Before Walt Disney built the happiest place on earth, he relied on Buzz Price to help him locate it.
A research economist who pioneered the concept of site-selection feasibility studies, Price in 1953 handpicked the 160 aces of orange groves in the then-sleepy city of Anaheim, California as the ideal location for the future home of Disneyland. It took him 12-weeks to put together his economic feasibility study, which included population projections, future highway construction, accessibility and weather trends. He scoured almanacs, weather services and whatever statistics he could get a hold of. He had no data bank to refer to when he directed Walt to the Anaheim location.
In the six decades since Price scouted out a home for Disneyland, the dynamics of site selection have drastically changed. More than 97 percent of business site selectors are researching communities online, often without the economic development organizations aware that the places they represent are under consideration. To ensure site selectors are finding the information they need for the Kanawha Valley, the Charleston Area Alliance recently launched a site prospector portal on its website.
The interface allows site selectors to dive deep into the region’s extensive datasets, map results, and then find website and contact information to move their decision to the next step. The portal, built upon the ZoomProspector Enterprise technology provided by GIS Planning Inc., positions the Kanawha Valley at the forefront of economic development organizations websites.
“It’s so much easier to make sense of complex data when its presented in an engaging visual format, so users will find dynamic data infographics, heat maps and primary data provided by local governments,” said Matt Ballard, Alliance president and CEO. “The site helps every city and town in our area showcase the information companies need to make corporate site-selection decisions and business investment in our local community. We are excited about leveraging the power of this dynamic website to foster business and job growth.”
The portal provides immediate access to in-depth information that previously took weeks to research. Now, data including dynamic real estate, demographic and industry breakdowns are available free and instantly for all communities in the Kanawha Valley, along with a database of available properties with images.
Website visitors can view available properties, along with size, use, cost and development incentives. Corresponding demographic reports, such as labor force, education levels, consumer spending and age, can be created. In addition, businesses are mapped by industry showing their distribution and concentrations throughout the area.
“The Alliance portal goes beyond a simple database of available sites and buildings,” said Matt Ballard, the Alliance’s President & CEO. “The website also provides dynamic mapping capabilities including the ability to view geographic ‘layers’ of information such as golf courses, zip codes, hospitals, railroads and schools.”
The Alliance portal gathers economic, planning, infrastructure, geographic and demographic information often sought by businesses looking to relocate or expanding into a ‘one-stop-shop’ business portal on the Alliance website. It allows users to view, create and print maps; find available commercial or business property; and develop custom demographic radius reports. Companies can evaluate a region virtually almost as well as they can if physically exposed to the same place.
The Alliance portal is also integrated with GIS Planning’s national site selection search engine called ZoomProspector.com, which allows website visitors to do a national search of cities and commercial properties that match their unique criteria. When a community or any commercial property in the Kanawha alley matches a business search on ZoomProspector.com, the user will then be able to click through to the Alliance portal to analyze the unique business advantages.
The process of site selection has not changed much since 1953 – the big data used today would probably point Walt to the same area of citrus groves in Anaheim. That said, technology has revolutionized how site selection is approached and led to shorter time frames for decision-making.
Every business has a secret sauce of criteria they need to satisfy their best location. Knowing that site selectors are looking for big data – including demographics, GIS maps, consumer spending, labor force and business and industry data, etc. – the Alliance is able to offer selectors the critical information need to make decisions.