The biggest and possibly most important event of the decade begins in March and more than $675 billion is on the line.

It's the 2020 census.

By the end of March, every household in the United States will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 census.

Once the invitation arrives, responses can be provided in one of three ways: by mail, by phone or -- for the first time in history -- online, making it easier than ever to participate in this important civic duty.

I often share in this column the many blessings Grove City residents enjoy, such as top-notch parks, infrastructure improvements, new business partnerships, educational benefits, all-ages/all-abilities opportunities, workforce development and community celebrations. Nearly all of these things are affected in some way by the data collected through the decennial U.S. Census.

In addition to determining congressional representation, census data is used to apportion multiple federal-funding streams. This includes Medicaid, Head Start, nutrition-assistance programs such as school lunch and breakfast programs, federal Pell Grants, special-education grants, crime victim assistance, emergency assistance programs, highway planning and construction, promotion of the arts, community development and more. An accurate, complete count of every person helps to provide our community with important government funding to maintain these programs.

Because a complete count of the full population is only completed once a decade, federal funds are distributed based on annual population estimates.

The decennial census forms the backbone of these estimates, which means the 2020 census has the power to impact the future of Grove City, Franklin County and the entire state of Ohio for the next 10 years.

The 2010 census yielded an approximate mail-in participation rate of 78%. Imagine missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars we desperately need and are entitled to because 20% of our residents didn't respond to the census.

We want the best for our community and believe every resident can help us achieve the goal. I challenge my fellow Grove City residents to help eliminate the gap between respondents and the true number of residents.

Because 2020 is the first time responses can be filed online, it's not difficult for me to imagine we can dramatically improve on the past non-response rate. And let's do it quickly -- by April 1, "Census Day" -- so the U.S. Census Bureau has no need to send representatives to our area for follow-up, in-person counts.

Your invitation to participate in the 2020 census will soon arrive. Encourage your family, friends and neighbors to respond quickly. Let's be the first community to be heard loud and clear.

If you have questions or would like additional information, visit or contact the Grove City Development Department at 614-277-3004.

Richard L. "Ike" Stage is the mayor of Grove City.