Intelligent Community Forum names the world’s Top7 Intelligent Communities, all with a track record of new jobs and innovative development

Honolulu, Hawaii & New York, New York – January 23, 2013 – The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) today named the 2013 Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year. The Top7 list includes three from North America, two from Taiwan and two from Europe. “The Top7 communities of 2013 have made innovation – based on information and communications technology –the cornerstone of their economies and fostered economic growth through high-quality employment, while increasing the quality of life of their citizens,” said Lou Zacharilla, ICF co-founder in announcing the list at the Pacific Telecommunications Council’s annual conference (PTC’13) in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

The ICF 2013 Top7 are:

  • Columbus, USA
  • Oulu, Finland
  • Stratford, Canada
  • Taichung City, Taiwan
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Taoyuan County, Taiwan
  • Toronto, Canada

Economic uncertainty tops the list of concerns for many global communities, The International Labour Organization notes in a January 2013 report that global unemployment was on the rise again in 2012 and forecast it will likely continue to rise in 2013 through to 2017. The Top7 demonstrate what can be accomplished by embracing information and communications technology to power growth, address social challenges and preserve and promote culture.

Among Top7 accomplishments: Columbus created 29,000 new jobs in the last two years, while Oulu created 18,000 new technology jobs in the last five years. Taichung City uses ICT to help farmers boost yields and the city’s shared cloud-based system enables small firms to reduce production costs and time to market. Tallinn has expanded an industrial park by 50 per cent to 250 companies – making it the largest knowledge-based development in the Baltic region. Toronto has the largest urban renewal project currently in development in North America: Waterfront Toronto. This new community will provide Internet at 500 times the speed of conventional residential networks, a foundation that will propel Toronto to the upper levels of intelligent communities.

The ICF awards program concludes in New York City in June 2013 during ICF’s annual Summit, where one of the Top7 will succeed Riverside, California, as 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year.

The Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year

The following communities, drawn from the Smart21 of 2013, were named to the Top7 on January 23, 2013, by a team of independent academic experts:

Columbus, Ohio, USA. With an economically and racially diverse population, the city trails the US average in terms of per capita income, but has America’s highest concentration of Fortune 1000 companies per capita. The city has led in job creation over the past decade adding 15,000 net new jobs while much of the rest of the state has struggled with industrial decline and home foreclosures. Being the state capital has helped, but the success of Columbus has been forged through collaboration among city government, academic institutions, businesses and nonprofits. Government has reduced spending in the recession but also raised taxes to fund development. That includes investments in workforce development to meet the needs of advanced manufacturing, logistics and information technology companies. Business and institutional leaders have created nonprofits that engage in downtown development, education, healthcare and cultural projects. Columbus has traditionally struggled to commercialize technologies created in its schools and universities, but a public-private venture called TechColumbus is working effectively to leverage the region’s research and technology assets into startup companies. Ohio State University has re-energized its technology transfer office and holds monthly forms for entrepreneurs, while joining forces with Ohio University to create a venture capital fund. Manufacturing remains challenged: regional employment in that sector declined 30% from 2001 to 2011. But manufacturing productivity has increased 43% per employee and the region is seeing a dramatic rise in job openings for advanced manufacturing, automation, electronics, robotics and industrial design. Columbus is also reaching out to neighboring municipalities, including previous Top7 community Dublin OH, to collaborate on building a broadband ecosystem serving the entire region. Having added 29,000 jobs from 2010 to 2012, the Columbus metro region is one of few old industrial regions to reverse a “brain drain” and show net in-migration for the first time in decades.

Oulu, Finland. The mobile communications business has been good to Oulu, and the mobile business has become a threat to its future. This former industrial city 200 km south of the Arctic Circle built a tech-based economy in the Eighties around the Nokia Research Center and numerous small-to-midsize enterprises (SMEs) specializing in mobile technologies, many located at the Oulu Technology Park. The “Nokia risk” as Oulu’s leaders called it, materialized in the new century as the company failed to adapt to the rise of the smartphone and began to downsize its operations. Yet Oulu has created 18,000 new high-tech jobs since 2007, thanks to a decades-old culture of public-private collaboration and its many high-quality educational institutions, including the University of Oulu with its 16,000 students. The city has built ICT assets such as the PanOULU free wireless network – created by merging Wi-Fi infrastructure from 17 organizations to serve 25,000 users per month – and an e-government Web portal for citizens. In collaboration with the university and business, it has fostered multiple R&D institutes from the Center for Internet Excellence to Oulu Living Labs, where a broad range of technologies are researched and developed before being tested by residents who volunteer their time and expertise. The city’s 2007-13 Innovation Strategy stresses the importance of human enthusiasm as a source of innovation. The strategy rests on several key assumptions: that the region has ambitious businesses, that opportunities will arise from connecting them with the potential of the global market, and that services will gain an increasing role in economic growth. But there is another assumption that distinguishes Oulu from many other places. It is that citizens of all ages should be involved in business and institutional innovation. Whatever the fortunes of its biggest mobile technology employer, Oulu is determined to be a quiet leader in the technologies that will shape our century.

Stratford, Canada. At the turn of the new century, Stratford had a reputation for being quaint, cultured, out-of-the-way, home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and a 90-minute drive from Toronto, the business capital of eastern Canada. In fact, Stratford had always been an industrial town as well as an agricultural center. Strategic planning, beginning in 1997, has focused preserving Stratford’s enviable quality of life, while leveraging ICT to transform its economy. For the past 15 years, a team led by Mayor Dan Mathieson has executed on that strategy with great intensity. The city-owned utility has built out a 70 km open access fiber network with a WiFi overlay and signed sales agreements with commercial carriers to deliver triple-play and mobile services. The network enabled the Festival to significantly expand its online marketing and plays a key role in the city’s tourism strategy, which builds on the Festival’s reputation to attract “foodies,” cyclists and other target groups throughout the year. At the same time, the city has used the network to slash its own telecom costs and power a smart meter program. Adopting the triple-helix approach to innovation, it has turned Stratford into a test bed for technology pilots for such companies as Toshiba, Research in Motion and Cisco as well as for institutions including Clemson University and the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo), springboard for Canada’s tech industry. Digital media, however, is at the core of its strategy: the city persuaded UWaterloo to open a campus in Stratford with the support of OpenText Corp. offer graduate and undergraduate studies and foster a startup culture in the city. The near-death of the North American auto industry pushed unemployment in Stratford to 7.9 per cent as the city lost 1,600 mostly low-skilled jobs in manufacturing. But in that same era, the city also gained 700 jobs requiring ICT skills and has recently seen the revival of the local automotive industry create a labor shortage for the higher-skilled manufacturing jobs it retains. For an economy in transition, the business trends in Stratford offer validation that the city is on the right track.

Taichung City, Taiwan. When the city and county of Taichung merged in 2010, a huge metropolis uniting completely different economies was created. The united Taichung included a major seaport city, where 70 per cent of employees work in services, and a rural county, where only 50 per cent work in industry, and agriculture is a significant source of income. Yet, the city’s leadership, under Mayor Chih-Chiang (Jason) Hu, was determined to create a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. The city and telecom companies partnered to create thousands of WiFi hotspots, fiber-based broadband and 4G WiMAX now reaching more than 90 per cent of the population. Through imaginative applications developed by public-private partnership, ICT has become a driver of greater global competitiveness. The backbone of Taichung’s manufacturing economy is a network of 1,500 precision machinery makers and tens of thousands of SME suppliers. Smaller companies now benefit from a shared, cloud-based ERP system that reduces purchasing costs and time-to-market. An RFID system at the port automates the clearing of shipping containers for exit, slashing the time trucks spend idling at the gate. Taichung is also helping farmers apply ICT to improve yields and profitability, while expanding international markets. To power this new economy, the city and its 17 colleges have created a truly lifelong learning system ranging from basic digital education and vocational training to advanced study and continuous skills improvement. Taichung is aggressively pursuing industrial clustering through development of the Central Taiwan Technology Corridor, which combines science parks, precision manufacturing parks and software parks to give physical shape to its global ambitions.

Tallinn, Estonia. Estonia saw a major boom from 2004 to 2007, as loan capital poured in from Scandinavian countries. The country’s rise from Soviet occupation, beginning in 1991, had been miraculous, but the wave of investment was more than the market could usefully absorb. When the financial crisis came, it hit Estonia and its principal city of Tallinn very hard. Several thousand companies went bankrupt and layoffs, particularly of the low-skilled, rose into the tens of thousands. Yet beneath the froth, Tallinn has put into place the foundations of ICT-based growth and generating a strong comeback. Tallinn’s first wave of IT industry growth was driven by national government spending on an amazing range of e-government applications. Its return to growth has a more sustainable basis in education and entrepreneurship. With 23 universities and technical schools, Tallinn has the resources for a knowledge workforce: it has focused now on expanding access and filling demand for ICT and digital content skills. From 2007 to 2011, Tallinn Technical University doubled participation in lifelong learning programs. The city is expanding public access computer sites and training programs for the disconnected, while a public-private project called EstWin will extend 100 Mbps broadband throughout Estonia by 2015. To support local startups and attract talent from beyond Estonia’s borders, Tallinn and its educational and business partners have launched multiple incubators targeting creative services, medical and biotech, mechatronics and ICT. Europe’s first gaming accelerator opened in Tallinn this year, and its Ülemiste City industrial estate is expanding 50 per cent to house 250 companies, making it the Baltics’ biggest knowledge-based development. When the 2008 global economic crisis struck, Tallinn moved fast to launch aid packages to get residents and companies through the bad times with their skills and ambitions intact. The value of the city’s short-term response and its long-term strategy will be proven in coming years.

