|Monday, May 5, 2014|
|How One Man Set Out to Build a Creative Economy – and Did|
Twenty years ago, the Walla Walla High School hired a consultant named Dennis DeBroeck to install computers and a network in the school. They wound up hiring him full-time – not to manage IT but to teach it in vocational education classes for students who were not expected to go to university.
When he started his first class, there were no computers for the students to work with. But Dennis had built his own small businesses, so he did not wait for the bureaucracy to deliver but borrowed, built and scrounged to provide. He started with a course in basic computer science but soon grew dissatisfied with teaching theory to young people who needed and wanted to get elbow deep into something they could care about.
Computer science soon evolved into hands-on digital media: modeling of objects, animals and people in three dimensions, texturizing the models to make them realistic, animating them and building simulations and games around them. He negotiated cheap licensing deals with the major providers of digital animation and game software and kept expanding his offerings. He built his own network, because the school’s could not possibly support his students’ needs, and assembled terabytes of server storage.
Today, Mr. DeBroeck teaches an exhausting schedule of one-hour classes for a total of 148 students. His technology budget - $500 last year – has shrunk to zero. But he has the air of a happy man. His students work hard, with more experienced students helping others over the hurdles. You can raise your hand to ask Mr. DeBroeck a question, but his standard answer is to tell you to check the online manuals and figure it out. Some kids struggle more than others, but they all learn the lesson most fundamental to success: in the end, you are your own best teacher.
His method appears to work. His past graduates work in senior positions through the entertainment industry, and his more recent grads are leaving town for media arts programs at prestigious universities, arriving there with many times the hard-core production experience of most incoming freshmen.
Walla Walla, a 2014 Smart21 Community of 30,000 people in the southeast corner of Washington State, is now trying to figure out how to forge a creative economy that can generate local opportunities for all this talent. ICF is helping with strategy and capacity-building through our Community Accelerator program. A development economist named Chris Mefford is creating a business plan for an incubator to help young people from DeBroeck’s program and the city’s award-winning community college to start and grow their own businesses. Broadband providers are collaborating on strengthening the digital infrastructure of the town. The Chamber of Commerce is working to interest a digital entertainment company to locate a studio in the city, where an outstanding quality of life is a major benefit.
It is still early days – but they are doing all the things it takes to build a digital economy on top of their successful agricultural one. I believe in patterns. The patterns I see in Walla Walla are those of an Intelligent Community getting ready for take-off.
They also have one more thing going for them. They have Mr. DeBroeck.
He teaches technology, sure. Many of his students are the kids that nobody expects to finish high school. Whatever their talents and potential, they learn something far more important from him than digital media. It is printed right on a sticker that he hands out to every new student. “Do right,” it says. “do your best” and “show people you care.”
|Monday, April 28, 2014|
|Broadband and the Human Factor|
Since 1999 I have been working for the Intelligent Community movement to pass the point of asking whether broadband is “important” and turn to a more holistic discussion about what has always been, for me, the most interesting aspect of my work. That is, to use the tools of the “Broadband Economy” to unleash a revived global economy. I believe this is only done through a re-energized community, which is the only place where enough innovation can take place for a real transformation to begin. That is ICF’s proposition. To use broadband seamlessly, without the techno babble, and to organize communities in ways that make them canvases for economic and social innovations.
As I completed my Top7 site visits this Spring, done in a year when our theme was “Community as Canvas,” I realized that the longed-for threshold is being crossed. What I found consistently among the Top7 that I visited, despite vast differences in economic might, politics and scale, was that broadband is viewed as a vital tool for connecting culture to the economy, and for allowing ambitious social and economic goals to be pursued. In the case of Kingston, Canada, for example it has the ambition to become Canada’s Most Sustainable City. Only a broadband network will provide the type of infrastructure to unleash its growing incubation and commercialization of applied sciences in the area of GreenTech.
For the vast majority of our Intelligent Communities, especially the Top7 who have been invited to New York in June, a “broadband and the light switch analogy” apply. While the linear-minded marvel over technology and its devices for their own sake, the poetry is in what they enable. A geek drools over a device or an assurance that “you will have a fast broadband connection.” But isn’t that like marveling over the way the lights come on in a room when the wall switch is flicked? While it is marvelous, and should be appreciated, no one spends a hell of a lot time discussing electricity. What is more important is what happens under those lights in that room. Kingston has a goal and broadband is the train they ride to get there, not the destination itself.
The light has gone on for the Top7, who are using broadband to reach higher goals, many of them with an eye toward the future. They take a page from Google CEO Larry Page who, when asked what most companies get wrong replied, “The future. They do not look at it often enough.”
