The Internet continues to grow as an information resource, offering answers to questions you might not even have asked yet. Here are examples.

There are now two competing Internet sites where you can review statistically-valid survey results on competitive salary pay for over 5,000 different jobs in 5,800 U.S. cities. And you can do so for free!

If it would be helpful for you to know what other employers in your marketplace are paying for any particular job classification, browse and look for the button “Prevailing Wages Salaries DOL” under the right-hand column headlined Free Data.

This search process lets you choose the position description that best describes any job you are studying. It will show you, for example, that a roofer in the Tacoma market earns $29,307 on average while a bus driver working in Shelton might expect $18,034 annually. And this data, filtered from federal and state labor surveys then analyzed for comparable validity, is updated periodically.

Similar information is available from but this site did start showing a “Purchase Information” option the second time I visited. Perhaps it’s “free” for a limited time.

Both websites are based upon work done by ERI (Economic Research Institute), a woman-owned small business based in Redmond, that serves over 5,000 corporate subscribers. The firm provides research software to help compensation, relocation and human resource professionals, as well as independent consultants, attorneys and non-profit organizations with prevailing wage and cost-of-living needs. The company also offers geographic relocation and cost-of-living assistance for international employers.

Another valuable trove of information is on the Internet thanks to your tax dollars funding the U.S. Census Bureau’s work. Results from the 1997 Economic Census of businesses is available for Washington state and each of its counties.

You may remember the data collection exercise in late 1997 in which many of us were among the 5 million companies ordered (under penalty of law) to complete detailed questionnaires about sales, expenses and employment. The results can now be viewed at www.census. gov/econ97 where you can search and sort by industry, by county or city to learn how many establishments generate what level of revenues with how many employees.

The data shows, for instance, that the 2,289 retail establishments in Pierce County recorded almost $5.5 billion in sales for 1997 (second largest in the state) through the efforts of 28,952 workers earning a payroll of $550 million. Based on population estimates for the county, that is $8,221 in sales per capita.

Data for other South Sound counties is captured in the chart below left. You can do your own study and comparisons on the Internet site, drilling down to learn how many gas stations operate in each city or county, the number of dentist offices and their annual receipts.

The Economic Census shows the number of incorporated child care centers doubled from 1977 to 1992 with two out of three of them operating for-profit. Life insurance companies spent $1 out of every $8 collected on administrative expenses and 43 percent of revenues were paid out in benefits to policyholders. Three states—California, Texas and Florida—accounted for 49 percent of all minority-owned firms in 1992. Hawaii had the highest percentage of firms owned by minorities at 52 percent. And half of America’s 50 states gained manufacturing jobs in the five years after 1987 while half lost them.

While you’re at the Census Bureau site, look for a link to which is a collection of more than 70 other websites offering data dumps from federal government agencies. You’ll find offerings on agriculture, crime, environment, labor and a host of others.

Something else I learned on-line: There is a greater risk of repetitive strain injury surfing the Web than in carrying out any other computer activities. But that’s a topic for another column. And we won’t share that one with L&I or OSHA.

By Jeff Rounce, Business Examiner staff