ArcWatch: Your e-Magazine for GIS News, Views, and Insights

January 2010

Principles of Economic Gardening Help Local Businesses Thrive

Pueblo County, Colorado, Grows the Economy with GIS

By Emily Vines, Esri Writer

According to the United States Small Business Administration, small businesses have created 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs since the 1990s and employ approximately half of U.S. workers. These two facts are at the heart of the economic development philosophy of economic gardening. Pueblo County, Colorado, has adopted that approach, focusing on cultivating local enterprises rather than landing large companies looking for a cheap place to do business. Instead of making a splash with 1,000 new jobs coming into the community, economic gardeners favor a job here, a job there, for a slow, stable growth pattern. Geographic information system (GIS) technology is a key component in the process.

  click to enlarge
Using GIS to map mean sunshine and resulting solar productivity potential helped Pueblo County win a solar energy production facility bid.

"Businesses that are already in town are not fully focused on the bottom line," says Christopher Markuson, GIS manager for Pueblo County, located about 115 miles south of Denver. "They're looking to improve business, but they're also looking to do what's right by their employees. We don't want a large company to come in, pay lousy wages, then leave when the local economy strengthens or the workers demand higher pay."

Markuson learned about the approach from the nearby City of Littleton, Colorado, when he was searching for a way to develop businesses that would not only add to the quality of life in Pueblo County but also continue to support the area during economic downturns. "We were looking at communities that rode out the last recession in the late '90s unscathed," he says. "There were a few, but Littleton was at the top of the list."

The Right Location

Businesses across Pueblo County have heard about the county GIS department's no-cost consulting services, and business owners are scheduling appointments months in advance. Markuson and his small team meet with them to find out about their concerns, interests, and current efforts, asking questions such as, Do you want to target advertising to reach a specific set of consumers? Are you looking for a good site for a new location? Then, the GIS team analyzes and maps demographic and other data to share with the client.

"We have this interesting reputation around town as folks who are going to give you real, truthful answers to your questions," says Markuson. "We'll tell people, 'No, the data doesn't support your plan to open a coffee shop where there are only 30 potential customers around you. It's just not feasible, and here's the evidence.' "

To get current, accurate data for reports and view it spatially, the GIS department uses Esri software including ArcGIS Desktop, Esri Business Analyst, Esri Business Analyst Online, and Esri Business Analyst Segmentation Module.

ArcGIS Desktop supports a wide variety of GIS analysis and mapping needs, and Business Analyst provides demographic, business, and shopping center data as well as the ability to incorporate in-house data. The analysis gives business owners a thorough understanding of markets, customers, and competition. Markuson uses Business Analyst Online to secure analysis, reports, and maps on demand over the Web.

"It's really fast and simple," says Markuson of Business Analyst Online. "You can find employment characteristics and average daily traffic volumes; we have a lot of data for Pueblo County but not for areas outside it. With this solution, we come up with really good nationwide reports in moments—it's powerful."

A Healthy Harvest

The GIS team members in Pueblo County work with many kinds of businesses in the area. They recently helped a local Web-based business that wanted to improve market penetration nationwide. Working together, Markuson, his team, and the business owners developed strategies to increase commerce in 14 of the company's top markets by advertising across media including television, radio, subway platform ads, and direct mail. They also identified the top ZIP Codes where people live who are searching for the company's product online, and the team used that information to create Google AdWords and optimize the company's Web site for search engines. The campaign is successfully bringing in new revenue. Within a month of the campaign, the business created four new jobs.


Big Business That Fits

Though the emphasis in Pueblo County, Colorado, is on growing local businesses, the GIS department also uses GIS to support efforts to bring in larger companies that the county feels will add to residents' quality of life.

The county recently used GIS to support a bid for a contract with Xcel Energy to bring a solar energy production facility to the area.

The facility's stakeholders initially believed another area in the state had the best location for solar radiation, but the county's GIS manager Christopher Markuson and his team showed that although the sunshine isn't as intense as it is at the other location, Pueblo receives more sunlight per year on average. Xcel Energy agreed, and the planned facility is projected to bring up to $900 million of taxable infrastructure into the county's property tax base and power to over 60,000 homes.

"You can look at databases all you want, but the maps were the things that got the attention of the governor, congressmen, the energy companies, and many more people," says Markuson.

"It makes sense for us to lend a helping hand to those folks who are already here, make them competitive, and basically give them the tools to expand their trade areas and reach customers more effectively," says Markuson.

Nonprofit organizations also benefit from the GIS department's guidance. Representatives from the Pueblo Community Health Center Foundation met with Markuson and his team for less than an hour to discuss an upcoming capital campaign. The team provided a targeted mailing list that resulted in a 63 percent increase in new donors.

"Christopher helped us look through different characteristics for reaching the right donors," says Janet Fieldman, chief foundation officer, Pueblo Community Health Center Foundation. "[The demographic analysis and mapping] allowed us to get to the roots of our community and build our base quickly for the long term."

The center reached its five-year fund-raising goal of $15,000 in one year. Before this campaign, the center purchased mailing lists based on a few demographics such as annual income and assets but had not reached out widely to individuals because of low response and donor acquisition rates. Now that the center's staff members have better data and analysis and therefore more success, the center will increase future fund-raising goals.

"It's because they're using the right message, and there's intelligence behind who they're asking for donations," says Markuson. "It wasn't who you'd think it would be—all the local philanthropists. Instead, it was the people that knew somebody who had gone to the community health center for some reason."

The GIS analysis and mapping also show where the center should locate services and place advertising. "It allows us to decide on the right level of outreach based on the quantity of donors within particular geographic areas," says Fieldman.

The Pueblo County GIS team also worked with a local community college, which needed to increase enrollment by 5 percent. The GIS analysis provided information that could be used to most effectively market the school. The college surpassed the one-year goal of bringing enrollment up 5 percent by increasing it 17 percent.

"We feel we've been successful in our mission to help businesses grow and succeed," notes Markuson. "To date, we've tracked 58 new jobs emerging from the businesses we've helped grow, bringing in over $2.8 million of new revenue into the county. I'm especially thrilled that most of these new jobs pay livable wages—$45,000 each on average—offer benefits, and have little potential to move out of our community in pursuit of a lower-cost alternative."

For more information, contact Christopher Markuson, GIS manager, Pueblo County, Colorado, at

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