Government officials are seeking the help of the business community to gather financial data that could provide a more accurate and detailed picture of the Virgin Islands economy.

Officials at the Development Planning Unit are currently soliciting income, expense, inventory and sales data from various businesses as part of the annual National Accounts Survey.

The data gathered will be aggregated for each sector of the economy and used to compute indicators including gross domestic product, which measures the territory’s economic performance, Adriana Herbert, a DPU economist, said Monday.

Ms. Herbert added that because the data help paint a picture of how each sector of the economy is performing, businesses will be able to use the survey’s results “to gauge, ‘Would it be a good investment for my business to get into that [sector]? Or can I expand where I’m at already?’”

Michele Phillips, a DPU statistics officer, said government officials use the data in part to determine how to allocate funds and develop regulations.

“Based on your performance, there’s certain things that the government may do in terms of policy,” she said. “It guides them accordingly, among other indicators, but it’s one of the main ones used.”

Surveys distributed

To gather the data, DPU began sending its 2011 surveys to businesses earlier this year and hopes to receive all of the data it needs by June, Ms. Herbert said.

She added that the department welcomes data from all businesses, even if they weren’t surveyed.

After collection, the 2011 data has to be “cleaned,” checked for errors and balanced before being released to the public, Ms. Herbert explained, adding that this process could take a year or more.

She and another DPU employee, Kacy Frett, recently attended a workshop in Suriname to learn how to compile the data.

Once the calculations are finalised, the survey’s results will either be posted on the DPU’s website or will be made available publicly at the department’s offices in the Central Administration Building, Ms. Herbert said.

Participation required

Businesses can be compelled to participate in the survey under the 2004 Statistics Act, but all responses are kept strictly within the DPU and are not shared with the wider government, Ms. Phillips said.

DPU began issuing the National Accounts Survey for the first time in 2008. The department didn’t send out the surveys in 2010 because it was busy with the census that year, and it is now trying to obtain data for 2010 and 2011. Ms. Phillips said cooperation from businesses is increasing, although some companies are still reluctant to share their financial figures.

“At the end of the day, they call the department to request information, so if they don’t give it to us we would not be able to calculate the indicators,” she said.