The Need for a Geospatial Market Study

By John "JB" Byrd

What is the size of the geospatial market?” is a question MAPPS often is asked. The short answer is, “Nobody knows.” There is no good market study that answers basic questions like this.

How Many Practitioners Are There?

Here’s what we do know. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians held about 147,000 jobs in 2008. BLS reports 56,900 surveying and mapping technicians, 51,000 surveyors, and 13,800 cartographers and photogrammetrists.” The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), which collects data from all state licensing boards, reports that “the number of surveying licenses is more than 55,000.”

The Office of Personnel Management reports there are just 1,841 surveyors, surveying technicians, cartographers, cartographic technicians, geodesists, and geodetic technicians in the federal government. This is an 80% reduction in the past 25 years. These figures do not include the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which reports that it employs approximately 16,000 government civilians, military members, and contractors.

The 2007 Economic Survey of the Census Bureau reports 19,903 firms in NAICS code 541370 (surveying and mapping, including 10,043 with no employees), with a total employment of 69,201 and revenues of $7 million.

The Census Bureau’s data is based on forms completed by firm principals where they self-select their NAICS code. As a result, if a firm does not consider itself to be in surveying and mapping, its data is not included above. For example, if a firm is engaged in civil engineering and surveying but considers itself more an engineering practice than surveying, that firm, its employees, and revenues are excluded from the data.

What about Geospatial?

These figures notwithstanding, neither the GIS nor the geospatial community has an accurate market study. We don’t know the total market or the percent that federal, state, or local government represents in terms of demand. We don’t know what percentage is for regulated utilities or other private-sector clients. We don’t know how much surveying work the government at any level does in-house or by contract.

With all the aforementioned caveats, here is the best data available. Daratech, Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts reported, “For 2009, the public sector will account for 40% of the $5.3 billion worldwide market for GIS and geospatial products. Key product categories include data, geo-enabled engineering, global positioning systems, photogrammetric, and remote sensing. Total public sector spending worldwide in 2009 should exceed $2.1 billion, with national/federal governments accounting for just less than half of the spending. State/regional governments will spend $654 million, while local governments will spend about $465 million on GIS/geospatial products.”

It should be noted that these data are worldwide, not just for the United States. Moreover, Daratech does not publicly release data based on market segment. For example, sales of hardware, software, and services are all part of the broad GIS and geospatial market, but if a services firm is trying to determine its size and market share, hardware and software sales are irrelevant.

Government vs. Private Sector?

In testimony before Congress in 2009, Karen Siderelis, then the chief geospatial information officer of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said the federal government spent “$1.89 billion in spatial data and geospatial services during the FY 2007-FY 2009 period.”

“The Geospatial Line of Business Data Call Analysis Report,” July 14, 2006, found that federal agencies expended $2.33 billion over a three-year period (FY 2005 - FY 2007) in spatial data and GIS activities. This is an average of $776 million per year. However, in 1994, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) estimated more than $4 billion was spent annually by the U.S. federal government on the production, management, and dissemination of geospatial data. The $4 billion figure was publicly used by FGDC as recently as 2008.

One of these figures has to be grossly inaccurate. Total outlays for discretionary spending in the federal government nearly doubled from 1994 to 2004. It is unrealistic to think that spending on geospatial activities declined in that same period by more than 75%.

Study Parameters

MAPPS continues to ask the federal government to conduct such an in-depth study. The government needs to determine the size of the geospatial market in the United States, to quantify the annual federal expenditure/investment, and to estimate the impact and benefit of geospatial data on the U.S. economy as a whole in order to manage its geospatial activities and create an environment for economic growth, including removing barriers to private-sector growth and job creation.

Such a study should establish the total value of the sale and provision of geospatial products and services in the United States. Included in the study should be sales by private firms to the federal, state, and local governments and commercial clients. The commercial market should be broken down by major market segment.

The study should also determine the extent of foreign sales in the United States as well as the value of U.S. exports of geospatial products and services. It would be helpful for a study to determine and distinguish sales among the following categories within the geospatial community:
  • commercial satellite remote sensing images, airborne imaging, and airborne remote sensing (lidar, etc.);
  • value-added services using satellite remote sensing images, airborne imaging, and airborne remote sensing (photogrammetry, lidar, etc.);
  • off-the-shelf geospatial data products;
  • land surveying;
  • creation of GIS; and
  • sales of hardware and software to support geospatial activities.
Current and accurate information is needed on the following metrics:
  • number of firms in the U.S. market;
  • total size of the U.S. market;
  • breakdown of the market by client/user (federal, state, local government and commercial) and by major segment (engineering, forestry, utilities, insurance, etc.);
  • the size of the federal government’s activity in the geospatial market (total expenditures, contracts, support of in-house activities, grants to state and local government and universities);
  • average size of firms in revenue and employment;
  • total employment in the workforce (federal, state, and local government and private employer); and
  • ranking of top firms in the market, by revenue.
The study should also attempt to quantify the economic value of geospatial activities in terms of commerce leveraged by geospatial data, technology, products, and services, and/or the size of the U.S. economy affected by geospatial activities. It should be noted that the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC), the FGDC’s 2006 annual report cites that 80-90% of government information has a geospatial information component, and the Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA) reports that 70-80% of the information managed by business is connected to a specific location.

A geospatial market study would be advantageous to the private geospatial community, federal employees in geospatial positions, policymakers, and the general public by quantifying (1) the size and character of the market, (2) the footprint of the federal government in this market, and (3) its contribution and value to the U.S. economy. 

The U.S. Department of Labor designated the geospatial workforce as one of United States’ high-growth employment communities and invested over $8 million in programs to help grow geospatial jobs.

Not only does the government lack accurate data on its own geospatial expenditures, it cannot measure what it gained for its $8-million, geospatial-workforce investment. At a time when a recession in the housing and construction markets continues to adversely affect demand for land surveying services and unemployment continues to hover above 8%, it is time the government has the data it needs to get the economy going, create jobs, and track its own costs.

John “JB” Byrd is the government affairs manager for John M. Palatiello & Associates, a public affairs, association management, and consulting firm in Reston, VA. He has more than 10 years of public-policy experience. He is also the government affairs manager for MAPPS, the national association for private-sector geospatial firms.

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