Taoyuan County, Taiwan. Home to the international airport serving Taipei, Taoyuan County is an industrial powerhouse, with more than 24 industrial parks, 44,000 companies and 10,000 factories. Its employers are strong in logistics, aviation technology, semiconductors and opto-electronics as well as automotive accessories, textiles and foods. The County is also home to 15 colleges and universities, which graduates 25,000 students every year. With the youngest population in Taiwan, the county’s continuing challenge is to ensure that its residents have the skills employers need and that they can prosper in a global market, where change is the only certainty. The County manages a massive effort connecting job seekers with job opportunities, from employment offices to recruitment events, to fill hundreds of thousands of job opportunities opening yearly. To upgrade the skills of traditional industrial workers and the unemployed, vocational training as well as a range of digital literacy programs for all ages is offered locally. A new e-learning portal aims to provide every citizen a customized learning environment. In 2011, the county introduced English instruction in first grade in its public schools to ensure that young people are fluent in the international language of business. Taoyuan has also successfully encouraged business and universities to establish research institutions and incubation centers to drive fundamental research and commercialize new developments. Broadband underpins this range of developments: the county has built an open-access conduit network for private carriers as well as a chain of WiFi hotspots. And to build awareness of Taoyuan industries, the county has created a “Made in Taoyuan” brand, which it promotes to its own citizens as well as to markets throughout Asia.

Toronto, Canada. Canada’s largest city and financial capital, as well as the political capital of the Province of Ontario, Toronto is one of the world’s more successful places, but it is also challenged to maintain its edge. The city has become the nation’s most expensive and is experiencing an immigration-driven population surge that is expected to boost its population by 50 per cent in less than 20 years. This growth is already straining transportation systems: Toronto commuters travel longer round trips than any other commuters in the world. The city, provincial and Federal governments are addressing these challenges with a development strategy stressing ICT, environmental sustainability and innovation. A key component is Waterfront Toronto, North America’s largest urban renewal project, which is transforming a vast brownfield zone at the edge of Lake Ontario into a new city center with 40,000 residential units, one million sq. meters of commercial space and 300 hectares of parks. A new center for knowledge industries in North America’s third-largest knowledge economy, it will be served by a 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-premise network and integrate green technologies and practices into every aspect of its design and operations. But Waterfront Toronto is only the most ambitious of a range of programs that seek to keep the city’s edge sharp. Five universities have evolved specialized programs in computer science and digital media as well as a graduate program that looks broadly at the power of ICT to drive economic, social and cultural change. The MaRS Discovery District, George Brown College Gaming Incubator, Center for Global eHealth Innovation and Fashion Incubator have become “factories” for generating, incubating and accelerating innovative new businesses. From Internet access and training in public libraries to a kids@computers program that funds technology for low-income families, Toronto is working to extend the benefits of its success to every part of society. In the process, it is preparing citizens and businesses to compete and win in a global market.

Profiles of the Top7 are available in the Awards section of the ICF Web site. Their full stories will be told, and lessons drawn for communities around the world, in ICF’s next book, to be published in September 2013.

About Intelligent Community Forum

The Intelligent Community Forum seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of what it calls “the Broadband Economy” by conducting research, hosting events, publishing books and newsletters and producing its high profile international awards program. ICF’s mission to make “place” align with prosperity has drawn the attention of global leaders and thinkers everywhere. The ICF Foundation consists of over 100 communities, cities and regions that have been globally designated as Intelligent Communities and which participate in an ongoing dialogue to strengthen local economies. For more information, go to www.intelligentcommunity.org.

Intelligent Community Forum Contacts

Lou Zacharilla
Co-Founder Intelligent Community Forum
Phone: 917-715-0711
Email: lzacharilla@intelligentcommunity.org

Paul Brent
Senior Communications Specialist
market2world communications inc.
Phone: 613-256-3939
Email: paul@market2world.com

Director of Operations, Intelligent Community Forum

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