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Milestones: Katrina recovery, awards, innovations and growth.

For state’s geospatial cluster, 2006 was outstanding year

The year just ended was a very good one for Mississippi’s Geospatial Cluster. It was a year of recovery from Hurricane Katrina, awards, technology innovations and continued growth. The group’s official name is the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions (EIGS), and it’s made up of more than 30 private companies, six university research programs, four state agencies and eight complementary partner programs. They work together to research, develop and market new geospatial products from the state.

Acting director Lisa Stone says much of the year’s success was the group’s response to and recovery from the storm of 2005. “With so many of our members located in the hard hit Gulf Coast region — over half — for them to be able to rebound was remarkable,” she said. “We saw a lot of growth in individual companies and the cluster as a whole. Katrina was a proving ground for our technology. We had the chance to show people how useful these resources are.”

Craig Harvey of NVision Solutions agrees. His Stennis Space Center-based company went to work quickly in Hancock County.

“It was like a great dance team that gets to go to Broadway after years of preparing and rehearsing,” he said. “We were ready and finally got a chance to show what we can do after Katrina.”

They did a lot of volunteer work for the storm-ravaged county with mapping, remote sensing and data base applications to aid emergency response. Harvey, who earned one of the first GIS degrees in the country, was selected as the 2006 SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Mississippi.

He says the cluster would have had a good year without the Katrina recovery because the companies are maturing and are well acquainted with each other. “We have the ability to cooperate toward a common goal,” he said, “but we compete with each other, too. I coined a new word for us, competemates, because we can compete and cooperate.”

Harvey still considers his five-year-old company a start-up and expects large growth in the future. “We’re starting to grow and are up to 20 employees now. We’re opening an office in Virginia and are ready for the national stage,” he said. “I’m very excited about it and we’ll be working to take it international.”

NVision Solutions does GIS remote sensing, database applications and geospatial analysis. They work with systems to provide the most efficient use of applications.

For example, they provided precision agriculture for farmers to put chemicals only where they are needed, saving farmers’ time and money. Also, they may look at ground water to identify pollutants and where they’re originating. They also do a lot of work with 911 systems.

Another cluster member, Digital Quest and SkillsUSA, experienced growth and established the first-ever National Geospatial Competition in 2006, winning an Innovator Award from the Southern Growth Policies Board.

“We had a great year,” says company president Eddie Hanebuth. “We developed curriculum materials for schools and taught teachers how to use them.”

He said about 250 schools around the country are involved in the Geospatial Technology Apprenticeship Program that he chairs. He expects to build on the program and increase that number in 2007.

Dr. Scott Samson with Mississippi State University’s GeoResources Institute was named one of five top instructors for the third quarter of 2006 by a national organization, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). Samson has been an authorized ESRI instructor for eight years and offers a number of courses through his workshops held in various locations throughout Mississippi.

He focused his Extension Service activities on utilizing GIS products to assist local and state government agencies with the adoption and integration of GIS in the management of government databases and for disaster preparedness.
Stone acknowledges that some members of the cluster struggled in 2006 despite the group’s overall growth. “We always conduct an annual survey and were expecting a downturn in the numbers for 2006,” she said. “But, that wasn’t the case and our companies showed what they can do.”
She cited NVision Solutions as one of the best stories of the year. “They knew what they could do and they did it,” she said. “They felt that Hancock County was their home and they wanted to do what they could to help. They generated thousands of maps within a few weeks of Katrina.”

A Jackson group responded to the Jackson emergency center, working with the Red Cross to establish maps and databases to aid in the recovery of missing people.

“Our cluster has been developing the capacity in a concentrated effort since 1998,” Stone added. “We had this community in place and it responded.”

She expects this year to be good with lots of growth. “We have the momentum going and that will continue. We’re looking for the next opportunity of where the technology can fit in and help,” she said. “So many markets can be helped but we still have a learning curve and will continue the awareness campaign.”

Mississippi has a number of geospatial industries and more understanding of them and their capabilities must be made known. “We’re focused on opening markets and making people understand what this technology can do for them; being useful in their every day lives,” she added.

In other cluster accomplishments, Forest One Inc. was awarded a U.S. Forest Service contract to develop new LiDAR technology, pushing the frontier of the application of LiDAR to forestry. The Mississippi Automated Resource Information System (MARIS) Web site was selected as one of the best education resources on the Web by StudySphere. Delta State University and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality were honored with a 2006 Special Achievement in GIS award at the annual ESRI conference for their use of GIS technology during Hurricane Katrina.

“It never ceases to amaze how comprehensive the geospatial activities are in Mississippi,” Stone said. “EIGS members and partners continue to support the growth of geospatial technology in the critical areas of research, workforce development, technology innovation and entrepreneurship. From the university research activity to private company innovations to state-supported economic development investments, Mississippi truly is a geospatial state.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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