By Anatalio Ubalde, MCP, Co-CEO and Co-founder, GIS Planning Inc. & ZoomProspector.com
Although its name would imply otherwise, site selection is very rarely just about the site. Instead, an effective site selection process is about community selection, which includes the geographic advantages that are the best match for your business. There is no question that your company will need a building or site to develop a building, but it’s more important to first evaluate all the things that happen around your site.
Here’s the proof: What drives a restaurant location isn’t the building; it’s the customers in the area. What drives a solar energy facility isn’t the availability of land; it’s the availability of sun. What drives the location of a distribution center isn’t the number of loading docks; it’s the proximity of transportation to markets.
This is the same process site selection advisors use. “When a client approaches our consulting team at Grubb & Ellis, they typically have a certain type of community in mind,” said Elizabeth King Forstneger, Director of Strategic Consulting Group at Grubb & Ellis. “We start our search for communities based on the factors most critical to the clients’ operations, such as the depth of the qualified labor pool, wage rates, geographic constraints, etc.”
The good news for businesses and corporate site selectors is that now you can take advantage of access to more online GIS (geographic information system) analysis to enable you to make better location decisions based on community characteristics, geographic advantages, and even to find the property or building you need for your new business home.
GIS enables you to make better and faster decisions based on deep analysis and visualization of data. At its core, GIS joins digital maps with databases. This combination enables you to create powerful analysis including proximity to customer markets, labor force characteristics, consumer spending, industry competitiveness, and more. It also empowers you to be able to immediately see data on a map which reveals information that might not be readily obvious from looking through thousands of individual records in multiple databases.
Although much of the GIS data has historically resided only in the office cubicles of government engineers, today that data is becoming more available through the Internet. In addition, advances in website technology allow regular folks to be able to use the analytical tools that used to be only accessible to “power-users” with formal GIS training. This means that today you can go to a local government’s website to access the local GIS map layers and information such as parcel boundaries, land use, incentive areas, traffic counts, transportation, zoning, and much more.
Economic development organizations (EDOs) have been driving the process of getting the GIS information out into the public because they realize that providing corporate real estate professionals and site selectors with information about the geographic advantages of doing business in their communities facilitates economic growth. Many of these organizations are also taking their GIS systems to the next level of service by combining their local GIS map layers with demographic, business and property data. Now you can find powerful GIS site selection websites available across the country in city, county, state and utility economic development organizations in Spokane, Wash. (SelectSpokane.com), Arlington, Texas (ArlingtonIsites.com), Valdosta, Ga. (ValdostaLowndesProspector.com) and hundreds of others. On these websites you can search for properties, create location-specific radius demographic reports, map businesses by industry, and view interactive maps with local GIS layers. These websites have proven invaluable at serving businesses and site selectors.
“Our website is delivering big-time results. Within a month of launching ValdostaLowndesProspector.com, our local brokers were calling us telling us of their success leasing facilities that were found on our website,” said Vicki Hughes, Director of Marketing, Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority. “What’s more, site selection consultants are calling us and telling us how they are using our GIS website for analyzing our community for new projects. Traffic to our website has doubled. Also, we use the website to create proposals for companies, which has had an immediate ROI for our organization’s bottom line.”
Site selection consultants concur about the value. “Communities that provide GIS website tools make it easier to find if a specific area is a good fit for both the company and community,” said Jason Hickey, of Washington, D.C.-based Hickey & Associates, LLC. .”Having the ability to do a real-time site search allows our team to quickly match the data on the ground to the internal parameters set by the client. Local map layers that highlight transportation networks, pad ready sites, economic development zones, as well as other geo-coded features, depict a site in a way that isn’t just in black-and-white text.”
Access to GIS, demographic, labor, business, and property data has improved dramatically since 1998 when the first EDO website with GIS-based site selection tools launched to serve corporate site selectors. However, this information has been primarily accessible at the city, county, or state level, which makes it difficult for corporate real estate professionals to find all of the information in one place and perform a true apples-to-apples site selection comparison of communities across a country. This is a challenge and pain-point expressed numerous times from many corporate real estate professionals and businesses.
A significant challenge to accomplishing this is bringing extensive data sets of consistent data across the entire nation into one website and then stitching together the local data across many communities so that it is useable in one place. At GIS Planning Inc., we’ve spent years thinking about this problem and how to overcome it, considering the significant benefit a website like this could produce for businesses, site selectors and the economic developers.
After years of growing our company with clients across the USA we realized it was possible to solve this challenge through our large national GIS and data infrastructure. So we set out to build and launch ZoomProspector.com as a national site selection analysis website powered by national and local demographic, business, and geographic data. ZoomProspector.com now enables businesses of all sizes to find the optimal location to start-up, expand, or relocate.
With ZoomProspector.com, every business searching for a new location can perform a free, fast, yet in-depth search for the best location based on the site selection characteristics that matter most to their unique needs, including demographic, business, labor force, geographic, transportation, incentive, economic, and industry qualities combined with real estate search. The website also connects businesses to expert site selection consultants and EDOs by matching them from extensive directories. Community profiles on every city and county in the nation offer demographic, business and GIS-based data, and each listed property includes detailed information as well. With ZoomProspector.com, all businesses can finally take full advantage of GIS-based site selection through a few clicks of the mouse.
“Finding the right location for a business is difficult for even us professionals, given the thousands of potential locations out there and the ever-changing world of labor demographics, available sites and buildings, tax laws and incentives,” says James Renzas, site selection expert and Principal of the RSH Group. “Having a tool like ZoomProspector.com is essential for companies that would like to get a handle on what alternative locations might hold for their company as well as those of us who do this for a living, as a convenient source of high quality site selection information.”
Technologies such as GIS and the Internet are revolutionizing the possibilities for corporate real estate professionals to make smarter choices more quickly, resulting in better location decisions and increased profitability. The beneficiaries of these improvements are the professionals that leverage these newly available solutions, and the communities that they serve.