Legendary retailers Sam Walton and Ray Kroc used to hunt for real estate at 30,000 feet; they used private planes to survey the country for prime spots in which to open new stores. Now a new website, ZoomProspector, attempts to provide business owners a similar bird's-eye view of the commercial landscape from their desk chairs.

Using information from local governments and other sources, ZoomProspector allows companies to search for vacant land, office space, and retail sites according to an array of factors: demographics such as population size, education level, and household income as well as less typical metrics such as home values, patents issued per capita, proximity to airports and train stations, and the amount of venture capital recently invested in the area. A search for a particular city pulls up heat maps that highlight the parts of town with, say, the highest concentration of bachelor's degrees or the highest average household incomes.

The site was developed by GIS Planning, a San Francisco company that creates interactive online maps for the economic development arms of local governments. There are approximately 40,000 commercial property listings in the site's database, from some 7,400 cities in 38 states. All the listings come from customers of GIS Planning. Anatalio Ubalde, CEO and co-founder of the company, says ZoomProspector continues to add listings -- including properties for sale, rent, and sublease -- from more municipalities.

Jamin Arn, the founder of OfficePro, a Janesville, Wisconsin, retailer of office supplies and furniture, is a fan. Arn recently used ZoomProspector to find a site for his third store. It turned up a place he had never considered: Normal, Illinois, a town of about 50,000 people about two hours south of Chicago. Arn hasn't made any decisions yet, but he thinks one of his stores could do well in Normal, because the town's population size, job growth, and income per capita are similar to Janesville's. Arn says he particularly appreciated being able to conduct research on the site without having to endure a sales pitch. "If I call a guy who wants to sell, he's going to give me every reason why this is a great place," Arn says. "Zoom is not a salesman."