Little heard of fast-growing industry mixes 3-D maps with data for myriad time-saving business uses

  • 1 of 1--Walter V. Moody of Ray Carlson & Associates, demonstrates the use of a GPS device to obtain data in a vineyard to integrate into a geographic information system that his firm prepares. November 9, 2007. Press Democrat / Jeff Kan Lee

It's the fastest growing industry you've never heard of -- geospatial technology.

The industry encompasses everything from GPS devices to satellite imagery, and has its roots in the ancient art of map making.

From health care and homeland security to winemaking, businesses are increasingly using the technology to map out loads of digitized information using geographic information systems, or GIS, software.

In Sonoma County, the wine industry uses GIS to better manage vineyards, overlaying 3-D maps with data ranging from soil type, appellation area, grape varietal and average rainfall, among heaps of other data. The maps can be accurate to less than a centimeter and allow vineyard managers to draw conclusions about how different factors affect their grapes.

"If you want to put all your data in one place, GIS is the place to do it," said Walter Moody, GIS manager at Ray Carlson & Associates, a Santa Rosa-based surveyor. "You can just keep adding layers of information."

Moody constructs 3-D GIS maps for his clients, who range from vineyard managers to real estate agents who want to show a lot of details to potential buyers but don't want to overload them with stacks of paper.

The geospatial labor market is among the fastest growing in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. People with training are finding plenty of jobs and employers are scrambling for skilled workers.

In 2003, President Bush named it among 14 fast-growing industries included in his High Growth Job Training Initiative, which provides funding to train people. Other than geospatial technology, all the other fields were well-known economic stalwarts, ranging from health care and biotechnology to hospitality.

The industry has lived up to the hype, growing about 650 percent in the past five years. In 2002, it generated about $5 billion in revenue. That value is now between $35 billion and $40 billion, said Bob Samborski, executive director of the Geospatial Information & Technology Association in Colorado.

The market is evolving so fast, the U.S. Department of Labor recently commissioned insiders such as Samborski to determine the exact definition of the geospatial industry.

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