Mapping an Economic Comeback

Billions of dollars in government loans are helping to keep thousands of American small businesses, such as restaurants, afloat during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. But in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area of Washington State, geospatial technology also is playing a supportive role, thanks to the launch of a GIS web app that maps eateries open for takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup orders.

The City of Seattle’s Information Technology department used ArcGIS Online to create this mapping application to help restaurateurs and other food and beverage entrepreneurs promote awareness that their businesses are still serving with social distancing guidelines in place.

The map is populated with hundreds of restaurants, cafes, pizzerias, breweries, and coffee and doughnut shops in the Puget Sound region, including the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. Users can either type their location into a search box or drop a pin on the map to find the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the eateries within 1 to 15 miles. Once people select a business, they can view its telephone number, address, and website link and receive turn-by-turn directions to the location. The app also connects residents to third-party delivery services if the restaurant does not deliver.

Residents can search the map for restaurants that offer takeout, curbside pickup, or delivery of meals.

Restaurateurs can email the city to obtain a form to fill out to be included on the map.

“With many of our neighborhood restaurants still open, we can support our small businesses by ordering pickup or delivery during this time,” said Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan. “I’m grateful to our community partners who helped shape our map and make it a reality.”

Seattle Starts #SupportSeattleSmallBiz Campaign

The mapping application is part of the city’s #SupportSeattleSmallBiz campaign. Amid what is foremost a public health and safety crisis, many government leaders are looking for ways to support economic resilience and avoid longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seattle’s city officials took early steps to boost the local economy by launching #SupportSeattleSmallBiz. The campaign’s goal is to keep businesses open and the workforce that supports them employed. Helping Seattle businesses survive the pandemic required a location-based solution—connecting citizens with local businesses that are open.

“We’re doing everything we can locally to support our small businesses during this unprecedented moment in history,” Durkan said. “We’ve identified millions of dollars to invest directly in our most vulnerable small businesses and are working with our partners across government and in the private sector to help many who are struggling.”

Seattle is a picturesque, vibrant city of more than 3.4 million people.

The day the application was launched earlier this year, the city had information on over 500 businesses. Two days later, the city had information on 300 more. Currently, the app has over 1,100 local businesses listed—and the number is climbing. By following this geographic approach, the city is maintaining an inventory of open businesses, ensuring that service workers and suppliers remain employed and residents are kept informed.

Members of the city’s GIS team, who built the application, were pleased and surprised by the positive response.

“We were shocked at the attention the campaign has received and at the number of views the map has received,” said Stephen Beimborn, manager of departmental GIS analysts for the City of Seattle. “This is a testimony to how well-aligned our city government is with the local media, the business community, and Seattle residents on the importance of local businesses to the economy and the community, with the jobs they create and the vital services they provide.”

The wider the radius of the search, the greater the number of restaurant choices will be in a drop down menu.

Buying Local to Save a Job, a Business, a Family

In times of crisis, communities often become more aware of the importance of buying local. Efforts to support small business in Seattle are helping sustain the local economy and causing a chain reaction—employees keep their jobs; suppliers continue to deliver and support the supply chain; businesses are able to pay rent, taxes, and utility bills; and residents spend money to stimulate growth.

Seattle city government can promote the #SupportSeattleSmallBiz campaign and connect residents to businesses by using GIS technology to collect, manage, map, and share all relevant information in the context of location.

“Reading the emails from restaurant owners has been the most rewarding aspect of the work,” Beimborn said. “As eager as they are to make sure their business is on the map, they never fail to thank us for our efforts. That’s all the incentive any of us have needed.”

In the long term, the city would like to expand the app to include restaurants countywide. In this way, Seattle leaders would be doing their part to promote economic sustainability on a larger scale.

About the author

Keith Cooke

Keith Cooke is the Global Industry Manager for Community Development at Esri. A graduate of Auburn University, he has been a GIS professional since 1994 and has worked for planning and community development agencies at the regional and municipal level in Alabama and North Carolina. Prior to this role, he was an account executive at Esri for 15 years working with over 100 local governments.