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Economic Gardening: The Future of Economic Development Through GIS

During the recent Democratic and Republican conventions, both candidates focused much of their discourse on the nation’s economy and what needs to be done to fix it. At a local level, cities and states are vying for the best businesses to take root and boost their local economies.

Yet, when it comes to economic development, the key to success may not lie in traditional tactics of economic hunting. It used to be all about activities focused on attracting investment from the outside such as winning new businesses through incentivizing these large businesses to locate in the community, such as zoning and tax cuts incentives for example, as a way to create new jobs, but that has changed.

Instead, many state and local governments have discovered that a more organic approach to growth focused on small- and medium-sized businesses may be the Holy Grail for economic development. Referred to as economic gardening, the approach was pioneered over 20 years ago in Littleton, Colorado by a man named Chris Gibbons. Plagued with layoffs from one of the area’s largest employers, Gibbons decided to look within his local community for opportunities to grow existing companies rather than focus on recruiting from the outside.

Since that time, many communities and businesses have benefited from this approach and new technologies have emerged that have enabled economic developers and businesses to better assess the local market and potential for success.

One such tool is geographic information systems (GIS). Geospatial information provides geographic context and enhances understanding of critical issues such as smart development and sustainable and balanced economic growth. For example, the ability to target local markets by demographics, lifestyles, and consumer expenditure patterns can be accomplished using GIS.

GIS analysis creates a full picture of the business environment giving developers and business leaders actionable insight to inform their decisions. This includes figuring out the best place to establish a new location, who their customers are and the best way to reach and market to them.

This growing technology provides a platform for a more efficient and effective decision making process, not only through mapping and visualization but also data management and analysis, web services, mobile solutions, insight, strategy, and communication.

When it comes to addressing the economic downturn and creating growth, developers should focus on quality rather than quantity. Nurturing existing businesses in a community by providing services they need and a collaborative platform creates a more sustainable model than traditional economic hunting. And GIS is a key tool in making this a reality.

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