Wisconsin Geospatial News

Iowa Geographic Information Council hosts 2011 conference

Last week (April 13-15, 2011) I attended the Tenth Biennial Iowa Geographic Information Council (IGIC) Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. The mission of IGIC is to foster cooperation and coordination between public and private entities that collect and provide geospatial data, and to share data, applications and educational opportunities. IGIC was originally created by Executive Order, and incorporated as a non-profit in 2003. Current IGIC Board Members are drawn from county, municipal, state and federal government, universities and community colleges, regional planning organizations, and the private sector. The current chair of IGIC is Brad Cutler, GIS Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation. Those who attended the WLIA Annual Meeting in Madison in February, 2011, will recall that Cutler joined in a panel discussion on state coordination, along with coordinators from other states.

The conference attracted approximately 150 attendees and extended over four days including one day of workshops. Below are some conference highlights.

  • Jim Giglierano (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) discussed some recent IGIC activities, including a 2011 grant from the FGDC (Federal Geographic Data Committee) to perform metadata outreach. Under this grant, IGIC will be hosting four one-day metadata workshops targeted at users in government and the general geospatial community. One of the goals of this project is to encourage participation in the Iowa Geospatial Infrastructure (IGI) and support the Iowa Geospatial Data Clearinghouse. In addition, Iowa will be hosting a MAGIC clearinghouse summit this fall in Des Moines covering some of the technical details of state clearinghouses. MAGIC is the MidAmerica GIS Consortium whose member states include Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
  • Giglierano also discussed the challenges of statewide data integration in Iowa and emphasized the importance of partnerships across all levels of government. A recent example is a $4.3 million statewide LiDAR project that was funded by contributions from state and federal agencies (Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Transportation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship). LiDAR data and derivatives are being distributed to the Iowa geospatial community by the DNR.
  • Another source of funding is the state’s pooled technology account. A recent project funded through this account is the Iowa Geocoding Project, which aims to produce statewide GIS layers of address points and building structures. This project is expected to be 50 percent complete by the end of 2011. Address and structure points are derived from county parcel data, county E911 data, GPS data, county assessor websites, orthophotography, and even “crowdsourcing.” Tyler Johnson (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) did a presentation illustrating how volunteers used digital cameras and hand-held GPS equipment to obtain address points in counties without digital parcel data. (Watch a tutorial.)  
  • Patrick Wilke-Brown and Casey Korht (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) discussed the DNR’s geospatial data delivery process. The DNR’s Natural Resources GIS library started in 1987 and has since grown to encompass over 20,000 unique datasets. The library focuses primarily on ftp access to DNR-maintained datasets. Two of the most recent datasets added to the collection are historic (1930s to 1960s) county orthophoto mosaics and derivatives from the recent statewide LiDAR project (including 1-meter hillshade, 2-foot contours and 3-meter DEMs). The library is evolving to incorporate additional services, including cached basemaps, web services for popular data themes, KML output, and online mapping applications. To support continued evolution of the library’s cataloging function, Esri geoportal server is being considered.
  • Tom Samson (Iowa Department of Transportation) gave a presentation on the department’s internal image services. The DOT hosts an impressive array of services, including sixteen statewide, two historic, twenty urban, and thirty-five county services. Also available are imagery for many DOT highway projects, a cached service using 2010 NAIP imagery and locally-available higher-resolution photography, and LiDAR data derivatives. The DOT has developed Web-based locator applications for these datasets, allowing users to interact with a map to identify and display available imagery.
  • The conference also featured a panel discussion on GIS and economic development, with experts at local, regional and state levels. The connection to economic development originated in a 2007 FGDC grant  focused on a return on investment (ROI) study of the Iowa Geospatial Infrastructure (IGI). The project showed a benefit-cost ratio of five to one (costs of $3 million per year versus benefits of $15 million per year) over a twenty-year period. Study results suggested that benefits for economic development could be even higher, and a follow-up study was initiated in 2010 that focused greater attention on ROI for economic development activities. Panel discussants emphasized the value of GIS for integrating and analyzing economic development data, and for producing effective graphics to present to decision makers. One of the things that struck me was the diversity of data needed to support economic development efforts, including wage data, information on available building sites, utilities and broadband data, floodplain locations, traffic counts, and educational attainment levels. This diversity means that most efforts in this vein remain ad hoc, rather than relying on common data and tools. It is noteworthy that WIGICC (Wisconsin Geographic Information Coordination Council) is also devoting attention to economic development. Recently Janet Ady, a Board member of WEDA (Wisconsin Economic Development Association), was appointed to the Council as an at-large member to begin to explore the connection between economic development and GIS in this state.

Iowa has developed some successful partnerships for funding statewide data acquisition and has made significant strides with LiDAR, orthophotography, and address points. My impression is that one of the biggest challenges continues to be coordination. Iowa has no central office responsible for developing data sharing agreements or helping coordinate efforts across agencies, which makes it harder to coordinate resources for data acquisition or application development, or even identify collaboration opportunities that exist. Funding is also an issue, especially in the current fiscal environment, despite the impressive ROI ratios identified in IGIC’s research reports. The shortage of funding at all levels of government has led the group to rethink funding models, for example to consider the possibility of larger private sector contribution in areas such as infrastructure and utilities.

Readers interested in additional information on IGIC and geospatial activities in Iowa should visit the IGIC web site, the IGIC blog, the Iowa Geospatial Infrastructure page, the Iowa Geospatial Data Clearinghouse, and the Iowa section of the GIS Inventory.