The Utah Geographic Information Council hosted its annual conference on May 6–10 in Midway to allow GIS professionals, students, and others who are passionate about spatial information to come together to share ideas, best practices, and new skills.

Why Does It Matter?

This conference is valuable to the GIS community in Utah because it’s the one time of the year when everyone can get together. There are other conferences that many UGIC members attend, like the ESRI User Conference, but the UGIC conference is small enough that attendees can actually spend time connecting with their peers from all over the state and other states in the Intermountain West. There are always a lot of great presentations from UGIC members who are developing innovative solutions for their everyday problems. The UGIC conference is also a very accessible conference, meaning that many people who may feel intimidated presenting in a larger forum have a place to showcase their work with an encouraging group of like-minded people.

The Conference

So how was the conference this year? What did attendees talk about, and how did the conference compare to other years? Let’s discuss.

Jack Dangermond, featured keynote speaker
Jack Dangermond, featured keynote speaker


Jack Dangermond, President of ESRI, delivered the conference’s featured keynote address. He has been recognized as a thought leader in the GIS industry, and he discussed a number of emerging trends in GIS as more and more data becomes available and map creation is no longer limited to technical specialists. He also focused on several new technologies available for mobile data collection and data sharing through web services and open data portals. UGIC was privileged to have Jack come to Utah again because he only visits a limited number of non-ESRI conferences each year.

Kevin Sato, former GIS administrator for Cottonwood Heights and former conference chair, delivered the closing keynote address, sharing lessons learned from his 30+ years in the GIS industry. He provided insight on the importance of building relationships, asking questions, and being willing to try new techniques to solve problems. Kevin shared success stories of building GIS capabilities in several organizations, whether he was part of a team or the only GIS person on staff. He also touched on the value of networking at a conference like the UGIC conference.

Joe Peters from ESRI squared off against Andrea Befus from Utah County in the conference’s annual Iron Cartographer challenge. The Iron Cartographer session at the UGIC conference has become a favorite session because it gives attendees a chance to share ideas specifically related to making good maps in a short amount of time. The map scenario this year was to create a map of a fictitious stage of the Tour of Utah and show key points along the route along with an elevation profile. Following the session, the maps were printed and all of the conference attendees voted on the one they liked best. Andrea won the competition, and she will now have the trophy on display until the conference next year.

As always, the conference also had a number of great presentations from the Utah GIS user community on the latest trends in GIS. A number of presentations focused on new and emerging technologies, like the ArcGIS Enterprise, ArcGIS Pro, Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS, and mobile data collection apps like Survey123 and Collector for ArcGIS.

There were also a number of panel discussions led primarily by members of the UGIC Board on topics like: how to get the most of UGIC, what’s up next with UGIC (where the organization is heading), becoming a GIS manager, and GIS in education / higher ed. All of these panel sessions were very well received.

The conference had great submissions for the Map, App, and Poster Gallery and Competition this year. Here are some highlights:

Iron Cartographer Champ
2019 Iron Cartographer Champ: Andrea Befus
Stan McShinsky Award Map
"Provo Keyboard Map" by Stan McShinsky, winner of the Stan McShinsky Award
  • Stan McShinsky Award recipient: “Provo Keyboard Map” by Stan McShinsky
  • Citizen Engagement: “Wasatch Choice 2050: Vision for Our Future” by Bert Granberg and Nicole Proulx
  • Utah as Art: “Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, San Rafael Swell and Zion-Mukuntuweap” by Ellie Leydsman McGinty
  • Small Map: “TransPlan50: Regional Transportation Plan 2019-2050 for the Provo/Orem Metropolitan Area” by Kory Iman
  • Professional Map: “The Wasatch Front Trail Network” by Brandon Plewe
  • Student Research Posters: “Modeling water levels of the Great Salt Lake” by Ian Hazel, David Maack and Braeden Cook
  • Interactive Map: “BLM Interactive Map” by Brian Mueller
UGIC 2019 Conference Logo
In checking out the UGIC conference materials, you may have come across the conference logo and wondered about the story behind the image. UGIC has used a Kokopelli for its conference logo for many years. Ekkehart Malotki describes the Kokopelli in his book Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon, saying, “Probably no other image in the entire body of Southwestern iconography has attracted as much attention as that of the fluteplayer . . . He occurs within a large geographic region of the Four Corners states.”1 Historically the symbol was often seen in rock art in the Southwest, and Malotki argues that “The overriding reason, however, for the Kokopelli phenomenon may be the explosive growth of interest in rock art.”2

Reflecting on This Year’s Conference

What Was New?

Exceptional Attendance: This year’s conference was exceptionally well attended, with a total of 263 attendees (including both registrants and vendors—possibly the highest number of vendors the conference has seen), 121 students in two days of preconference training (One section of the ArcGIS Pro preconference training even sold out, which is the first time, that UGIC knows of, that a class has been completely filled!), and over 200 people at the Thursday evening social on the Heber Valley Railroad.

Mobile Agenda: UGIC first used a conference app at the 2018 conference held in Vernal. The 2019 conference was the first UGIC conference where there wasn’t a paper agenda booklet in addition to any digital materials, and this was incredibly successful. The conference app provided attendees with easy-to-use venue maps and allowed users to make agenda changes on the fly as needed.

Other: A live band performed during the Wednesday evening vendor social. There were also a lot of friends and family who joined Thursday evening’s BBQ dinner and train ride.

What Was the Same?

Some aspects of the conference are consistent from year to year, for instance: the fantastic presentations from the Utah GIS community. Also, the UGIC conference is a great time for all attendees! Between the excellent sessions, the vendor social, the indoor golf tournament, the BBQ dinner, and train ride, there was something for everyone.

Another consistent part of the conference is a great venue in one of Utah’s great cities. This year’s Zermatt Resort was a fantastic venue. There was ample room for all of the conference activities, including the keynote presentations, breakouts, preconference training classes, vendor social, map and poster gallery, and indoor golf tournament. The Zermatt was also close by for the off-site BBQ dinner and train ride at the Heber Valley Railroad.

To Sum It Up

Utah has been recognized nationally as a great place for GIS innovations, data sharing, and collaboration. The presentations at the UGIC conference each year highlight the fact that Utah is a great place for anyone using GIS. In fact, some members are now involved in the GIS field in other states, but they value the connections at UGIC so much that they keep coming back for the conference. This is a testament to the quality of GIS in Utah and why the UGIC conference is valuable locally, regionally, and nationally.

  1. Malotki, Ekkehart. Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon. (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press). p. 1. Accessed via Google Books on June 20, 2019. 

  2. Malotki. Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon. p 4.