Local leaders are tapping into an economic development tool that is virtually new to the CNMI: An Internet-based geographical information system proven successful in spurring the economies of major cities in the U.S. mainland.
The GIS is defined as a computer system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating and displaying geographically referenced information.
The web-based system, according to renowned economic development analyst Anatalio Ubalde, will “decrease the geographic distance of the CNMI to the rest of the world by making access to information and virtual tours a mouse click away.”
Ubalde, the chief operating office of California-based firm GIS Planning, presented the GIS' limitless capabilities before permitting/licensing government agencies at the Hyatt Regency-Saipan yesterday.
House Rep. William S. Torres, coordinator of Ubalde's CNMI visit, enumerated the major advantages in the use of the GIS amid efforts to stimulate the local economy.
“We have all these agencies with their own data. But there's no synergy. We need to put all of these together so that investors can find all the information in one sitting, in one single click,” Torres said.
The Saipan congressman noted that promoting economic development by increasing foreign investments is very cost-effective via the GIS.
“This is a way of inviting investors without going off-island. Investors can obtain around 80 percent of the information they need on the web. It will save businesses money and also the government, through less trade missions,” Torres explained.
After a two-day tour of public agencies this week, Ubalde found that there is a need for the agencies to standardize the data they already have.
“I would say that one of the wonderful things I have observed is that, through this process, people are now in much more communication about the issues. Now there's more dialogue between them, so that they realize how they can help each other,” said Ubalde, whose work as economic development analyst has been recognized by the Wall Street Journal and the NBC News, among others.
The GIS Planning executive said the tool would make information available for local and foreign investors at a speedy rate and simplified manner. “Investors will be provided with data and information that they need in a quality and efficient way, which they can use to make better decisions.”
Torres stressed that the priority is using the GIS platform for the CNMI's economic development. “Knowing that we do have some data, we need to strive for standardization. The House will be moving quickly on this issue,” vowed Torres.
It was not clear, however, as to what government agency should take charge of the local implementation of the GIS.
Torres said that, if the main thrust of acquiring the GIS is for economic development, the Department of Commerce should take the lead.
Without mentioning specific figures, Ubalde assured that the cost of installing the GIS is very affordable, considering the return of investment.
Berkeley, California-based GIS Planning is a community and economic development technology company specializing in the development of Web GIS.