There's a debate raging in Congress about funding the Census Bureau.

The crux is over redrawing Congressional districts and how that would affect party power. The way a district swings would determine national agendas, funding for local projects and presidential elections.

There are legislators who think the Census is a waste of money. I can tell you from writing more than 150 business plans for companies raising money from investor angels, venture capitalists, state grants and investment programs and banks, the Census Bureau's work is as important as finding a life-saving cure or developing bomb-detection equipment.

Most Americans think the Census Bureau just provides basic demographic information such as age, sex, ethnicity and income. No question, that information is vital, but it is even more critical when building a case for investment. Here are some examples:

Medical equipment: You plan to open a medical-equipment store in your region and are looking to get a loan from a bank. You have the assets to cover the loan, but the bank wants to read your business plan. When it looks at the plan, an officer sifts through to see if there are enough people 65 and older within 25 miles of your location to rent hospital beds, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. Hiring a firm to survey the market would cost a fortune. The Census has those numbers.

Software company: Two information-technology professionals who have worked for years in manufacturing companies in their region believe they have come up with software that will reduce purchasing costs. Because of the purchase price of the software, the head of sales believes the ideal buyer does $10 million or more in sales. The Census will tell them how many manufacturers nationally have over $10 million in sales, plus they can find out which states have the largest number of manufacturers that meet their criteria in the event they want to set up a sales office.

Cookie manufacturer: Three women want to help their children's elementary school raise money for new books. They develop a special recipe and name their cookies. The response to the cookies is so great that other local schools ask them to make cookies for them to sell. The women decide to start a business, but they need angel investors because they don't have the assets to borrow money from the bank. The angels want to know how many elementary, middle and high schools are in the U.S. The Census will tell you that.

Business book publisher: A book publisher thinks she has a group of books that would sell well abroad, but she can't market to the entire world. Her marketing team needs to identify countries that have the right demographic mix to be potential buyers. Again, you go to the Census Web site and the information is there.

The Census is one of the most critically competitive intelligence services the U.S. government offers. Without its information, companies, especially startups, could never prove their case to raise money. Every dollar spent on the Census is worth it, regardless of the political impact.
Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.