Building Site Selector

Mapping Optimal Business Locations in Chicago

When I began working as Creative Director at World Business Chicago I wonderd what tools we might build to enhance our mission and provide better value to our stakeholders.

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 with their location decisions.

I wondered if this type of functionality might be useful for us and began asking members of our team and their clients. There was 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, when she came on board she had independently noticed these tools and wondered if they’d be useful. So together with our Director of Technology Development, Dan Lyne, we formed a task force to figure out how to implement such a tool of our own.

We interviewd with interested parties in 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 came to the conclusion that we could work with our web development team at Palantir.net to develop 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 for the flexibility we’d need to continue to build in new functionality as we receive feedback from our users.

Using the Google Maps API, Open Layers and some of Palantir’s coding wizardry, the tool that we call Site Selector took 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 so they could triangulate an optimal location.

Many of the map layers came from the City of Chicago’s Data Portal where hundreds of datasets are published. Commercial real estate listings proved to be more difficult find. There are various sources in existance but we couldn’t find anything that would be easily publishable as a geo-feed in Site Selector until we came across Rofo.com. They’re a web service that allows commercial realtors to publish listings, and makes it easy and free for site hunters to search for what’s available. We built a partnership with them to provide us with a free geo-feed of their available listings in Chicago in exchange for sending trafic back to Rofo.com from Site Selector.

Here’s a video overview of how it works: