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Regional GIS Promotes Economic Development

By Chris Wayne and Eric Fladager

Editor's note: In 1997, Eric Fladager, senior planner at the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments (UR–COG), won a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, an agency of the federal government that helps develop sustainable communities in rural America. The purpose of the $349,000 Business Enterprise Grant was to promote economic development in the small cities and rural communities of Douglas County, Oregon. The Rural Information Technology Demonstration Project (RITDP) is marketing these communities on the Internet by mapping economic development opportunities in the region. RITDP also provides GIS services to the government agencies that are members of UR–COG.

UR–COG includes Douglas County, 11 incorporated cities, and a number of special districts. This region has a population of 100,000. Like many rural areas, the Umpqua region of southwest Oregon lags behind nearby metropolitan areas in economic growth and job opportunities. Attracting family wage jobs to replace those lost in the timber and fishing industries, once the mainstays of Douglas County's economy, is a high priority for governments in this scenic region. These cities, with populations that range between 170 and 20,000, are separated by miles of rugged forest and scenic farmland. The region needs GIS to support land use and transportation planning, economic development, natural hazard mitigation, and infrastructure management.

Direct Benefits

Industrial sites, residential land, and areas for tourism and recreation opportunities are the region's major economic strengths. RITDP focuses its marketing efforts on highlighting these assets. To this end, base data for parcels, zoning, existing infrastructure, 100-year flood zones, steep slopes, and wetlands was collected. Though much of this data was already available, it had to be modified.

UR-COG Industrial Sites

UR–COG provides readily accessible information on industrial sites in the region.

The project produced a detailed inventory and mapping of the region's resources. The grant paid for a first-class GIS shop that used ArcView GIS with the ArcView Spatial Analyst, ArcView Image Analysis, and ArcView 3D Analyst extensions. Hardware included three GIS workstations, printers, a color plotter, a digital camera, and a Trimble ProXR GPS unit. One of the authors, Chris Wayne, was hired as a full-time GIS analyst and was tasked with implementing the project and managing the regional GIS. Amber Yoder, a part-time intern technician from nearby Umpqua Community College, also worked on the project.

The Industrial Lands Inventory was the first RITDP success story. Douglas County's Planning Department had conducted such inventories using paper maps and databases. Though this inventory had previously taken several years to complete, UR–COG completed it in less than a year using the new GIS and the County's digital parcels. Because of the dynamic nature of GIS, future updates will take even less time.

Data and Project Integration

During the project, UR–COG's members realized other benefits from GIS. Digital zoning and comprehensive plan maps were updated and distributed to each of the cities. Development constraint maps showing steep slopes and flood zones were made for each city from the restricted area data collected for the RITDP. Infrastructure and addressing maps are being developed. All these maps provide the cities with up-to-date information and help planners and citizens make cost-effective development decisions.

Power of Partnerships

Participation of the County and the cities was instrumental in making the RITDP work. The grant required matching funds, but the region's cities were already on tight budgets. Since feedback from the member agencies was critical in acquiring and delivering accurate data, the base data and map review labor provided by the cities were treated as an in-kind match. The cities and Douglas County contributed the equivalent of $217,000 in in-kind matching, which helped win the grant award. By involving the cities directly in the resource and economic opportunity inventories, marketing efforts could be concentrated on the areas most important to the cities.

As a regional organization, UR–COG has been able to communicate effectively with nearby agencies. A close working relationship with Douglas County's GIS professionals helped define mapping responsibilities and prevented duplication of efforts. The role of UR–COG as a regional intergovernmental agency ensured that all of its members could capitalize on the GIS investment and created efficiencies of scale that no single city could have enjoyed on its own. Small cities and agencies are using tools and staff that would have been prohibitively expensive in the absence of a regional GIS.

Returns on Investment

As might be expected, once the potential of GIS was recognized, it was incorporated into many other projects. The regional GIS was essential in the projects shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Regional GIS Projects

City/AgencyProjectBenefit
Cities of
Myrtle Creek (pop. 3,670)
and Drain (pop. 1,155)
Flood Hazard Mitigation GrantsProject planners used GIS to secure more than $1,500,000 from FEMA & the State of Oregon.
City of Reedsport (pop. 4,855)Buildable Lands InventoryUR–COG and city staff used GIS maps to identify redevelopable and otherwise buildable lands.
Reedsport AreaSouth Coast Tsunami Evacuation Zone BrochureThis project is being expanded to other coastal cities in Oregon.

Continuing Success

In May 2000, RITDP won the American Planning Association's Small Town and Rural Planning Award for Excellence. In the three years since the project began, UR–COG has brought GIS services to its member agencies and conducted a major Web-based economic development project with minimal investment from participating cities. Chuck Perino, UR–COG's new GIS analyst, will further enhance the Web capacity of RITDP. By integrating project data and methodologies and communicating effectively with participants, UR–COG has shown that not only can small organizations get big grants, but a single large grant can be leveraged into many other revenue-generating projects. For more information on these projects, visit the UR–COG Web site at www.ur-cog.cog.or.us or contact the

Chris Wayne, Esri–Olympia
Olympia, Washington 98501-1099
Tel: 360-754-4727
Fax: 360-943-6910
Email: cwayne@esri.com

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of the participating agencies:
USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service (Rural Development)
USDA Forest Service
Douglas County, Oregon
Coos Curry Douglas Business Development Corporation
Douglas County Industrial Development Board
City of Canyonville
City of Drain
City of Elkton
City of Glendale
City of Myrtle Creek
City of Oakland
City of Reedsport
City of Riddle
City of Roseburg
City of Sutherlin
City of Winston
City of Yoncalla
Port of Umpqua
Stacey MacDonald, Chuck Perino, and Jason Lien, Umpqua Regional Council of Governments staff who contributed to this project.


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