Are you Going to Map That? Application of GIS in Economic Development

IBM estimates that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.  In case you’re wondering, that’s 18 zeroes to the left of the decimal.  This data is generated from cell phones, governments, digital sensors in objects, the pictures we post to face book and all those tweets about Justin Bieber.

Much of the data being created is tied to specific geographies.  Using powerful Geographic Information Systems (GIS), this data can be layered and represented digitally on maps to explore often complex spatial relationship. Different industries such as financial services, government and transportation and logistics are learning to leverage the power of GIS to become more productive and smarter.  As a decision support tool, organizations are using GIS for:

  • Planning and Analysis
  • Asset and Data Management
  • Operational Awareness
  • Tracking their Workforce and goods and services instead of products

These tools are especially important to planners and community and economic development professionals who are interested in building sustainable regions that attract and retain businesses that continue to grow.  Using GIS, economic developers can begin to model how current conditions may be affected by projected economic factors over the near and long term.  The maps generated using GIS software packages can be used to compare and contrast communities, while visually demonstrating a regions competitive advantage, infrastructure and assets.  Advanced techniques allow data to be represented in dynamic formats. This allows decision makers to see how traffic flows are affecting specific economic clusters and to ensure that city departments are coordinating their activities in a way that is least disruptive to local business activity.

In King County, Washington, better known as Seattle, GIS has been used for nearly 20 years to support the work of the County’s 1,000 employees across a wide range of departments including Natural Resources and Parks and the Department of Community and Human Services.  The County has also developed citizen facing GIS tools such as My Commute and iMap.  iMap, which allows members of the community to customize views of spatial information on line, receives almost 15 million hits a month from over 150,000 unique user sessions. A recently completed study of King County’s use of GIS found that, in 2010 alone, the return on the County’s $14.6 million investment was nearly $180 million[1].

Other communities like Pueblo County, Colorado and Asheville, North Carolina which were profiled in ESRI’sGIS Best Practices GIS for Economic Development report are adapting GIS to support their economic development efforts.  Both communities are using GIS to help firms find the right location to expand an existing business or open a new one.  InPueblo County, businesses are able to schedule appointments with the County’s Business Analysts who provide free consulting services.  The Analysts, use GIS maps to help business owners understand the local market and how a location may affect their ability to attract and retain talent.   Asheville’s investment in GIS has focused on business attraction with the development of a GIS site selection tool called Priority Places.  This tool allows potential investors to prioritize locations within the region that meet their business requirements.

To learn more about how GIS is growing within the field of economic development, I encourage you to watch the following video produced by GIS Planning.

In my next post, I will explore how communities can go about choosing the right GIS software application by applying a multi criteria decision making approach.

[1]Source: An Analysis of Benefit from Use of Geographic Information Systems by King County, Washington by Richard Zerbe and Associates, 2012