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2019 Esri Mid-Atlantic User Group Conference: Five Major Takeaways from our GIS Team

Blue Raster was a proud sponsor of the Esri Mid-Atlantic User Group Conference in Philadelphia, PA. In addition to showcasing our work and connecting with Esri users, members of the Blue Raster GIS Team attended technical sessions and workshops. The two-day event brought together over 400 Esri users and GIS professions from around the region seeking to advance their organizations and workflows with the latest GIS technology offerings.

Esri Mid-Atlantic User Group Conference

The Plenary featured presentations by Esri’s cartographer and user experience designer, John Nelson, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and technology presentations by Esri staff. This year’s conference theme was titled “GIS - The Intelligent Nervous System,” a reference to the intricate communication system in the human body responsible for detecting, transmitting, and communicating vital information across complex network of nerves.

Esri Mid-Atlantic User Group Conference
Esri's cartographer and user experience designer, John Nelson, led the plenary session.

5 Takeways from the Esri Mid-Atlantic Conference

The Esri Mid-Atlantic conference helped provide answers to these questions: What is new? What has been improved and updated? What can we anticipate in the future?

1. GIS technologies are constantly advancing.

As an industry leader in GIS software, Esri’s applications and tools are constantly evolving to suit the needs of an increasingly diverse range of customers. From education to AEC (architecture, engineering and construction), Esri is at the forefront of product development for an increasing number of GIS users. It is important for Blue Raster to attend Esri’s conferences to ensure we remain informed about the latest developments in the field. As a result, this allows us to build capacity in our team and our clients when it comes to GIS workflows.

2. Building connections face-to-face improves our understanding of what GIS users need.

Throughout the conference, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with GIS users from around the region. These face-to-face interactions allowed us to gain a more nuanced understanding of how organizations are using GIS to address problems at a variety of scales. This only reinforces the importance of stepping away from our desks and attending these conferences. The importance of face-to-face discussions in a constantly evolving industry is just as important as the work we do from our computers.

Esri Mid-Atlantic User Conference

3. For local and state governments, GIS happens at the smallest scales.

From water utilities to curbside maintenance, city governments are eager to leverage GIS workflows to track and manage their assets and workforce. Unique to this scale is the need for precision and accuracy. As a result, government GIS users must have a deep and intimate understanding of their cities. Esri products cater to these needs through a large selection of highly customizable field and web applications.

4. For small municipalities and city governments, Emergency Management Preparedness and Mitigation is happening right now.

Adjusting and preparing for a changing global climate can often seem like an overwhelming task, but for local governments and municipalities being prepared to face this change is happening right now. Furthermore, small municipalities are keenly aware of the specific risks and needs of their communities and are eager to leverage whatever technology is available to manage assets and personal in times of crisis. This desire to be ready and up to date on the newest uses of GIS for Emergency Management was evident in the high attendance of all three Emergency Management focused session of the conference.

5. GIS technology isn’t just for the GIS industry.

Throughout the two day Esri Mid-Atlantic Conference the Blue Raster team had the chance to talk to attendees, other sponsors, and Esri professionals. An overarching theme was that GIS is involved in countless sectors of business and professional industries, from architects to civil engineers and city planners, GIS professionals, non-profit community development groups, educators and students, and local and county government employees. We are excited to see how The Science of Where continues to expand.

GIS Day at Blue Raster

GIS Day is a day dedicated to showing, teaching, and inspiring others. For the eighth year in a row, Blue Raster hosted students from Washington-Liberty High School and demonstrated real world applications of GIS. Led by teacher Ryan Miller, the students have the chance to learn about geospatial technologies through a program called Geospatial Semester.


The Blue Raster team shared real-world GIS success stories through a round of lightning talk presentations on recent and ongoing projects. Despite the cold November weather, we ventured outside and collected temperature data from around the Arlington area. Then, the students collaborated on an Esri Operations dashboard to visualize the data.

GIS Day Dashboards


We wrapped up our day with a pizza lunch and ice cream from the Penn State creamery. We look forward to next year and a new group of students!




Read more about Blue Raster's past GIS Day activities here.

A Look at the Ohio River: Past, Present, and Future

Ohio River

Image is courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The satellite image captured March 2018 flooding at the confluence of the Ohio and Wabash rivers.

