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Tuesday, October 20, 2015
The Building on Bobcat Way

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifWell, here we go: another Smart21 announcement day approaches, and a new group of communities – cities, towns and regions representing millions of people – will prove yet again that the future belongs to places that we may have once thought were extinct or in great danger of perishing. 

It is poetically appropriate that our announcement will take place in Dublin, Ohio at the brand new Dublin Integration Education Center, home to Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions.  The DIEC is one of many new buildings that houses universities and educational institutions on or near its location, 6805 Bobcat Way.  City Manager Dana McDaniel and his talented team of planners and developers have created new, fertile ground for the most critical raw material of the Intelligent Community movement: human capital. Ohio University is joined by other colleges and “intellectual services” providers to create a new factory floor for the knowledge work required to shape its future.  Dublin, which already boasts having more Fortune 1000 companies than any city in the USA on a per capita basis, and was a three-time Top7 Intelligent Community, will create more gazelles on Bobcat way as time moves on.

So it is appropriate that our Smart21 Announcement is taking place here.  After all, bobcats have been hunted extensively for sport and fur, yet their population has proven resilient.  They are like some of the cities and towns that will be called out at 4:00 PM (EST) on 21 October.  You can watch them be named live and countdown with the rest of the world at: http://globalinstitute.dublinohiousa.gov/

The Smart21 Announcement will follow a day-long session to begin the formation of the ICF’s newest global Institute, which will also be housed in Dublin.  Our program will be a live, transparent and unpredictable public brainstorming session, led by Dublin’s City Manager, ICF Senior Fellow Dr. Norm Jacknis, Jim Lowder of OhioHealth and the Director of Technology Solutions from the Ohio Supercomputer Center, Ray Leto, among others.  As Dana says, we will “build the plane as we fly it.” I can think of no better analogy for the creative age that is upon us.  Our new Institute will rise in accordance with ideas that are yet to be brought forward and will incorporate the freshest thinking in the world from among the new Smart21 as well as the current 134 communities that are designated as Intelligent Communities.  We will go from smart to Intelligent while cameras roll.  It is my kind of jazz session!  A basic line with lots of room for improvisation.

It is fitting that this new Institute and our announcement take place in Dublin, Ohio.  America’s State of Ohio has been the centerpiece for an important chapter in the global ICF story.  It is a place in that nation’s heartland which has risen and is coming back at a brisk pace. Dublin is a great story, as was Waterloo in 2007 and Stockholm of 2009; two other great stories of small cities thinking large. Dublin borders another Ohio city, Columbus, which even exceeded Dublin’s Top7 rankings and did what Waterloo and Stockholm also did.  It was named Intelligent Community of the Year in June.  (See John Jung’s previous blog on this for more thoughts.)

So this city and region, which will host our Summit in June 2016, is an example of what we have been trying to say for 20 years.  Simply put, there is no place like home, and broadband is the new railroad that brings you there. Dublin grasped this with the planning of its municipal network long ago.  Now it is doing the hard work and as you will see, doing it damn well.

You need to excavate that raw material in places like Bobcat Way, however, to get all the way home.

So let’s see at 4:00 PM (EST) tomorrow, who will be the next bobcat – a mythological creature whose growls are so deep and fearsome, they sound as if they are coming from a much bigger animal!  Let’s say that this is a fine analogy for an Intelligent Community that had been sent out to die, but refused.  See you on the livestream. 

Monday, October 19, 2015
O-H-I-O - ICF Summit to be Held in Columbus, Ohio USA - June 13-17, 2016


As we heard at the announcement of the ICF Summit in Toronto on June 11, 2015, “O-H-I-O”, representing Columbus, Ohio, was the newest Intelligent Community of the Year. The Mayor, Michael Coleman, pictured right, shot out of his seat as he and the rest of the large Columbus delegation were soon up on stage and basking in the glory of their well-deserved and long sought-after win.

But it wasn’t until now that we could announce that Columbus is the location of the second Intelligent Community Forum Summit outside of New York City, where the ICF Summit had been located since the early 2000’s. It’s actually more of a coincidence than the rule that a winning Intelligent Community of the Year will be the host of the next year’s Summit. The 2016 ICF Summit was put out to a Request for Proposals (RFP) and after negotiating with several communities around the world, Columbus came out on top as the preferred location.

Congratulations to Columbus for not only their 2016 Intelligent Community of the Year win, but also for securing the 2016 ICF Summit for June 2016!

