Dubuque is a city of middle America, surrounded by farmland, with a central business district beside the Mississippi River. And in recent decades, it has received the brunt of the brutal economic changes brought by automation and ICT productivity gains. In the 80s, its largest employer laid off half of its workforce in Dubuque. This, together with the decline of family farming, drove unemployment to 23%, the highest in the nation, in succeeding years.
In response, the Mayor and City Council led a broad-based effort to forge a new vision for the city’s future. The result was Sustainable Dubuque, a commitment to create a prosperous, livable and equitable community. The vision spawned multiple efforts. One is a set of smart city projects covering water use, electricity use and public transit. Working with IBM, the city installed sensors, connectivity and software to analyze performance and provide data to users. Starting with 300 homes, the smart water system is now available citywide and is credited with a 7% reduction in water use and an eightfold gain in the detection and fixing of leaks. It has also reduced water treatment costs by $65,000 and increased water revenues by nearly $185,000. The smart travel program tracks 1,500 riders and uses the data to set policies that have produced a 28% increase in ridership over 4 years.
Putting Dubuque to Work
Dubuque Works is a workforce program that unites government, business and educators to enhance the city’s human capital, conduct joint research to develop evidence-based recommendations, and provide outreach to guide area students from school to work. Over the past four years, the program has created more than 5,000 jobs and Dubuque, with just 3% of the state’s population, has been responsible for 10% of the state’s job growth. These different initiatives have attracted more than $37 million in Federal and state grants, which the city has used to stimulate additional workforce development and sustainability efforts. Dubuque’s revival is a work in progress but its early successes create confidence in a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable future.