Oftentimes, entrepreneurs and business owners find themselves hampered by a lack of robust market intelligence. With that in mind, the City of Abbotsford, BC, has set out to provide tools that business owners need — online, interactive, mobile-friendly data to guide their decision-making, especially when crisis hits, such as a pandemic or natural disaster.
Nicknamed “the Sitefinder,” the first tool that Abbotsford introduced for local and new businesses was the Geographic Information System (GIS) ZoomProspector tool back in 2016 — making it the very first community in British Columbia to put tens of thousands of data variables alongside available commercial properties for analysis.
Powered by technology from GIS Planning Canada, and augmented by five additional interactive tools the following year, investors and businesses could use the tool to research, analyze, export, and share demographic, wage, consumer spending, business, and industry data. The information comes from a variety of regularly updated sources, including Environics Analytics (based on Statistics Canada data), Emsi and Data-Axle. But the Sitefinder makes these sources of data interactive and highly visual – and available to any business looking online for solutions.
“Abbotsford’s location is right next to the border as well as the port, which helps us to get our product anywhere in the world. Also, we have a lot of industries here to support our manufacturing. If a saw breaks down at the mill, we’re not going two hours out of the bush to get it sharpened, we’ve got a guy right next door that can do that for us,” says Nav Sangha of North American Forest Products.
This ability to “shop local” took on a new urgency for businesses when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With lockdowns, enforced closures and supply chain disruptions, everything became that much harder for businesses. Abbotsford responded by launching Open for Business (ZoomBusiness), which allowed area residents to quickly map and find local businesses that were open; to learn about modified hours, contactless delivery, gift card programs and more. The tool was one of the first to launch in Canada and remains a great way for businesses to list themselves and to see others around them. Moreover, with the help of this tool, people could spend their dollars at home instead of online.
As the pandemic dragged on, it became clear that important, long-lasting shifts in how business was being done were underway. Businesses were pivoting. And Abbotsford followed, leveraging a third, highly customizable GIS tool to its data toolkit. The virtual ZoomTour uses Google Maps technology, supports images, video, sound and can link to business websites or the City’s other GIS Planning data software.
Abbotsford’s “Passport to Patios” tour showcases restaurants offering extended outdoor patio service to customers wanting a safe eating experience at their favourite locales. The “Abbywood Walk of Fame” tour leads visitors down the main street and through town to discover locations and businesses popular with film and video producers. And the newest “Agriculture Resource Map” offers help, funding and support for farmers and other agri-business affected by the 2021 flooding disaster.
“Although we have hundreds of clients across North America, the City of Abbotsford is one of the first places we contact with any new data tools. We know they intuitively understand the importance of supporting businesses and investors with critical information,” explains GIS Planning Canada’s VP Marketing, Alissa Sklar, PhD.
The City of Abbotsford remains a model for how communities can actively support their local businesses in the ways that count, by giving them easy access to the information they need when they need it.