So now what happens? Will the 2016 ICF Summit in Columbus take a completely different turn or will some of the successful elements that became part of the Toronto ICF Summit in 2015 become part of an annual ritual? Only Columbus knows for sure.

But ICF Co-Founders have ensured that some of the key elements that are core to the Summit remain the same. So be sure to come for the Economic Development Match-making session, the Top 7 Reception and the Intelligent Community of the Year (ICY) Announcement and of course the Summit speakers, ICF Masterclass and so forth from June 14 -16. But as in Toronto, I understand that Columbus will have some special surprises for those that come a bit early or want to participate in Columbus after the main ICF ICY announcement. We are all looking forward to their plans and special opportunities to explore and learn more about their wonderful Intelligent Community.

In some future blogs we will detail more information about what to expect at the 2016 ICF Summit Masterclass or the Economic Development Matchmaking Session at the Summit.

So pencil in, - no put it in large magic marker – to be in Columbus from June 13-17!  And while you are at it, why not visit Columbus’ and Ohio’s terrific tourism opportunities (http://www.experiencecolumbus.com) on the weekend before and after the ICF Summit. I plan to!

All aboard. Next stop – O-H-I-O! Columbus that is…

Thursday, October 15, 2015
Looking Forward: The Digital Imperative of Rural Libraries

The maker movement is one of the hottest trends in the public library world. Maker spaces in libraries have the latest in 3D printing technology, digital media tools and other tools for the creative person who wants to make things. These are full-fledged STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts and math) labs.

As you might expect, there are maker spaces somewhere in most major urban and suburban libraries.

But what is perhaps surprising and intriguing is the growth of maker spaces in small towns and rural areas — and why maker spaces are especially needed in those places and why those areas are fertile ground for maker spaces.

The countryside is known for the mechanical skills of many of its residents. Perhaps these skills were developed in response to distance from major service hubs and the necessity to keep farm and household equipment going.

For at least the last ten years, much traditional mechanical equipment has become computerized. And engines have become more reliable. So mechanical skills just aren’t as useful anymore.

Or maybe they are. That is what I think has caught the attention of rural librarians. Leah Hamilton, the manager of the Phelps Library in a small upstate New York town that had one of the first makerspaces in the USA, puts it this way:

“The library is a place for idea-sharing, … Our region has a wealth of manufacturing industries, and these businesses require well-trained, highly qualified employees. … We can provide the tools for inspiration of invention and the betterment of people’s livelihoods.”

Considering their limited budgets, it’s amazing how many of these libraries in rural areas have built makerspaces.

These are in small towns in Wisconsin, with populations well under 10,000 residents, like Sauk City’s 3D printer or Lomira’s MediaLab. They’re in the old, but small (population 12,000), city of Beaufort, South Carolina.

A couple of years ago, the Idaho Commission for Libraries began its “Make It At The Library” project, a network of makerspaces in small libraries across the state.

There are small and rural libraries with makerspaces arising in places as widespread as MaineMontanaNew Mexicosmall town New JerseyCanada and as far as the United Kingdom and New Zealand!

As interesting as the adoption of makerspaces is, it is part of a larger picture about the technology and leadership role of libraries in small towns and rural areas.

A few months ago, Professor Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University and Professor Colin Rhinesmith of the University of Oklahoma published interested research that dealt with another part of this larger picture:

“Rural libraries have long been a crucial part of the small-town way of life … Now we’ve found through a new study that rural libraries may also provide another important benefit: They may increase local rates of household broadband adoption.
Our study found that, even after controlling for other things that likely influence broadband adoption (such as levels of income, education, and age), an additional library in a rural county was associated with higher residential broadband adoption rates … libraries were the only type of ‘community anchor institution’ to show any kind of relationship.”

Whether it is makerspaces or enabling necessary connections to the global Internet, these rural libraries are playing the role that all libraries should — fulfilling their potential as the central institution in a digital world and a knowledge economy.

Thursday, October 8, 2015
The Countryside is Doomed to Decline? Eersel Begs to Differ.

The countryside is in trouble.  You know it.  I know it.  The United Nations says so.  The share of the world’s population living in the countryside is shrinking as megacities grow.  Opportunities for education and employment are shrinking with it, forcing bright kids to leave town to pursue their ambitions.  The tax base erode, schools consolidate, services falter and stores close.  


There’s just one problem with this picture.  As George Gershwin so famously put it, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

There are places in the countryside giving birth to a new economic model.  I was in one last week – and there I exactly saw how information and communications technology (ICT), plus a dose of vision, ambition and hard work, can get the countryside growing again.   

