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East Hants: Leveraging Insights for ArcGIS to Promote Economic Growth

Having access to data doesn’t necessarily translate to knowledge and clarity. Unless you have the right technology and tools to help you answer the questions that will turn your ideas and vision into reality, data has little significance.  How does Insights for ArcGIS support organizations looking to explore, experiment and make the right decisions? The Municipality of East Hants has a lot to share.

The Municipality of East Hants, located between metro Halifax and the world-famous Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, boasts a rich diversity of landforms and community members. It includes 12 districts spanning an area of 1,790 km².

What’s remarkable about this small but fastest growing Nova Scotia municipality—with a little over 21,000 people—is that East Hants uses geographic information systems (GIS) in each of its departments. In particular, the Economic and Business Development Department has recently taken advantage of GIS to help drive economic growth in the community. In recent years, the Municipality has noted a 45.4 percent growth in its commercial tax assessment base (2011-2016). The residential and commercial growth of the tax base has led to a 5-cent reduction in the commercial tax rate in 2017-18 and again in 2018-19.

In 2015, the Municipality commissioned a new strategic Economic Development Plan (2015-20) for the region. The plan identified that location intelligence is key to determining a community’s state of investment readiness.

“Knowing the details of the community’s assets helps define what type of investment to pursue,” said Tyler Mattheis, acting director of Economic and Business Development. “Communities that are successful in attracting investment have done the required groundwork and research, making sure they are very clear about what investments are a good fit for their location and why.”

Recognizing the importance of location in economic development is indeed a key factor and has been an important part of East Hants’ success. When it comes to specific economic development activities such as economic impact analysis, spatial policymaking, identifying potential clusters and researching social patterns and relationships for development, GIS has a significant role to play. Moreover, the Municipality has always been proactive about how it works with existing local as well as new businesses and facilitating new clients in the community’s three business parks: Elmsdale Business Park, Milford Industrial Park and Uniacke Business Park.

Graham Scott, East Hants' business development officer, has been working in the Economic and Business Development Department since 2012. One of his responsibilities is to support investment and commercial development in East Hants. He also works closely with partner organizations in the region providing them with relevant data and analysis on the labour market, demographics, transportation and community information. As part of his job, Scott uses Esri’s ArcGIS technology daily––for analyzing data using maps, charts and graphs; and uncovering patterns, trends and correlations in business data. He applies both simple and advanced analysis methods such as regression, variable prediction, density calculation and aggregation.

The first time Scott saw a demo of ArcGIS Business Analyst Web App in 2016, he was intrigued by its capabilities.  The Department immediately got the license for ArcGIS Business Analyst Web App and they have been using it ever since.  It has added depth and increased reliability in the Department’s work with client companies and is now used for analyzing trade areas, identifying and evaluating potential business sites for clients and helping explore untapped markets.

In April 2018, Scott learned about Insights for ArcGIS (Insights), which is a web-based data analytics platform made for advanced location intelligence. “I was very impressed with the level of information I was able to pull out of it, and the ease of use––the ability to do regression analysis, tie in spatial analysis and the ease with which the platform does it––is so incredible,” remarks Scott.

Since he was first introduced to Insights, Scott has been using the software regularly to help local organizations make the best decisions to support their business expansion.

Insights for ArcGIS allows easy visualization and sharing of datasets in the form of maps, charts and table cards. This Community Health Analysis reports the incidences of the population aged 12 + who do not have regular access to a doctor in their neighbourhood.

When a municipal client from the health industry needed to examine the issue of doctor shortage in Canada, Scott was not only able to offer current intelligence on physicians-to-population ratio but also prepare forecasts for them. With Environics Analytics’ Community Health Data Package and Insights, he helped them get a province-wide overview of the doctor shortage and drill down details to neighbourhood levels. He then created a model using Insights to present to them a real-time picture of the ground situation.

“With the help of statistical analysis in Insights, we were able to look into the future––where those doctor shortages would occur and where the need for certain types of services would be created,” explains Scott.

“The ability to perform that level of data analysis quickly and easily, and provide meaningful value to our stakeholders is very important in our line of work,” adds Mattheis. “The real advantage of using Esri’s spatial analytics solutions is the enhanced capability to provide accurate and timely information that can help drive important business decisions.”

The department is also collaborating with the Nova Scotia Works office on analyzing employment patterns and trends. When Nova Scotia Works wanted information about the employment situation at the local level, Scott was able to compile commuter patterns from StatsCan data and combine it with Esri demographics and labour force data in ArcGIS Pro. He then analyzed it all together using Insights. Insights lets him view multiple datasets at the same time and identify trends, outliers, opportunities and challenges, all at once. Encouraged by these new accomplishments and collaboration results, the department is further partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to hold an information session for employers to share this analysis about local and provincial employment challenges and opportunities.

When it comes to aligning commercial land opportunities with the right businesses, the Economic and Business Development team calls on Esri’s geospatial technology once again. The Municipality has set the target of adding $36 million of commercial assessment by 2030 and providing support to at least 150 local businesses annually. The team understands that the path to fulfilling these ambitious targets is not going to be easy, but armed with data, technology and talent, they continue undeterred.

Combining industry data from StatsCan and third-party sources, Scott is able to merge datasets, identify relationships and study patterns and trends. The outcome is a geo-enabled report that explains what’s going on in terms of industry clustering in their Municipality and the inflow and outflow of business-to-business spending with regards to supply chains. He then produces charts and graphs that represent industry mix and location to narrow in on trends and outliers. The next step is to use this critical information to develop selling propositions for the area, approach businesses and share with them relevant analyses to persuade them to invest in East Hants.

As a non-GIS professional, Scott has now turned into an advocate for using geospatial technology for economic development. And why not? What used to take hours to do, now only takes a few minutes.

For a department that handles 100+ requests for information (RFI) from businesses and site selectors, saving even a few hours on each RFI adds up to several days’ worth of time saved, which can then be used for other projects.

For clients, this means looking at meaningful and actionable insights instead of having to sort through sheets of data. Whether he uses Business Analyst Web App or Insights for ArcGIS, Scott makes sure that the most updated location-based business intelligence is available at his clients’ fingertips so that they can make the best decisions. 

In the coming months, the Economic and Business Development Department will be conducting a commercial land analysis to look at the availability of land, industrial use, density and so on to help inform their future commercial land-use decisions. They are also considering exploring the potential use of Insights for infrastructure and utility analysis. The Municipality is looking to capitalize on the strengths of ArcGIS Pro for advanced analytics and integrating with a wide variety of web services to share maps on the web, social media and via mobile apps. It has already started experimenting with new ideas as it migrates from ArcMap to ArcGIS Pro this year.

“The more you understand GIS, the more value it provides. You learn so much by working in a geospatial environment: the location-enriched perspectives mean so much more than crunching numbers alone,” sums up Scott. “The support from Esri is great. I recently went to the Esri Canada User Conference in Halifax. The sessions were phenomenal––with lots of tools, tips and creative ideas around approaching problems. Hearing from presenters, especially from other municipalities, talk about their use of geospatial technology––it’s an incredible opportunity to share and learn.”

East Hants’ increased use of ArcGIS extensions and apps such as Business Analyst Web App, Insights and ArcGIS Pro has definitely contributed to the enthusiasm and confidence that Scott and his department have about creating economic prosperity for the businesses and residents in this beautiful, upbeat community of Nova Scotia.