Local and State Government

Leveraging Federal Funding: The Trends We Are Seeing in State and Local Government

One of the questions my colleagues and I are frequently asked is, “Can you tell me where I can find federal funding to support my geographic information systems (GIS)?” One of my stock answers has always been, “Don’t look for funding for GIS! Look for the projects where GIS can be applied, and you will find the funding.” In addition, if there are grant opportunities for a specific topic, there is an even greater likelihood that you will find internal champions already working in the areas being funded, who you can introduce to GIS, in order to support their work. 

Recent Funding is an Opportunity to Refocus on GIS

Recent stimulus programs such as Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) have opened the doors for governments to rethink their GIS strategic plans and shift priorities to align with the funded stimulus areas. Legislative analysts from organizations such as the National Association of Counties (NACO) have acknowledged that GIS is a mission-critical tool for data-driven decisions, for verifying that project areas address equity, and for addressing climate change. 

As the current rounds of stimulus funding evolved, my team looked to highlight the funding areas where GIS can be applied. More importantly we began to reach out to our state and local government users and document case studies that showcase how federal funding is being leveraged to strengthen their GIS programs. The result is our Esri Federal Funding website, a resource we will continue to expand with links to suggested grant opportunities your organization can take advantage of, best practices, and available data and solutions that will help you meet your objectives.

Broadband: Proof that Federal Funding Can Stimulate Action

If you were to ask me one of the infrastructure focus areas state and local governments are stepping forward to address, I would have to say broadband infrastructure. The conversations around broadband access had been taking place long before the funding programs were announced, or even the pandemic for that matter. Broadband was already a major discussion my team was involved with at the National League of Cities (NLC), the American Public Works Association (APWA), the National Governors Association (NGA), and NACo. Elected officials and government leaders were already acknowledging broadband as a critical need that needed to be extended into rural areas and more households, in order to gap the digital divide.

Then the events of the pandemic accentuated the need for broadband to help businesses survive, support the shift to work from home, and keep kids connected to their education, so that they did not fall behind. The CARES and ARPA funding began to elevate the discussions that been happening around broadband amongst the professional associations and began making them a reality. Counties like Placer County, CA, saw the opportunity to extend their broadband network and used GIS to look at capital investments and ensure their decisions supported racial equity goals. They used GIS-centric public surveys to gain citizen input. We saw similar patterns in Dubuque, IA, City of Philadelphia, PA and a growing list of other jurisdictions. We saw an increase in governments like State of California, and State of South Carolina using GIS to map their existing broadband infrastructure in order to empower local jurisdictions with additional insight to prioritize broadband investments. GIS as a foundational tool to support the nation’s broadband infrastructure can be witnessed from the National Telecommunications and Information Systems Administration’s work to some of the smallest jurisdictions.

Esri is committed to supporting state and local governments as they seek to improve economic mobility for millions of Americans.  The initial uses of GIS will focus on mapping existing infrastructure, securing input from citizens, ensuring plans meet equity goals and the Justice40 objectives, and looking at placing broadband infrastructure within existing right of ways. Esri worked with the National League of Cities to develop a series of broadband outreach tools now available to all Esri users.

On the Hunt for More Uses of Federal Funding to Expand GIS-Use

Our research suggests state and local governments will use GIS to support long-range planning of infrastructure investments, provide transparency of funding through citizen hubs, improve coordination between governments and broadband providers, perform environmental review and analysis, and streamline the permitting process.

Let us know how you plan to take advantage of the federal funding programs. We would love to include your work in our Federal Funding resources.

About the author

Christopher Thomas, Director of Government Markets on the Industry Solutions team at Esri team focused on state and local disciplines. He has over 30 years of experience working in and with national, state and local governments implementing technology. As a strategist and subject matter expert, Christopher works to identify emerging trends GIS can support.

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