Shortly after I began working at World Business Chicago I started to think about ways that we could improve our web presence and what tools we might build to enhance our mission. While researching economic development organizations in other locations, I began to notice web-based mapping tools that included real estate, incentive, and other data to help companies with their decisions about where best to locate in their area.
I wondered if this was the sort of feature that might be useful for our site and I began asking members of our team and their clients. There was interest, but also skepticism about whether it would work in a market as large as Chicago.
Liz Jellema, our Director of Research, was the next person to join the WBC staff after me and, interestingly, when she came on board she independently noticed these tools and wondered if they’d be useful. So together with our Director of Technology Development, Dan Lyne, we formed a task force to figure out how to implement such a tool of our own.
We spoke with interested parties in City Hall, commercial real estate and site selection professionals, and firms who provide these mapping tools for other municipalities. After weighing all the options we came to the conclusion that we could work with our web development team at Palantir.net to develop this sort of tool in-house, on the open-source Drupal platform that already powers our website. This would save us money, allow for user experience design control, and for the flexibility we’d need to continue to build in new functionality as we receive feedback from our users.
Using the Google Maps API, Open Layers and some of Palantir’s coding wizardry, the tool that we call Site Selector took shape. Now we can easily add geo-data to the tool and end-users can intuitively toggle layers on the map. For example, universities, industrial districts, Enterprise Zones, and industrial real estate can be added as layers and the user can get a feel for which areas of the city have a convergence those things.
Many of the map layers are from the City of Chicago’s Data Portal where hundreds of datasets are published with more being added all the time. Commercial real estate listings proved to be more difficult find. There are various sources out there but we couldn’t find anything that would be easily publishable as a geo-feed in our tool, until we came across Rofo.com. They’re a web-based service that allows commercial realtors to publish listings, and makes it easy and free for site hunters to search for what’s available. We’ve built a partnership with them in which they provide us with a free geo-feed of their available listings in Chicago. Their listings featured in Site Selector then link back to Rofo.com, raising awareness of their product. The feed certainly doesn’t encompass everything on the market but it’s a good start and we encourage those who have listings they’d like to see in Site Selector to publish them with Rofo.
We’ve already received some great feedback and ideas about new features we could add to Site Selector and are looking forward to receiving more. Please let us know what you think.
Here’s a video overview of how it works: