Planning and Engineering Success Stories: Oshkosh, Wisconsin

The city of Oshkosh regularly faces decisions that require the community to balance residential and business interests, as well as infrastructure and environmental needs.

Elected officials must understand the potential impacts of planning and engineering projects because they’re making decisions that affect generations to come, said Kelly Nieforth, the city’s Economic Development Services Manager. This was especially true when Oshkosh, one of the smallest cities in the nation to boast a Fortune 500 company, overcame initial public disapproval, time constraints, major infrastructure challenges and more in a quest to retain its largest employer, Oshkosh Corp., and save hundreds of local jobs.


The city is a longtime user of ArcGIS and Esri tools, especially for planning purposes and for showing the community what’s possible, Nieforth said. It’s hard for people who aren’t in planning or working on projects to visualize that potential. Some people may see only rundown buildings, but others can see a bustling, revitalized area.

As part of its proposal to retain Oshkosh Corp. and become the location for the company’s new global headquarters, the city used ArcGIS to look at potential sites, and settled on offering a portion of the city’s municipally-owned golf course.

Oshkosh also teamed with Esri partner Houseal Lavigne Associates and used CityEngine, an advanced 3D modeling software, to quickly create an interactive and immersive environment for the community and elected officials to weigh in on before proposing that golf course site to Oshkosh Corp. board members. “It helped us put our thoughts in a visual representation” and to have a conversation, Nieforth said.


Not only did the company accept the proposal, but city residents who were initially concerned that a massive office complex would hinder their lakefront views became proponents of the project.

In 2018, the city’s parks department began work on a plan to turn the portions of the golf course not sold to Oshkosh Corp. into a park. Previously, if people wanted to enjoy the lakefront, they had to pay, said Nieforth, an Oshkosh native. GIS played a vital role in fostering civic engagement and providing an inclusive environment for residents to voice their concerns and to be heard.

Nieforth expects that dialogue will continue to flourish as the city looks to tools such as ArcUrban to understand the impacts of zoning codes and to drive conversations with an increasingly informed community.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s report, “Smart Communities: Delivering Intelligent Community Design With GIS.” Download the full report here.

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