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Grand Rapids software engineer creates minority business maps for the community

Jessa Challa, co-owner of Mallowfields
GIS Jess
Jessa Challa
West Michigan woman creates minority business maps for the community

A Grand Rapids software engineer is making it easier to support minority-owned, local businesses, by creating free, interactive maps of the city.

Jessa Challa is a specialist in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The Aquinas graduate currently co-owns a tech company called Mallowfieldsand says she saw an opening for more community engagement with GIS resources.

“GIS isn’t a new technology, but I wasn’t seeing it being utilized in west Michigan in the ways I knew it could be,” Challa said, “There’s a lot of entities that use it to collect data, but what about visualizing it so that the community can see it and make informed decisions.”

She’s created a series of interactive maps that show locations of minority-owned local businesses in the Grand Rapids area. This finds particular impact, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as a variety of small and minority-owned businesses saw financial loss.

Challah notes that humans often have “default” options when it comes to shopping, generally opting for stores that may be familiar or convenient. She hopes her maps will make it easier to consciously support minority-owned organizations.

“I was seeing a lot of people saying, 'Oh, I want to hire a contractor from a minority owned business. Oh, I want to try a new restaurant to see what this kind of food is like.' And now there’s this resource this visualized data for peoplke to see where these places are," she said, "...As a biracial, black woman in West Michigan and owning a company, I wanted this to be this resource that you could visualize the Grand Rapids area and see which ones were closest to you."

Challa continues to add more businesses to her maps as she makes community connections. She posts them to her blog called GIS Jess on Facebook, where she plans to create and share more community resources.

“I wanted to create this resource for my community to support their community," Challa said.

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