As counties across the nation continue to struggle with mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, they must simultaneously work towards restoring what was, in most places, a growing economy. The many challenges, including social distancing, shortage of PPE, lack of vaccines and strains on the health system, are well documented. But in the same sense of traditional business recruitment and retention and expansion efforts, location is still a key driver for how communities find economic solutions. GIS provides the tools to be able to visualize, measure and analyze this information.
This process starts with data. Specifically, counties need access to updated demographic and socio-economic information to be able to understand their communities, where services are needed, where different labor forces live, where businesses are located, where customers live and so forth. Relying on likely obsolete 2010 census numbers will not provide accurate population, race and income information and is likely to not identify the most socially vulnerable during this pandemic. Below are examples of innovative approaches to counties using geospatial tools for economic restoration:
Providing Easy Access to Information for Citizens in Hudson County, New Jersey
Hudson County, N.J. uses this up-to-date content to populate their ArcGIS Hub site for COVID-19 response, a public-facing information hub. They couple this with other current initiatives, like primary election voting data, to make sure the public is on the same page as decision makers at the county, while also providing a mechanism for citizens to respond back to county officials about these initiatives.
Sharing Accurate Data with the Business Community and the Public in Cobb County, Georgia
Counties are also using GIS to directly assist economic restoration activities. Cobb County, Ga., a fast-growing suburban county in the Atlanta area, has used its award-winning GIS department to work with businesses to identify open businesses and job openings.
As business re-openings may be paused or rolled back as the COVID-19 infection numbers change, Cobb County is likewise providing updated information to the public and business community. Everyone is on the same page by accessing the latest authoritative information.
Making Data-Driven Decisions for Three Counties in Montana
Lead by Bozeman, Mont., administrators in the three surrounding counties of Park, Madison and Gallatin are monitoring economic recovery efforts through a dashboard that reports on the status of closed businesses, unemployment and PPP loans. This provides a quick snapshot to the community, as well as the governor’s office in Helena about the status of economic restoration in the largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the state.
An Economic Restoration Strategy Starts with Location
Counties can use GIS tools like Community Analyst to understand where certain types of businesses are, their number of employees and sales volume to quickly understand the impact of economic restoration strategies during these phased re-openings. Again, this can be coupled with demographic information to understand where customers will be coming from and their likelihood to use these services.
Governments aren’t the only ones using GIS for their decision making during this time of economic restoration. Wal-Mart uses this dashboard to make sure their administrators and the public are aware of the status of their stores, including delivery and curbside pickup locations.
Economic restoration across the country is an unfolding story that will require an agile approach by county officials. With location and GIS at the forefront, these restoration strategies will be able to leverage a data-driven approach, a modern platform for citizen engagement and practical analytics to make the sustainable and justifiable decisions in economic development.