Defiance is a small town about two hours’ drive west of Columbus, founded around the site of Fort Defiance, which was built in 1794. Fort Defiance was crucial to the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers that secured the U.S. territory that became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The city’s location at the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize Rivers made it an important trade center historically before being bypassed by railroads during the 19th century. Today, this post-industrial site lies at the heart of what was once called the Buckeye Corridor – now part of a major high-tech manufacturing corridor known as ‘the Silicon Valley North.’ The region’s economy has been transformed since the 1970s when American car manufacturers began investing heavily there and attracted thousands of Japanese immigrants to work in their factories. Over time, that workforce required more skills than the local schools could provide, so Defiance established a public college. This is just one example of how Defiance managed to thrive amid waves of change and continues to work toward diversifying and strengthening its economy and culture in the 21st century.
Connecting and Empowering Digitally Savvy Citizens
Defiance has been involved in several broadband initiatives, such as the Ohio Middle Mile Consortium (OMMC), aimed at expanding fiber optic infrastructure and increasing broadband accessibility for rural and underserved areas. Through these efforts, the city has secured federal funding for broadband expansion and is currently working on installing over 70 miles of fiber optic cable within the city and surrounding areas. The increased broadband access in Defiance has already spurred business growth and attracted new industries. Better connectivity has also opened the door for remote work opportunities, allowing Defiance residents to access high-paying jobs without leaving their community. As the city continues to invest in broadband infrastructure, The city plans to continue investing in broadband infrastructure going forward, aiming to provide benefits such as improved educational resources, enhanced telemedicine services and greater access to digital tools and resources for businesses and individuals alike.
To properly make use of increasing connectivity, the city has partnered with local organizations like the Defiance Public Library, Defiance College and Northwest State Community College to offer digital literacy programs that cater to people of all ages and skill levels. These programs cover a wide range of topics, from basic computer skills and internet safety to advanced software applications and coding. The Defiance Public Library, for instance, hosts regular workshops and training sessions on topics like using Microsoft Office, navigating social media platforms and leveraging digital tools for job searches. Meanwhile, Defiance College and Northwest State Community College provide specialized courses and certifications in fields like cybersecurity, data analytics and web development, helping residents gain the skills needed to excel in high-demand tech jobs.
Fostering Technological and Agricultural Innovation
In 2016, the City of Defiance launched an initiative to establish a commercial/industrial business park, resulting in the creation of the Harmon Business Park in mid-2019. The park's development was made possible through collaboration among state, county and city governments, the Northeastern Local School District and the ProMedica organization, which purchased bonds to finance the project. MetaLINK Technologies installed fiber optic cable to the park, demonstrating their commitment to deploying innovative broadband technologies in Northwest Ohio. As of 2021, the Harmon Business Park is under construction with an 80,000 SF spec building, a new roadway and detention facilities.
While the city is working to build a new innovation ecosystem, agriculture is still the most important industry in the area, accounting for 72% of all land use. Northwest Ohio’s geography includes the Maumee River and its seven sub-basins that drain into Lake Erie, all of which contribute to algae blooms. Nutrient loading from extreme weather events and other factors affects water quality. Balancing agricultural employment and manufacturing jobs is a governance and policy challenge, with training and retaining a skilled workforce at the intersection of agriculture and technology as a top strategic priority.
To take on these challenges, Defiance took a leadership position in the NIST Smart and Sustainable Cities cluster and began developing a partnership with the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN). The city aims to overcome barriers to adopting nutrient control technologies and adapt to a rapidly changing future with smart agriculture. Attending an event in Dublin, Ohio inspired Defiance's leadership to focus on smart water and agriculture's impact on sustainable development from regional and global perspectives. The city’s annual Career Fair and College Day initiative emphasizes the importance of meeting these challenges and leveraging broadband and technology's transformative potential. The most recent Career Fair and College Day hosted 600 students, 70 colleges and 22 employers.
Championing Environmental Stewardship
Defiance is deeply committed to protecting and preserving its natural resources, recognizing the importance of sustainability for both the environment and the local economy. The city has developed an Integrated Watershed Improvement Plan (IWIP) that outlines strategies for managing its water resources, including the Maumee and Auglaize Rivers, in a sustainable and responsible manner. The IWIP focuses on issues such as stormwater management, water quality and habitat restoration and protection.
Through the IWIP, the city has implemented various projects and initiatives aimed at improving water quality and reducing the impact of flooding. These efforts include the installation of rain gardens and bioswales, the restoration of native plant species along riverbanks and the implementation of best management practices for agriculture and industry. The city also works closely with regional partners, such as the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District and the Smart Lake Erie project, to coordinate and collaborate on watershed management efforts. Defiance uses real-time data monitoring to make informed decisions on capital improvement projects and has formed partnerships with universities, non-profits and watershed groups to advance water quality initiatives. The city is also part of the Great Lakes Smart and Sustainable Cities Cluster, which aims to use digital solutions for improving water quality.
Defiance has excelled well beyond what its size as a small city would indicate by harnessing and protecting its natural resources and engaging its community via education and online connectivity.