Grant Thrall has been conducting research in the area of business geography since the early 1970s.
Before businesses such as restaurant chains, shopping malls, or housing developments begin construction, they consult a geographer to advise them where to build, said UF professor of geography Grant Thrall.
"Business Geographers know where to put a store or restaurant and can predict what the revenues will be at that "location," he said "In newspaper interviews, I am often referred to as an economist, but I am a geographer. These are geographic issues, and require geographic analysis and technology for their evaluation."
Thrall has developed theory-published in his book Land Use and Urban Form -that can project the growth trends of population and land values by location. He found that some of this general theory, when put to the test, can accurately predict phenomena including the absorption rate - how many houses, in a certain price range, can be sold by location.
"My interest is in developing analysis that can be used to improve decisions concerning commercial and residential real estate, where location is a primary component," he said.
Thrall - who is one of a handful of university professors in the U.S. who teaches what is known as "business geography" - has written and researched almost all of the material he uses in class. He serves as co-editor of Journal of Real Estate Literature, a publication of the American Real Estate Society, and associate editor of Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, an urban planning journal specializing in computer information technology as applied to urban decisions. He is also a column editor, software review editor and regular contributing author for Geo Info Systems - which has an international readership exceeding 50,000.
"The material I teach in most of my classes is 90% my own," he said. "I teach what I research and what I research is in great demand in the private sector."
According to Thrall, business geography has become recognized in many career guides as being among today's Top 20 careers. Master's students in the program start at an average of $5,000 more than the average MBA student at UF. Undergraduate students, who have worked closely with Thrall, start with a salary almost equal to MBA students.
"I get a phone call several times a month from Fortune 500 companies wanting to hire our MA students," he said. In the fall of 1996 one firm phoned me and wanted to "place an order for six six of my MA students. "I wish I had six ready to go" Thrall said.
Why the demand for geographers? The answer is simple according to Thrall: "automobiles."
"Back in the 19th century, retail location analysis was not important because you always located at the center of the city," he said. "With the advent of the automobile, cities became more complicated."
The right location is so important to businesses that between a quarter and a half of retail and restaurant chains' revenues depend on it. Red Lobster is one such example.
"Red Lobster can locate anywhere today because it has product identity and it ensures that its management is well trained," he said. "But, by locating in the right spot, it will increase its revenues often by at least 25%. So, Red Lobster employs a geographer to make its location decisions."
Another reason for the increased demand in business geography is technology. With current desktop computer hardware, commercial data, and software, an analysis that required two years to complete in the 1970s now takes about 15 minutes.
"We have amassed a large body of information, analytic procedures and computer technology that combine to make us a highly sought-after applied discipline, as well as a valued research discipline," he said. "Geographic technology lowers the barriers and allows a greater number of users to apply complex geographic concepts."
Gainesville has benefited directly from Thrall's research. Thrall has been a member of the board of directors of Gainesville's Downtown Redevelopment Agency since 1991, and its chair for a two year period beginning in 1995. As chair of Gainesville's Downtown Redevelopment Agency, he conducted the geographic analysis used to recruit many new businesses, including Harry's restaurant, a proposed 150,000 square foot new office building and a proposed new 18 screen movie theater. In recognition for these applied geography efforts the Mayor of Gainesville and the City Commission proclaimed the City of Gainesville recognize "Grant Thrall Days" on December 31, 1996, and January 1, 1997.
"You have to put the right product in the right spot. Not all locations are equal, including locations for retail outlets, factories, or even cities," he said. "Every place has a different potential. Geography is the science of location, and I teach how to evaluate the potential and make the right decision for the product or the location."