Eersel, Netherlands, is a rural city of 18,000. "City" may be a bit misleading, since it actually consists of six rural villages that share a municipal government. Like many rural places, it is spacious and beautiful, and its biggest industries are agriculture and tourism.  But that is about where the resemblance to everyplace else ends. 

97% Broadband Coverage in the Countryside

A Dutch broadband pioneer, Kees Rovers, has led the city in rolling out fiber to the premise to fill the gaps left by private-sector telcos and cable companies.  The capital comes from government grants, but property owners contribute as well to the costs of the last mile, and strong take-up produces positive cash flow.  Through this effort, Eersel has already reached 97% coverage at fiber speeds, and they are now working on in-fill of the last (and most expensive) 3%.   At age 70, Kees is a serial broadband champion, having led the unique fiber network deployment in Nuenen, Netherlands that contributed to Eindhoven’s selection as the 2011 Intelligent Community of the Year.    

That connectivity is being put to good use.  On the farm of Jacob van der Borne, you can see something called “precision farming” at its most advanced. Jacob and his brother have assembled it all from scratch, combining imagery from satellites and drones (they run a small fleet of them) with hands-on soil testing and obsessive measurement how much they harvest.  The result is an incredibly detailed digital map of the land they farm, with the potential yield of each square meter carefully plotted.  (See his entertaining video on YouTube.)    

The map, in turn, is used to guide planting, irrigating and spraying machines with the goal of giving each square meter exactly what it requires.  If the soil is relatively poor, plants are spaced farther apart.  In rich soils, they are bunched closer.  Irrigation, fertilizers and chemicals are applied in the smallest possible amounts only where conditions justify it.  

Overall yields are up 20% over pre-digital days, and they run the farm with just three hired hands. That means higher profit, and the brothers van der Borne plough their profits into better technology and that most traditional of farm supplies, manure. One investment will help them continue to monitor and respond better to their farm. The other will enrich square meters that they believe should be producing more.

The Booming Business of Agriculture

Drive to a different rural village, and you come to the 30,000 m2 headquarters of the Vencomatic Group. This zero-energy smart building is solar-powered, airtight and incredibly efficient. It is also shaped, from the air, like an egg – I will explain why in a moment. Its construction involved taking over part of a neighboring pond used by a local fishing club. So carefully did the company handle the consultation with the club and the subsequent construction that club members came to the opening of the building and thanked the company’s founder, Cor van de Ven, for keeping his promises to them.

Now, about that egg shape. Vencomatic makes groundbreaking nesting and feedings systems that automate raising of poultry and collection of eggs The chickens run free instead of being penned in cages, but do so within an automated “jungle gym” that provides them with food and water, routes eggs to a conveyer for removal and clears waste. The system isn’t cheap, and it is only by significantly boosting the efficiency of the farming operation that they can make a sale.

They make more than a few. This private company tucked into rural Holland has 350 employees and offices in Spain, Brazil, China and Malaysia. Its systems are sold from South Korea to West Africa, and they demonstrate how expertise specific to the countryside can achieve a global market.

When you hear talk about the “innovation economy,” you probably think of urban Creative Class types in black jeans or apps developers in T-shirts and hoodies. You think of people in the countryside being left behind. It may be time for a change of view. Places like Eersel prove that, given the right infrastructure and people, they can create an economy as dynamic and attractive as the biggest city. Through ICT, they can have the prosperity they need without surrendering the peace and beauty they already own.

Monday, October 5, 2015
The Countryside is 33% Closer to Being Connected


We launched our New Connected Countryside crowdfunding campaign last week and I am pleased to report that we are already at 33% of our goal with 55 days left to go.  We really appreciate the early signs of support – but we need much more.

Funding this project will let us create an online platform where rural community leaders, residents, institutions and businesses from around the world can connect, exchange advice, share resources and build a global network of peers. 

 Year round, they will share their discoveries, their successes, failures and lessons learned with each other.    Once each year, they will come together for a Virtual Summit featuring mayors, CAOs and CIOs, county executives, technologists, educators, investors and all the other players in the new rural economy.  We plan to have simultaneous events in dozens of communities around the world, connected by the online platform and addressing the same set of topics together.  

Please take a moment to check it out at www.connectedcountryside.com.  If you like what you see, make a contribution.  We offer rewards for your generosity at a wide range of donation levels.   In any case, share the news among your colleagues and friends and give them a chance to support this vital work. 

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