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As we move into 2006, we are well aware that entire populations have regrouped or moved as a result of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. With the loss of homes, businesses and schools, not only an entire way of life, but an extraordinary amount of data was also lost.
In an interview with Robert Welch, president of Synergos Technologies, Inc. (STI) this week, I learned about the company's STI: PopStats product, which is the market research industry's only quarterly population estimating product. The first 2006 release of STI: PopStats will include population estimates for those areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Read about STI: PopStats in this week's Industry news.
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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Estimating Post-Katrina Populations with STI: PopStats
By Susan Smith
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In an interview with Robert Welch, president of Synergos Technologies, Inc. (STI) this week, I learned about the company's STI: PopStats product, which is the market research industry's only quarterly population estimating product. The first 2006 release of STI: PopStats will include population estimates for those areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina and Rita.
How is Synergos able to come out with population estimates every three months? “Our STI: PopStats product is radically different from every other population estimating product,” claimed Welch. “We're the only the only company that can do an estimate every three months.”
“We took a large amount of satellite data and used that to create a new population model, which then had to be calibrated with an onsite visit to New Orleans-area neighborhoods. So I went to New Orleans and toured the area in three days.” Welch found that STI: PopStats' population estimates were on target.
Why was it necessary to use satellite data? “Some of our government sources provided some good information, but we just weren't getting all the data that we needed. Remote sensing data told us the obvious - certain areas were simply wiped out, and so it's impossible for people to live there now.”
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“My whole model is a GIS-based model, as opposed to traditional approaches to demographic analysis. Since it's GIS-based, I'm able to take advantage of things like remote sensing and be able to complement the population estimate.”
How the population moved around after the hurricane follows a natural course of events. For example, New Orleans is divided (not exactly in half) by the Mississippi River. The area below the river was literally untouched by flooding, but it was still affected by population shifts because the school system doesn't exist any longer. People had to move to areas where there were schools for their children. “This is why Jefferson Parish actually increased in population, as a lot of people moved there to take advantage of the school system.”
According to Welch, traditionally providers of population estimates rely heavily on the postal delivery system for their data, but as a result of the hurricanes, this was unavailable in the New Orleans area. The postmaster in each area has the option of whether to divulge those statistics or not. “The postmaster in the New Orleans area has chosen not to divulge those statistics for quite some time,” noted Welch.
Synergos has been around since 1992, and was an outsourcing GIS firm for its first ten years. During that time, they worked extensively with the grocery industry, which was dissatisfied with population information available at the time. “In 2001, I came up with a method to create quarterly population estimates, tested it with grocery clients, they all loved it and said the numbers they were getting were vastly superior to what they were getting from competitors, so in 2001 we changed the direction of the company,” said Welch. “It is no longer an outsourcing company, but is now a data company.”
Retailers remain STI: PopStats' #1 client. Since it's a quarterly product, people can buy a subscription to it, and receive a fresh population estimate for the entire country every three months.
Clients include virtually all grocery stores like Kroger, major drugstore chains like Walgreens, big box retailers like Family Dollar and many others.
“We use GIS techniques to develop the estimate but we're not selling a GIS,” noted Welch. “These clients all have a GIS system in house - and they each have a different GIS. One of our challenges is to make the data generic enough so that it can fit in to whatever GIS systems required. We send the data directly over to our resellers and they will reformat the data into the format appropriate to the GIS system being used by the client.”
Most demographic companies release their data in May, according to Welch, however Synergos' ability to provide data quarterly has grown their business considerably since 2004. Hurricane Katrina has placed the company in even greater demand with data that is critical to many retailers and governments.
Examples of the population insights provided in STI: PopStats' January 2006 release include the following: