There are few communities in the world where one can so clearly see the muscles and sinews of a new economy taking shape on the bones of the old.
In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Dundee (www.dundee.com) was a flourishing city known throughout Britain for trading, whaling, textiles, food manufacturing and shipbuilding. It was called the city of "jute, jam and journalism," referring to its dominance in both manufacturing and publishing. But in the mid-1970s, deindustrialization took hold with a vengeance. Large-scale plant closures threw thousands out of work and caused an out-migration of skills and talent. In a city that appeared in terminal decline, population losses hit the retail sector hard, discouraged inward investment, and sharply eroded quality of life.
In the 21st Century, the loss of low-skilled industrial jobs slowed – but Dundee still suffered a net decrease of 3,000 jobs over the past three years. Yet that statistic masks a signficant trend. Over the same period – in spite of the recent global recession – Dundee added more than 1,000 jobs in the industries of the future: life sciences, digital media and renewable energy. When NCR sent nearly 800 manufacturing jobs out of the city to a lower-cost location in 2007, they chose to keep their R&D center in Dundee.
Partnership for Prosperity
In 1991, the leaders of Dundee formed a collaborative body called the Dundee Partnership. Evolving from a project that focused on the physical regeneration of the city, the Partnership brought together all of the city's stakeholders: local and national government, business, education, the nonprofit sector and citizen leaders. Their mission was to forge a broader economic development vision for Dundee.
Many communities have such blue-ribbon commissions. Dundee’s was particularly successful because it kept the blue ribbons out of the process. The participants were front-line staff who gradually built trust and collaboration over years of working together. Political and administrative leaders in government were strongly supportive but resisted the urge to make everything a public relations exercise. In the past two years, collaboration has become so strong that all of the organizations represented in the Partnership sign an annual Single Outcome Agreement that sets high-level targets to achieve for the year.
Early on, the Partnership commissioned research to identify economic strengths and weaknesses, gains and losses. As Dundee entered the 21st Century, the research uncovered the first net job growth in decades, despite a continuing fall in manufacturing employment and levels of unemployment higher than the national average. It was Dundee's university sector - including the University of Dundee, University of Abertay Dundee, the Ninewells teaching hospital and Scottish Crop Research Institute – that was creating job, not only in established sectors like publishing and scientific research, but in such new fields as software, animation, computer games, film and television.
The Partnership threw its energy into fanning the flames of entrepreneurship and accelerating the R&D that was the new engine of economic growth. In this, Dundee was returning to its roots. Pioneering work in the development of aspirin, X-rays, radio communications, the electric light and "keyhole" surgery was part of Dundee's legacy. Now, universities established graduate business incubators and policies promoting the spin-out of new companies. The University of Abertay Dundee opened the IC CAVE research center to support the computer game and digital entertainment sector. A Technopole located at the University of Dundee incubates science and technology start-ups that originate there.
A £20 million Digital Media Park entered into development and, by 2007, opened its first phase, consisting of 100,000 sq. feet (9290 m2) of space for e-businesses. A government-funded Business Gateway project began providing e-business training and support to small and mid-size companies, helping to improve the e-readiness of nearly 600 companies in 2004 and 2005. Two new marketing partnerships, bringing together public, private and academic leaders, launched Web sites, e-newsletters and conferences promoting "BioDundee" to attract life science companies and "Interactive Tayside" to the digital media sector. Interactive Tayside has 1,400 members from 380 companies, two of whom recently created a Digital Arts Festival called NEon to showcase technologies and local studios.
Firing on All Cylinders
Like an engine firing on all cylinders, the structured and institutionalized collaboration among Dundee sectors has driven forward the economy. The City Council’s Web site began offering online payment and processing to the public in 2002. It provides more than 60 online aplications – which generated 60,000 transactions and more than £8 million in fees and taxes in 2006 – and receives a satisfactory rankings from more than 80% of users.
Behind this online “front end,” Dundee’s IT department manages a citizen relationship management system called the Citizen Account. It captures data on citizens, with their permission, and uses it to create a single record of the citizen’s interaction with government, which is saving the Council £400,000 per year. It captures, for example, the citizen’s use of the Dundee Discovery Card, which replaced 10 separate card-related services in the city, for everything from bus service and parking to social services and student accounts at Abertay University. One of the outstanding benefits of the Discovery Card, in the eyes of the City Council, is that it eliminates the social stigma attached to social services cards for low-income residents. So popular has it become - with 44,000 cards issued, used by 87% of 12-18 year olds for school meals and bus travel, and 85% of +60 year olds for leisure access and bus travel - that the Scottish Government decided to deploy a multi-application card for the whole country and asked Dundee to run the program.
Dundee is a compact city and has an excellent road network. But it also boasts a high-quality public bus system that keeps cars off the roads and ensures robust transportation options for low-income residents. A wireless network tracks bus locations using GPS and and countdown displays at bus shelters predict the next arrival.
Dundee’s public schools have a robust IT infrastructure, and digital technologies have been integrated into art, music, science and humanities classes. Dundee was an early adopter of Scotland’s GLOW intranet for schools. It provides a collaboration program for students as well as teachers – with document sharing, discussion boards, chat and videoconferencing – and is beginning to be used to bring outside expertise into the schools. A recent project connected a well-known Scottish artist, Willie Rodger, online to art classes engaged in a print-making curriculum. Over several weeks, students uploaded scans of their developing work. They engaged in peer review with students in other schools as well as videoconferences with Rodger, who offered his own critique and advice. It was a model for interfacing the worlds of work, art and science into the classroom.
It was accomplishments like these that put Dundee on ICF’s 2008 list of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities. Since that time, Dundee has raised its game and attracted the attention of investors. The University of Dundee recently completed a £200m redevelopment of its campus, and Alliance Trust, a FTSE-100 company, has opened a new £12m headquarters.
Another sign is the i3 Fiber City project. The i3 Group has made Dundee the second UK community where it will deploy a fiber network through the sewer system, which substantially cuts costs of deployment. (See a BBC report on i3's work in Bournemouth, England.) Construction work begins in April 2010 and is forecast to pass 100% of homes and businesses within 18 months. Financing for the network is entirely private. The Fiber City business plan calls for an open-access architecture in which the company will light the fiber and provide transport-layer services but other service providers will deliver IPTV, Internet, voice and data. i3 agreed to fiber 100% of subsidized social housing first. Dundee will benefit from greater digital inclusion while seeing the value of its social housing stock increase. The company looks on social housing as a valuable market, since low-income residents consume both television and Internet.
The network will also serve a new £300m waterfront redevelopment, to which the City Council is contributing about 20%, with the rest coming from private developers and the European Union. Like many old industrial cities, Dundee’s core is cut off from its scenic waterfront by old industrial lands and rail yards. The new waterfront will extend the city center to the water with a mixed use residential-business-tourist area, with a special zone for digital media businesses. A biomass energy plant will provide the complex with “green” power and heat. If current plans mature, it will also be the home of the first branch of London’s famed Victoria & Albert Museum outside that city. This project, more than any other, is a signal to the government and citizens of Dundee that they face a bright future.
Life sciences and gaming industries continue strong growth. The Wellcome Trust Biocenter is an R&D facility at the University of Dundee that focuses on translational medicine: finding biological mechanisms that offer new prospects for treatment, then turning them into the chemistry needed to create new drugs. It added 160 high-skilled jobs to Dundee, plus the many ripple effects that spread outward from the facility. Realtime Worlds, Dundee’s biggest game company, is developer of Grand Theft Auto and Mist, and is expanding into publishing of its own multiplayer online games. The company recently attracted $50m in venture backing. BrightSolid is another Dundee company that provides IT business services and is Scotland’s largest digital media firm. Dundee also has become the headquarters of Insights, a leading learning and development company operating in 20 nations.
Dare to be Digital
Probably no single activity better represents Dundee’s unique blend of ICT-driven innovation, education and marketing savvy than Dare to be Digital. Founded by Abertay University, Dare to be Digital is a contest for students from throughout the UK and, increasingly, around the world. They submit ideas and designs for new video games to the Dare to be Digital contest. The finalists come to Dundee for 10 weeks of intensive development with Abertay instructors and games industry professionals at the end of which they have a finished game that is unveiled to judges and the public at a festival. Dundonians of all ages attend to play the games and vote on their choice for best game. The judges present awards as well – but the real prize for contestants is exposure to leading game designers and investors who come to Dundee from throughout the UK for the festival.
So successful has Dare to be Digital become that the city has created a smaller version for secondary school. The Digital Challenge takes two weeks and provides students with ready-to-use templates on which they can execute their game ideas. The young people get a chance to learn and apply digital skills while connecting to future employers – and having a lot of fun at the same time.
For a recent report funded by HSBC, The Future Laboratory interviewed 500 entrepreneurs across the UK. They predicted that the industries most likely to shape the country’s economy include games development, stem cell research, renewable energy and nutraceuticals. They also forecast that competition and high costs would force entrepreneurs to the North of the nation. If the Laboratory is right about the future, Dundee could find itself on the leading edge of the British economy.
Top Seven Intelligent Community 2008 and 2007
Human health & social work, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, education
76% household, 95% business, 100% govt & institutions
Degrees Awarded Last Year
Community college 29,000; undergrad 6,100; graduate 2,780
Net 3,000 decrease; 1,100 ICF jobs
Paul Carroll, Corporate Planning Manager, Dundee City Council
Colin MacDonald, Studio Manager, Realtime Worlds
Professor Alan Gillespie, Chair of Photonics, University of Dundee
"Dundee is to become Scotland's first internet 'Fibrecity'," BBC News, July 10, 2008
"New owners for company behind Dundee Fibrecity broadband project," The Courier, Feb 10, 2011