry changes, it can’t be taken as a complete tally of the industry. Many businesses are not even  counted. Non-employers, which the government defines as businesses that had no paid employees during the census year, are not included in the data. Many other small employers — those with fewer than 10 employees — do not receive census forms. Data on these firms is derived or estimated from administrative records of other federal agencies.
Despite the lack of hard data from every single drycleaning plant, the census over the years accurately tracks rising and falling fortunes of the drycleaning industry. The 1967 census, which marked the beginning of the five-year census cycle, counted 30,625 drycleaning plants. That fell to 28,422 five years later as the infamous “Polyester Recession” kicked in. The number of plants continued to decline before bottoming out at 21,257 in the 1987 census. The two censuses conducted in the 1990s showed growth in the number of plants before declines returned in the 2002 and 2007 censuses.
In the past it has taken well over a year before census results were available but thanks to enhanced electronic reporting and software, the Census Bureau expects to publish early results in December of this year although details on the drycleaning industry will probably not be available until sometime next year.