Driving the “The Science of Where” in Economic Development – Key Takeways from the ESRI User Conference

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) plays an invaluable role for the AEPED team, enabling us to integrate, analyze and visualize data to support economic development throughout our service territory. Using the Esri ArcGIS Platform, we can perform a wide range of spatial tasks, from online business research to complex desktop spatial analysis.

During the week of July 10th, I participated in the annual Esri User Conference (UC) in San Diego, California, an opportunity to learn about new and emerging GIS technology, connect with Esri’s subject matter experts and share and develop my own spatial perspective.

AEP was well-represented at the UC, with GIS professionals from Economic and Business Development, Transmission, Real Estate and IT in attendance, along with over 16,000 of our peers. Offering over 1,000 sessions, 450 hours of training and 300 exhibitors, the conference had something for everyone. The ubiquitous conference theme, “The Science of Where,” provided common ground for the wide range of industries and GIS applications.

In the opening plenary session, industry leaders presented innovative applications to address and solve spatial questions, with previews of upcoming Esri technology sprinkled in. Representatives from Oakland County, Michigan described their digital transformation, using GIS to enable county-wide shared data services for more efficiency and community engagement. A Disney Imagineer described how he used Esri’s CityEngine to create the city for the animated film Zootopia. And Esri president Jack Dangermond was greeted by applause when he proclaimed GIS is now “recognized as a powerful force for solving problems and understanding our world.”

After the daylong plenary session, the remainder of the week provided countless opportunities to explore industry-specific GIS applications. Primarily, I focused on economic development and utility-themed sessions and workshops, and discovered several key themes: the growth of the Business Analyst application, popularity of Story Maps, and big data applications within the utility sector.

Esri Business Analyst is one tool we use to gain location-driven insight, including calculating drive-times around a site or types of businesses in an area. In the latest release, users can integrate their own datasets and also customize reports, two well-needed enhancements that will add to the services we can offer our partners.

Use of Esri’s Story Map web templates has grown tremendously since being introduced about two years ago, with over 1,000 Story Maps now being created each day. Story Maps combine visual elements with interactive mapping components to help visualize information, and new functionality is being added and improved regularly. AEPED has been ahead of the curve, featuring two story maps on AEPED.COM since late last year:

  • Certified Sites – shows our certified industrial, data center and food manufacturing locations
  • Renewables – shows our growing solar and wind portfolio

At the UC, I presented a well-received session called “Marketing Geography with Web Apps and Story Maps,” focusing on how we use maps to tell our story.

In the Electric and Gas Industries, advances in distributed computing (Big Data) have enabled a new ability to process huge spatial datasets in much shorter timeframes, resulting in new analytical insight into complex questions regarding outages, frequency of lightning strikes, and much more including real time data visualization.

Additionally, I learned about many up-and-coming GIS uses, had several great exhibitor conversations, and even took advantage of the free ArcGIS Pro Training. The end of the conference brought some disappointment to leave so many like-minded people, but was quickly canceled by my excitement and motivation to apply the new ideas to my work supporting our partners.

If you’re a site selector or company looking to expand, we can leverage GIS and our other research capabilities to help you identify the best communities and sites to meet your business requirements. If you’re an AEP-served community, we can work with you to tell your story. Contact us and let us know how we can help.

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