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Is offshoring high-tech maps out of bounds? April 8, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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A company hired by the government to create aerial maps of nine counties in southeast Minnesota is doing much of the technical work in India after laying off 10 employees in Maple Grove who had similar skills.

The offshore outsourcing by Aero-Metric Inc., based in Sheboygan, Wis., has angered state legislators who are proposing to spend an additional $5 million from the taxpayer-supported Clean Water Fund to map at least 41 other counties over the next three years.

“Minnesota money ought to be spent in Minnesota, particularly at a time when jobs are scarce,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who is chairwoman of an environmental finance oversight committee that considered the bill Tuesday.

But that may be impossible to guarantee. Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, a sponsor of the measure, said he tried to add a no-outsourcing clause to his bill, but was advised by the House legal counsel that it would be unconstitutional.

The highly accurate, laser-based maps will aid in cleaning up waterways and responding to floods, supporters say. The maps show precise elevations, which can predict where runoff and erosion are dumping sediment into rivers. The maps also reveal drained wetlands and high-risk floodplains. The city of Fargo, N.D., which has been threatened this spring by runoff from the Red River, used data from an earlier mapping effort to create a Web flood-prediction tool for homeowners.

The taxpayer-funded technical work being done in India is part of an ongoing $821,000 project in southeast Minnesota to produce better maps mainly for flood protection. Aero-Metric crews flew over the nine counties last fall in airplanes equipped with Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) sensors. After that, the raw data needed to be processed extensively.

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