Mapping Optimal Business Locations in Chicago
When I began working as Creative Director at World Business Chicago, I wondered what tools we might build to enhance our mission and provide better value to our stakeholders; a quest which eventually led us to build the award-winning Site Selector web application for business location.
While researching other economic development organizations, I found that many of them featured mapping tools with data including real estate and incentive programs to help companies needing to make location decisions. I wondered if this type of tool might be useful for us, and as I interviewed members of our team and their clients I did uncover interest, but also skepticism about whether it would work in a market as large as Chicago.
Liz Jellema, our Director of Research, was the next person to join WBC after me and, interestingly, she had independently been thinking about something similar. So together with our Director of Technology Development, Dan Lyne, we formed a task force to design and implement a tool of our own.
We interviewd stakeholders at City Hall, commercial real estate and site selection professionals, and firms who provide these mapping tools for other municipalities. After weighing all the options we decided to work with the web development team at Palantir.net to build a custom, open-source tool rather than purchase an off the shelf product. This would save us money, allow for user experience design control, and enable the flexibility needed to build in new functionality as we received feedback from our users.
The Google Maps API, and Open Layers combined with some of Palantir’s coding wizardry, gave the Site Selector app its shape. Now we could easily add geo-data to help our clients intuitively uncover optimal locations. For example, a user could layer universities, industrial districts, Enterprise Zones, and industrial real estate in order to triangulate an optimal location. Many of the map layers came from the City of Chicago’s Data Portal where hundreds of datasets were published.
Commercial real estate listings proved to be the most difficult find. There were various sources available, but none that allowed us to publish them as a geo-feed in Site Selector, until we came across Rofo.com, a web service that allows commercial realtors to publish listings, making it easy and free for site hunters to search for what’s available. We built a partnership with them to provide us a geo-feed of their crowdsourced, available listings in Chicago.
Here’s an overview of what we built:
Once the City Hall saw the power of what we built, the Department of Business Affairs partnered with us to make Site Selector the place that neighborhood business development centers and chambers of commerce all across the city would list available commrecial real estate in their communities.
Site Selector was perpetually a top source of traffic to our website, pointing hundreds of leads toward our business development team who helped facilitate their business growth and job creation in Chicago.