the management and analysis of spatial information in support of business decisions and communications at a variety of scales, from local to international.
The role of geographers in private sector decision making is growing rapidly, with improved technologies for decentralized geographic information systems (GISs) use and increased access to georeferenced information, and these roles are becoming strategic as well as operational. A wide range of private companies use geographers and geographic perspectives in their locational decision making. These include retail marketing chains (e.g., Dayton-Hudson, a major retail firm headquartered in Minneapolis), railroads (e.g., Southern Pacific Railroad's land division), electric power and gas utilities, international import-export firms, transportation and travel service organizations, publishing firms, and real estate planners and investors.
Cattle ranchers in Brazil hire bulldozers to clear tropical rainforest for cattle ranching; farmers in Kenya build terraces to fight soil erosion on sloping cropland. The first set of decisions leads to environmental degradation, the second to environmental conservation. Steel mills close in the mature industrial regions of the developed world; semiconductor production moves to the newly industrializing countries of Malaysia and Thailand; high-technology firms spring up along the M4 Corridor west of Central London and in Silicon Glen near Glasgow, Scotland; major centers of retail and office activity known as "edge cities" spring up where major highway intersections occur beyond the suburbs of the 1970s, while blocks of apartments and townhouse communities locate close to subway systems, such as the Metro in Washington, D.C. The outcomes of these regional and local decisions affect the well-being of people, alter the look of the land, and set up new geographic patterns that affect the next set of location decisions that people make.
At local and regional scales, geographers assist decision makers by providing information and analyses related to such issues as the management of hazards, management of complex urban systems, and resource allocation, often wrestling with their overlapping roles as scientists and citizens. In addition, geographers advise local and regional government agencies about the design of geographic databases and the use of GISs. The following sections illustrate a range of contributions.
Cities themselves are functional regions connected with other places by networks of transportation, communication, finance, and trade. Their internal structures can be distinguished according to such characteristics as race and ethnicity, housing, business activities, industrial processes, natural resource con-