Building Site Selector

Jake Trussell
Design Innovation
Published in
3 min readNov 8, 2011

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Mapping Optimal Business Locations in Chicago

When I began as Creative Director at World Business Chicago, I wondered what tools might 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.

As I researched the national economic development landscape and conducted interviews with our stakeholders, I began to wonder if a mapping tool might be useful. The ability to layer data like available real estate and incentive programs could prove helpful for companies looking to make location decisions. As I proposed this idea to stakeholders, there was some interest but also skepticism about whether it could work in a market as large as Chicago.

When Liz Jellema joined WBC as Director of Research, it turned out that 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 this idea.

We conducted deeper interviews with stakeholders at City Hall, commercial real estate firms, and professionals in the site selection world. We also spoke with firms providing similar mapping tools to 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-shelf product. This decision saved us money, allowed for better control of the user experience, and enabled flexibility 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 discover optimal locations. For example, a user could layer universities, industrial districts, Enterprise Zones, and available industrial real estate to triangulate an optimal location. Many of the map layers came from the City of Chicago’s Data Portal where hundreds of datasets had been published.

Commercial real estate listings proved to be the most difficult to 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 available listings. We built a partnership with them to provide us with a geo-feed of their crowdsourced, available listings in Chicago.

Here’s an overview of what we built:

Once City Hall saw the power of what we had built, the Department of Business Affairs partnered with us to make Site Selector the place where neighborhood business development centers and chambers of commerce all across the city would list available commercial 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.

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