BY LEANN DILBECK –
Recognizing the essential role that technology plays in today’s business place and economy, the Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas (ARCO) June meeting brought in two experts to illustrate ways ARCO can embrace the newest technology in its mission for economic development for the three-county region.
Shelby Johnson, the Arkansas Geographic Information State Officer, began his presentation citing that Polk, Montgomery, and Scott counties were in “rich” in GIS information [geographic information systems] and how essential that can be in recruiting prospective new business and industry.
His department has three main goals: 1) to put Arkansas on the map 2) create it once and use it a bunch; and 3) the best data is local data because it is created at the source.
He explained that by local sources providing their data to the state office, they in turn can provide it to mapping services such as Google, commercial companies such as Nokia, or the various state departments such as Game & Fish, Economic Development, etc. and therefore, it is time and cost efficient and provides a continuity in information.
With a few clicks that illustrated the usefulness and timeliness, Johnson demonstrated how based on the information submitted by county officials, livestock and poultry officials were quickly able to determine every address point within the quarantined 6.2-mile radius, in order to go to the farms and residences to inform them of the positive test of the H7N7 avian influenza case in Scott County.
He commended local officials, tax assessor officers, emergency management, etc. in the work that is completed in this region and said these three counties have already achieved in GIS information what the rest of the counties in the state “are longing for.”
He illustrated how GIS and technology in today’s market place are not luxuries but “a competitive strategic weapon.” Johnson explained that as prospective businesses are researching potential areas to locate, their main mission, besides finding the optimum site, is to eliminate areas that are not suitable. “One quick way to eliminate your city from that list, is to not have the necessary data they need to make an informed decision.”
He encouraged all businesses in the ARCO region to take advantage of services offered through Google Place and register their business, post hours of operation and phone numbers. He further explained the need to post reviews for those businesses and suggested ARCO work in a collaborative relationship to post reviews on each other’s listings.
Dr. Mark Peterson from the University of Arkansas Extension Service, who has facilitated all programs through the Breakthrough Solutions initiative, was thrilled to see the level of interest in ARCO members regarding GIS. “GIS is a valuable tool that communities and regions can use to market the assets of the ARCO region. Mr. Shelby Johnson, director of the Arkansas Geographic Information Office, and Dr. Dharmendra Saraswat, Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering provided us with insight on how to use these tools, and how to display the many assets and businesses in the regions on Google Earth. I was impressed by the strong interest on the part of the ARCO board and the people who attended the recent ARCO meeting, and I look forward to real action coming from this meeting to move the ARCO region forward.”