At a recent conference, the general manager of Site Selection magazine told attendees that 90 percent of the initial research completed when companies are looking for a new location is done online — often before a community is even aware they are being considered for a project. That’s one of the reasons why LEDA strives to always provide the most accurate and detailed information about Lafayette and the surrounding area on our website. In March we unveiled our new streamlined site design and shared our effort to reach all of our audiences from students and entrepreneurs to real estate agents and site selection consultants. Now we are excited to launch our new Map Center — a comprehensive online GIS system.

When it was time to integrate site selection into our site — a key component in every economic development service line — we searched tirelessly for a GIS available system that could meet our clients’ needs. We wanted it to be easy to navigate, fast, and customizable for our region. The options we discovered either followed form or function, but rarely both. The sites that were simple were not sophisticated, and most made it virtually impossible to incorporate our own data. It wasn’t until LEDA explored technologies developed right here in Lafayette that we found the perfect product.

LEDA has contracted with local surveying company C.H. Fenstermaker & Associates to bring our clients a wide-ranging and easy-to-use map engine that displays data from flood zones and infrastructure to zoning and available, developable properties. This tool enables professionals to quickly ascertain information previously unavailable to the public in one user-friendly resource. Using historic requests as a guide, the LEDA staff was able to find trends and prioritize the information that would be displayed. Hundreds of data points are available to the public, but selecting which pieces of information effectively work together to paint a complete picture was a formidable task.

In the end, LEDA selected sites, traffic information (both counts and live camera views), zoning, council districts, flood zone data and floodway areas for our inaugural online GIS system. Our team paid special attention to those data sets that were available directly from the source. Site details came from the local commercial real estate community, zoning and council district data from Lafayette Consolidated Government and flood considerations from FEMA. A nationally available reference layer with streams, railroads and churches was also incorporated in the system. The layers can be displayed alone or simultaneously to give the user a complete picture of the geography or site they are researching. Finding the perfect building, in the appropriately-zoned district, near a railroad, for instance, used to send our team of researchers on a hunt around the Internet. Now within a few clicks these parameters can be “checked” for importance and displayed on the same map. Clients, both local and outside Acadiana, can benefit from this one-stop shop.

The base map, often called the “background” in GIS applications, can be adjusted to the user’s preference — street map styles and aerials images are both available. With Bing — a resource that contracts with Pictometry (a company that has a rich history in providing Lafayette-area imagery to our local government agencies) — users will have access to up-to-date visuals of the region. Currently the service provides 2011 images that were taken for this year’s reassessment process. Assessment data on each parcel, including legal description, historic taxes paid and valuations are also available within one click.

But the key to this system’s success is not only good data, it’s an intuitive engine.

What Fenstermaker & Associates has managed to do is take intelligent design, increased functionality and lightning-fast speed and roll them into one package. The pace in which one can zoom in and out of an area and view rendered images with multiple layers of data is second-to-none. In fact, we are actively seeking opportunities to show off this engine in the economic development arena. For users this means no time spent waiting for buffering, no spinning hourglass, just results. This engine operates as we intended it to, at the speed of business.

The design is consistent with our branding. In fact, the property flyers available for download were modeled after those we produce in our office. Clients in Canada obtaining site details through a trade mission can download the same type of information, formatted in the same way a local expansion prospect can, via the Map Center. This ensures that all of LEDA’s clients and potential clients get the same high level of service and end product.

The engine has been customized for our users who don’t always have GIS experience. Easy-to-understand icons, a web demonstration and a top-notch tool menu make presenting and referring to the data just as easy as uncovering it in the first place. Within the engine users can measure distance, area and perimeter, geocode addresses, locate parcel data based on coordinates, bookmark and distribute customized snapshots, and even create and personalize maps.

This is just another step we are taking to provide the best information for Lafayette Parish businesses and hopefully attract more opportunities for the community. To view the Map Center visit www.lafayette.org/mapcenter or simply select the State of Louisiana icon from any page of the LEDA website. Researchers in the Information Services department are always on hand to offer assistance if you should have questions.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

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