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Winter 2003/2004
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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Internet Solution for Small Business

MassMeansBusiness Web Site Uses GIS to Provide a One-Stop Portal for Economic Development E-Government Services

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Site Finder display and listing of all eating and drinking establishments within a specified radius.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, like many other states in the United States, has several economic development organizations, services, and information resources located throughout the state. Nevertheless, these resources are often difficult for businesses to identify, access, and navigate because there is no single public-private coordinating repository for business information. The lack of well-integrated resources has an especially strong impact on small, disadvantaged, and underserved businesses and entrepreneurs.

In Massachusetts, small businesses comprise 96 percent of commercial enterprises. They are, by Small Business Administration definition, companies with less than 500 employees. However, most small businesses have fewer than 50 employees. In addition, nearly 50 percent of new business starts in the commonwealth are by women, 25 percent by new immigrants, and 15 percent are home-based businesses. Such small businesses are often faced with a thicket of regulations, duplicate resources, and burdensome licensing needs. The process of building a business diverts valuable time from actually conducting business.

Removing unnecessary barriers to doing business in the commonwealth and elsewhere presents an important opportunity for promoting economic growth and e-government. Offline organizations, such as the Massachusetts Office of Business Development and the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development, can reach a few thousand firms a year, but Massachusetts has more than 260,000 firms.

In the current economic climate in which funds are scarce, the Internet is the most efficient manner to provide economic development resources. The Internet allows the commonwealth to support all organizations that have Internet access anytime, anyplace throughout the state. And small businesses are a constituency that increasingly demands more efficient online permitting and access to small business technical and financial assistance.

The MassMeansBusiness Solution

In response to the issues outlined above, the Massachusetts Department of Business and Technology, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), built a comprehensive, online, statewide economic development network. This online system, called MassMeansBusiness, is affiliated and integrated with the commonwealth's Mass.Gov portal system.

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MassMeansBusiness welcome page (

As a subchannel of the Mass.Gov portal, MassMeansBusiness applications integrate a wide range of economic development information resources and services located throughout the state and serve as a "virtual mall" for business development. The introduction of new Business to Business and Business to Government Web portal services dramatically improves the productivity and competitiveness of the firms, organizations, and citizens in Massachusetts. Working in concert with the goals and objectives of the commonwealth's online Government Strategic Agenda and the Governor's Regional Economic Development Competitiveness Agenda, MassMeansBusiness integrates various e-permitting and licensing tools as they are developed in the Mass.Gov enterprise.

MTC was committed to building the MassMeansBusiness tools in the .NET environment and was looking for a partner that could work closely with its developers to build and integrate with Esri's software. MTC looked at many GIS development companies and chose Boston-based Applied Geographics, Inc. (AGI), an Esri Business Partner, because of its willingness and enthusiasm for working in the .NET arena with ArcIMS and ArcSDE.

As a result of the collaboration, AGI pioneered a .NET connector that allows the Web site to access ArcIMS mapping and query capabilities. The .NET connector allowed AGI and MTC programmers to capitalize on .NET objects, such as data tables, and to drop Web map controls onto forms. All elements of ArcXML are exposed in the connector, enabling programmers to design map-based queries of ArcSDE geographic and attribute data layers stored in SQL Server.

"MTC's vision for interactive mapping functionality and choice of .NET technology," says Rich Grady, AGI president, "allowed us to bring Esri's Web GIS technology together with Microsoft's business technology for Web services. As a result, the MassMeansBusiness site enables the user to view and manipulate a variety of geographic data through an intuitive user interface."

MassMeansBusiness is intended for small, medium, and large businesses. Launched in June 2003, MassMeansBusiness provides a free, one-stop portal for essential business information needs including

  • To narrow the search for candidate properties based on site characteristics and location specific information (Site Finder)
  • To identify sources of funds (Funding Finder—a listing of all public and private lenders that provide funding to businesses in the commonwealth)
  • To compare side-by-side specific selected properties
  • To compare Massachusetts side-by-side to other states by economic and demographic characteristics
  • To obtain information on licensing, registration, and other regulations for entrepreneurs and small business start-ups

One-Stop Solutions

The Site Finder tool demonstrates how Web mapping can benefit e-government, specifically in support of businesses seeking to expand or relocate. For example, when an available property is selected, the application automatically displays its location on an aerial photograph and allows the user to pan, zoom, and turn on/off various geographic data layers such as street outlines and names. In addition, the mapping components allow users to look at various demographic, workforce, education level, and business type data for a user-defined one- to 10-mile radius around the selected site.

A technology company seeking to relocate to Massachusetts, for example, can now "see" what other businesses are in close proximity to available properties. Through a combination of maps and tables, the site indicates which competitors, resellers, or customers may be at their doorstep while also telling them what services (restaurants, dry cleaners, hotels, banks) are nearby for the convenience of their employees.

For more information, contact Kevin Paulsen, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (tel.: 508-870-0312, ext. 485; e-mail:

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