Backers say GEO Project saving state millions of dollars

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University Extension Service reports an advanced database training project conducted by Extension is saving the state millions of dollars, improving skills and making jobs easier.

The Geospatial Education and Outreach Project began working with local and state government agencies across Mississippi in June 2006. By November 2012, more than 2,600 people from more than 60 counties learned the concepts behind the mapping software in about 260 workshops. The GEO Project software combines geographic information with other features in an area, such as data on utilities, property lines and roads.

Jim Davis of Olive Branch, an engineering technician with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, took part in a recent class. He learned different ways to map department data including parcel information, sign inventory, and road and drainage areas.

“Learning how to use the new software makes my job easier,” he said. “I can use data from multiple sources, reference that data to its geospatial location and use that data alongside my local data. This enriches the information we are able to provide to the department. I have also gained great contacts from networking at the GEO Project courses.”

Scott Samson, professor with the Extension Service and the Geosystems Research Institute at MSU, developed the GEO Project. Having in-state training saves Mississippi about $5.5 million compared to the cost if workshop participants had to go out of state to take the same training.

Samson said the rescue and recovery efforts associated with Hurricane Katrina introduced Mississippi to the widespread use of geographic information systems, or GIS.

“In response to that disaster and in an attempt to modernize record management in municipal and county government agencies, Mississippi was able to secure funds to train government employees on GIS technologies and assist them with the implementation of GIS in the workplace,” he said.

The GEO Project leaders offer several workshops statewide each year at various locations. Two portable computer labs permit the delivery of concurrent workshops. Mississippi municipal, county and state employees receive the training at no cost.

Samson said ESRI Inc., the largest GIS software vendor in the world, has identified GEO Project as the largest outreach effort of its kind in the United States.

“Two-day courses retail at $1,010 and three-day courses at $1,515 if taken from ESRI personnel. Course topics range from introduction to GIS to advanced server and database concepts,” he said. “Content is technical and intensive. All courses provide hands-on exercises. Instructional materials and travel expenses are covered through various sources of external funding.”

Unlike many workshop developers, GEO Project personnel understand that sitting in the classroom to learn about GIS is very different from implementing GIS in the workplace.

The project provides technical support to state and local government agencies to help in making the transition to the office. Applicants to attend workshops include local tax assessors, emergency management workers and people involved in agriculture.

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