Blue Raster partnered with The National Geographic Society, Lenfest Institute, and seven nonprofit newsrooms on a project entitled, Good River: Stories of the Ohio. The Ohio River runs 981 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cairo, Illinois, where it joins the Mississippi. It provides drinking water for five million people, and is also a thoroughfare of business, supporting jobs and communities. But it is also commonly cited as the most polluted river in the United States. For this project, PublicSource and six other participating newsrooms are producing a series of stories about the environment, economy and culture of the Ohio River watershed.

Good River Newsroom Partners

Ohio River StoryMap

To give readers a sense of how big the Ohio River watershed is, Blue Raster created a series of map graphics for the site’s landing page. The maps touch-upon topics including population concentration and impaired waterways. To create the maps, our team used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and leveraged ArcGIS Pro to style the map graphics.

In the series, journalists share the beauty of the Ohio River and threats facing the region. To take readers on an interactive tour of the Ohio River, Blue Raster produced a StoryMap called Highlights of the Ohio for the project launch. The StoryMap features points of interest along the river and the watershed region.

The Good River News Partners will be publishing multiple stories from November 2019 through January 2020. To follow along with the project and share stories or questions, text OHIO to 412-528-6575. Additionally, you can follow #OhioRiverStories on social media.

Good River: Stories of the Ohio is a series about the environment, economy, and culture of the Ohio River watershed, produced by seven nonprofit newsrooms. To see more, please visit


To learn more about StoryMaps, you can start here.

Using StoryMaps to Celebrate Arlington County’s 1920 Centennial

Up until the end of the American Civil War, both present-day Arlington County and Alexandria County were included under the Alexandria County name. Then, in 1870, Virginia's re-written Constitution called for the state’s many incorporated cities to become independent from their respective counties. Thus, Alexandria City separated from the County of Alexandria, which was renamed to “Arlington County” to avoid confusion.

Blue Raster partnered with the Arlington Historical Society to create a StoryMap celebrating Arlington County's centennial anniversary. This StoryMap highlights 115 points of historical significance throughout the county, as curated by the Arlington Historical Society. The map displays a diverse range of feature types, including bridges, farmhouses, mansions, schools, and more. Each location also features a high-quality picture, modern-day address, and informative site description.

Arlington Centennial StoryMap

Arlington County Centennial StoryMap

This StoryMap also features a custom basemap, created from scratch by Blue Raster’s GIS and design teams. This basemap gives viewers a better view of what Arlington County looked like in 1920, including historic street and community names. In addition to a view of the past, this basemap also contains elements of the present. Zooming in activates a layer showing current-day building footprints that can help the viewer relate present locations to historical points of interest.

Since our inception in 2002, Blue Raster has been headquartered in Arlington County, Virginia. We always love working with local businesses and organizations, and we look forward to celebrating the county’s centennial anniversary with this StoryMap.

Let Blue Raster create your organization’s next StoryMap. Contact us today to get started!

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Using GIS to Inform Workforce Development

We recently worked with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to produce a national-level work-based learning map. Built using ArcGIS Online and the Esri JavaScript API, the map can be custom-tailored to specific state or local agency leadership teams. Using these customized maps, teams can better contextualize their workforce development initiatives and refine their understanding of resources and socioeconomic distribution across their region.

Workforce Development with GIS

Nearly five decades of research has demonstrated that the places where individuals live and learn have a dramatic impact on their opportunities and life outcomes. These place effects—the advantages and disadvantages that one inherits by simply living in a particular location—have a particularly strong impact on one’s access to high-quality education, workforce training, and employment, which are the key ingredients to upward economic mobility. It is vital that leaders in state and local education agencies are mindful of place effects as they help districts and schools to develop work-based learning (WBL) systems across diverse contexts.

Through this application, AIR can more easily identify areas of improved workplace development and analyze the factors that lead to this outcome. This could include factors such as education opportunities, health benefits, or a variety of social factors.

How do I use it?

Users are able to activate different layers that fall under categories such as Education, Health, and Social Factors. By looking across states and the country as a whole, we are able to understand which communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to these factors. As we explained earlier, these factors are vital to spark upward economic mobility. When viewing these different layers, we can have a higher understanding of where these lacking communities are located, and where resources need to be more readily available.

Here is a demo of the application in action.

You can view and use the application here.

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