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Online tool makes it easier to pick a spot to start your business

What are the pros and cons of starting a business in Dolores versus Cortez or in the county versus the city limits?

An online tool, released in May specifically for Colorado, gives business owners access to local data to help them make decisions about locations.

"The information is out there, but sometimes you don't have the full picture," said Sean Wittmeyer, one of the founders of the tool.

Beagle includes taxes, regulations, locations of competing business, neighborhood qualities and infrastructure to give a type of business in certain location a score out of 100.

A quick test run of the tool, called Beagle, shows it can compare locations just blocks apart. For example, it gives a potential beauty salon on the corner of Beech and Main streets a score of 53 out of 100. A salon on the corner of Madison and Main streets gets a much lower score of 32.

The scoring breakdown allows the user to see that the clustering of retail stores near Beech Street sets that location apart from the one near Madison.

"What's important here is the relative score - the score allows you to better compare two different locations. It's not meant to suggest which business type you should open," said one of the founders, Wojciech Magda.

The application allows users to explore the factors used to score a location. For example, the neighborhood component of the rating includes the former uses of the building, and information about residents includes the average education and income.

The tool is also set up for many categories, including very large-scale businesses like supermarkets and hospitals to nightclubs and cafes. Beagle is widget that can be embedded a on websites to make local data more available to business owners.

The factors are weighted differently across business categories.

The developers weighted the factors differently for retail, industrial and office-based businesses.

For example, because an industrial business is more reliant on infrastructure, the developers weighted the existing infrastructure highly for business that fit into that category.

However, the founders gave users the ability to increase the importance of certain factors that the business owner may be interested in.

One of the current limitations of the tool is the fixed radius - just a kilometer in all directions - for finding competition. The developers hope to make that adjustable to suit the needs of highly rural and highly dense areas, Wittmeyer said. The application also does n't take available parking into account.

Joe Keck, the director of the Small Business Development Center, found Beagle a bit incomplete, but a good place to start.

"It looks like it might help as an initial, early-stage starting point for evaluating a community," he said.

For much of the past 20 years, the SBDC has seen many amenity migrants move to rural areas like Montezuma County, primarily for the quality of life, and some have brought their businesses with them. Besides not taking into account quality of life, Beagle also leaves out business logistics in terms of transportation, location of suppliers and the location of major customer segments, he said.

The economic development coordinator for the Montezuma Community Economic Development Association, Chris Burkett, had a similar reaction to the Beagle concept. While factors like taxes may tip the scale in decision making, aspects like good schools, transportation and entertainment opportunities play a large role in a business owners decision when picking a location, he said.

Beagle won the GoCode competition held by the state that challenged developers to make public data more accessible and usable and received a $25,000 contract. The founders developed the product in six weeks. Wittmeyer is the director of a design firm in Fort Collins and the chief technology officer of Stuart Batty Enterprises of Louisville. Wojciech is a computer engineer for Intel. The two plan to continue developing the tool.