The 22,000 people of Hudson live in a green stretch of the state of Ohio midway between the cities of Cleveland and Akron. Despite the major industrial disruptions of the last 40 years, the region is relatively prosperous. Its economy rests on a mix of manufacturing (polymers, automotive, fabricated metals, electrical and electronic parts and aerospace) and services (transportation, health, insurance, banking, finance and retail). Such name-brand companies as Goodyear, Bridgestone, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, Allstate Insurance and JP Morgan Chase have headquarters or major facilities there.
Within the region, Hudson is a prosperous suburban city that provides talent to the region's many employers. Its population is highly educated, with 68% of residents over age 25 holding a bachelor's degree or higher, and relatively young, with a median age of 39. Median household income is in the six figures. Its downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. But like Intelligent Communities everywhere, it is a place in transition from one economy to the next. Hudson seeks to secure its future at a time when smaller communities without a distinct competitive advantage are seeing their human, economic and cultural assets drained away by bigger places.
In late 2015, Hudson began construction of the Velocity Broadband Network. That milestone was the end of one journey and the beginning of another. As internet access became essential to businesses, the city began hearing more and more complaints about lack of reliable, affordable connectivity. The largest companies in town could afford dedicated high-capacity service but small-to-midsize companies – the backbone of employment everywhere – could not. A survey of residents and businesses in 2015 made clear that coverage, speed, performance and reliability were a big issue. Some business people reported regularly leaving town for a café with internet access because their own service was so undependable.
The city first tried to interest ISPs in upgrading their infrastructure but the proposals from providers were inadequate and expensive. It pitched potential private-sector partners on buying capacity on an open-access network to be capitalized by the city. The response was tepid. Finally, City Council agreed to become a retail service provider. It made a US$3.3 million internal loan so that its IT department could expand the fiber network already used by government to serve the business community.
Today, Velocity Broadband offers business customers a symmetrical 100x100 Mbps service with capability up to 10 Gbps. More than 150 business customers subscribe to internet service and voice-over-internet-protocol telephone, producing revenues that exceed operating costs. In addition to satisfying existing users, Hudson has seen direct impact on business attraction. For the previous ten years, one of the city's primary business parks had only one tenant. Since Velocity Broadband started service, the park has added five new buildings and is close to being fully occupied.
Center for Innovation and Creativity
An educated population tends to demand much from its educational institutions. In 2010, Hudson was named as one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People by an organization called America's Promise. The award was based on work that began in the 1990s to combat drug use and drive down the dropout rate by providing additional educational and cultural opportunities.
Today, the Hudson City Schools are part of the Six District Compact, a partnership of neighboring school districts, which lets students enroll in two-year higher education programs that earn college credit or provide a pathway directly from high school into employment. Vocational courses range from automotive to cosmetology, and STEM offerings as diverse as coding and robotics lead to the awarding of Microsoft and Cisco certifications. A 1-to-1 Chromebook program has equipped all students in grades 3-12 with a free laptop, and also paid for a professional Technology Coordinator to manage the project. The same funding includes support and incentives for teachers to become certified as Google Educators. This mix of technology, training and train-the-trainer programs is a fundamental building block of the knowledge workforce. In 2016, a private secondary school, Western Reserve Academy, opened the Center of Technology, Innovation and Creativity with funding from a local foundation. In the 6,000-square-foot (557 m2) collaborative makerspace, students pursue their own projects and partner with local businesses to design, engineer and create products, beginning with banners and T-shirts and advancing to custom-branded gift items. The Center expected to offset 100% of its operating costs through such projects by the end of 2017.
Innovation does not, however, stop with the Academy's students. The Center has invited public schools to explore the facility and hosted a Digital Fabrication Camp for younger students. A 2017 gift to the school made it possible for students from rural, disadvantaged Ohio towns to spend three weeks of learning and exploration at the Center and to board at the Academy.
Engaging the Community
Hudson's economic development leadership discovered in 2017 that a highly valuable asset was hiding in plain sight. The city is home to nearly 80 Chairs, CEOs and founders of major corporations, universities and nonprofits in the region. To put that talent to work, the city and Hudson Community Foundation established the Business Leader Advisory Board, which meets biannually to prioritize opportunities arising from Velocity Broadband and other developments, and to act throughout the year as advocates for the city beyond its borders. Still in the early stage at the time of this report, the Board provides to Hudson the kind of expertise, insight and leadership access normally available only in a major city.
Another program, Leadership Hudson, introduces its citizen participants to local leaders in government, business and the community, and offers training in leadership. In addition to valuable networking and leadership development, the program offers each class the chance to develop a unique project to benefit the community. In 2014, the Leadership Hudson class partnered with the city-owned electric utility to install a Solar Education Center, complete with solar panels, at the Barlow Community Center. The class raised money for the project from local foundations, businesses and social organizations, as well as a crowdfunding effort that contributed 10% of the total raised. The money went to build a system with 55 roof-mounted and 10 ground-level solar panels, which now provide half the building's electricity and will save the city $100,000 in the next 25 years while reducing carbon emissions by 40 tons per year. Next on the agenda of the Solar Education Center is engagement with local schools to use data generated by the solar installation in STEM programs and in the Green Cup Energy Challenge, a national competition that engages more than 300 schools each year.
Getting Out of the Way of Progress
City government is making its own contribution to progress by identifying processes that stand in the way of economic growth. The city manager introduced a Continuous Improvement initiative in 2016, and one of its first projects involved the permitting process for residential, commercial and industry construction. It was locally famous for its length and cumbersome procedures: a typical residential application took 11.5 days to process and involved 45 separate steps.
The Continuous Improvement team conducted a week of exhaustive interviews with employees and analyzed the steps in the workflow. At the end of the review, the team proposed to junk the existing software system in favor of a user-friendly online interface that could accept credit card transactions and would drastically reduce the number of steps. As just one example, residents wanting to add a window or fence to their property typically waited one week for approval, a process that involved a formal review board. The new system let residents apply for and receive approval in hours without ever leaving home. That residential application requiring 11.5 days and 45 steps was reduced to 2.5 days and 13 steps, and similar gains were made on commercial and industrial applications.
The leaders of Hudson understand the privileges that come with its position as a home for well-educated, well-paid residents working at companies throughout the region. Hudson's citizens already tend to be on the winning side of the transition to a digitally-powered economy – but the city is not one to take its current success for granted. Ambitious programs in broadband, education, economic and community development provide a pathway to a stronger economy and more engaged society for all Hudsonians.