Can Technology Change the way we do Site Selection?
Like many Americans, I have been working from a home office for the last 4 weeks. As a professional site selection consultant, whose job requires traveling around the country conducting site and community visits, it has been quite an adjustment. It has caused me to reflect on how I can continue to provide the high level of service and quality work my clients come to expect in this age of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
At Strategic Development Group, we use ESRI’s Arc GIS products to identify sites with the critical site selection factors that our clients require. This product allows us to see sites in relation to multiple data layers (wetlands, rail lines, traffic conditions, etc.). And, of course, we use Google Earth imaging to further inspect site suitability. Finally, many of our contacts in economic development are using drone footage as a means of showing sites to potential capital investors and site selectors.
None of these technologies can fully take the place of being there …
But, what about next generation technologies? Virtual reality and augmented reality are technologies that have been largely deployed in the gaming world. If my 15-year-old son can scout for enemy soldiers in the forests of some faraway place, I should be able to walk around an industrial park in Tennessee. There are a number of organizations in real estate development and construction that are using virtual reality to immerse potential investors into their would-be projects and buildings. And augmented reality is being used to help companies visualize how their existing processes and facilities could be optimized for efficiency.
However, these technologies have not been widely adopted by the economic development community largely due to costs. But in our current state of affairs, these technologies could provide business location consultants with a means to easily continue to do the work of site selection. Imagine being able to show a client or a consultant a facility layout on a specific site and then have the ability to “walk” around that site to see the facility from every angle. Using augmented reality, I could virtually drive to a site from the airport to get a sense of traffic and congestion issues. On my travels to the site, I would notice the surrounding land use. Through virtual reality, I can walk around the site and get a better sense of topography. Through augmented reality, I could actually see what the site might look like once it was cleared, grubbed and graded.
Once we emerge from our current quarantined status, I look forward to seeing these technologies in action and better understanding the efficiencies that they can provide in the site selection process.