Database streamlines site searches

Use of a searchable Internet database of industrial properties available in North Carolina has more than doubled over the past two years, and the state's Department of Commerce is planning an enhanced version.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce, with the help of Boston-based information technology consulting firm Keane Inc., developed NC SiteSearch (www.ncsitesearch.com) two years ago as a tool to help market the state. The Web site boasts data on about 2,000 buildings and sites, most of them industrial.

Since its launch, use of the site has jumped from about 2,000 to 3,000 user sessions a month to roughly 7,500 monthly user sessions, said Todd Tucker, director of the department's marketing and customer services division. The department is looking to unveil an enhanced version by mid-2001.

This version would include certified or "shovel-ready" sites, as Tucker called them. Entries for such properties would contain information such as topography, site plan and layout, environmental factors, wetlands permits and some pre-permits. Theoretically, a company could find such a site and start breaking ground the next day, Tucker said, adding that Pennsylvania and New York have similar programs.

Another user-friendly improvement would be to identify whether a property can be subdivided. For example, a user searching for a 20-acre parcel may only come up with a 500-acre parcel. The database enhancement would indicate that the 500-acre parcel could be divided into 20-acre lots.

In the past, companies have struggled to get access to such information. "We didn't always get the most accurate information in a timely fashion," Tucker said. Usually, the state Department of Commerce received information on available properties from local real estate agents or the state's seven public/private marketing entities. A department staff member then keyed the information into the database, but it took a long time and information was sometimes outdated by the time it became available to the public, he said.

The department has Web-enabled and streamlined the process so that the people who have the best knowledge about a particular site or building can input the data themselves.

For example, a local real estate broker can go to a Department of Commerce Web page, enter a password, fill out the required information about a site and send the information off to the system administrator, Tucker said. The administrator will make sure all the necessary information has been entered and will upload it by the next morning.

"We've increased our production and efficiency at the state level," Tucker said. "We've given that [staff] person another job."

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