Some of the goals of the Top7 that continue to interest me the most are those which reinforce culture and universal values, and push them at the future. Culture is increasingly aligned with economic output. In Arlington, Virginia, Cultural Affairs has been moved from Parks and Recreation to the Economic Development Department, where there is an ongoing mashing, all of it policy-based, to link entrepreneurship to art and culture. Arlington has among its creative and commercial arts community a wonderful little customized sound design company called Human Factor. Among its “hits” were its production of the sound design and effects for the (USA’s) History Channel television series, “The Bible.” It is a fun company with a serious name that I am going to use when I describe why we need to get past broadband and more deeply into our other criteria.
|Tuesday, April 22, 2014|
|You are Invited!|
Business and Investment Match-Making at ICF Summit 2014
When: June 3, 2014 (12:00 Noon)
Where: Canadian Consulate – 1251 Avenue of the Americas, New York
When you attend this year’s ICF Summit in New York City, there will be a new opportunity for delegates to meet each other on June 3. The concept is well known to economic developers – business and investment matchmaking among delegates at a conference to explore mutually beneficial business opportunities. For this inaugural gathering we are inviting the Top7 Intelligent Communities to share their investment and business opportunities with each other and with other delegates at this gathering. We will be inviting the Top7 Mayors, CIOs, CAOs and Economic Development Officials, but we are also inviting their local businesses, service providers and institutions to attend and participate in the match-making sessions. This will in fact be the first activity of the Summit for the delegates – a great ice-breaker for everyone.
The match-making sessions are designed to be brief 20 minute meetings; six altogether over a two hour segment before the Annual General Meeting of the Intelligent Community Forum Foundation. There will be an opportunity to schedule a meeting and it will be posted electronically after each delegate has registered. After each 20 minute session, the tables will be alerted to shift their meetings. Some call this business “speed-dating”. Whatever it is, there will certainly be a pile of business cards exchanged and the start to one heck of a Summit.
Why meet with these 7 cities? They are among the best of the breed of Intelligent Communities from around the world for 2014. Learn about the business and investment opportunities in each Intelligent Community; what incentives are there to locate a business or to partner with local businesses? Are the costs of power advantageous? What are the labor costs and how do they compare? What shovel-ready sites are available? Are there companies in these communities with which you can partner? Are there start-ups that are looking for exit strategies? M&A anyone? Are there companies in these Top7 Intelligent Communities that are looking to export and expand into other regions? Why not into yours? If you don’t ask, you won’t get is the old adage; similarly if you don’t attend, you will miss out on these obvious opportunities.
In addition to the tables offered first for the Top7 Cities, we will have additional tables available for our sponsors to take advantage of. These will be available on a first come first served basis. Once fully subscribed we will only be able to accept a limited number of delegates to meet due to the size of the venue in New York City that is available to us. So, I recommend that you register and reserve your meeting times with the Top7 Intelligent Communities, their business partners and ICF’s sponsors. Lunch will be served courtesy of the Canadian Consulate.
For more information, or to register your table, please contact me at ICF: email@example.com
|Monday, April 7, 2014|
|What You Can Learn from the Intelligent Communities of Taiwan|
In 1950, the gross domestic product of Taiwan, measured per person, placed it squarely in the third world. In 2012, this small mountainous island of 23 million people ranked 29th in the world, ahead of France, Japan, Finland, the UK and South Korea.
How did they do it? How did they create an advanced economy that produces most of the world’s silicon chips, motherboards, laptops and tablets?
I got a first-hand look during my Top7 site visits to New Taipei City and Hsinchu City in March. I saw a culture that values hard work, education, good order and long-term investment. But the real secret, the one that the rest of us can learn from, is how government at different levels manages to be activist on the one hand and flexible on the other.
In both cities, I was exposed to national government policies that promote very specific agendas. Taiwanese Intelligent Communities have some of the most impressive digital inclusion programs in the world because the central government requires private carriers to deliver high-quality broadband even to the remote villages of this mountainous land. The national government also wants every municipality or district to cultivate a culturally unique product or service – something arising from the history of that place – whether a particular style of meatball, traditional sky lantern or museum-quality art glass. That’s smart. Specialization creates commerce: I spend money to buy your meatballs and you spend money to buy my art glass.
Taiwan’s government also thinks global. I asked the deputy director-general of Taiwan’s oldest technology center, Hsinchu Science Park, what had made his “Silicon Valley” successful while nearly every other attempt to replicate California’s success has failed. Kuan-Hsiu Hsaio gave me a very interesting answer. “We did not build a science park just for Taiwan. We built it for the world.” Hsinchu Science Park is home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, the company that invented the idea of the silicon wafer “fab,” which was spun out of a central government R&D organization.
The park is there, however, not only because of central government backing, but because Hsinchu leaped to assemble land, develop infrastructure and manage the continuing challenges of growth. And that is where the flexibility comes in. Central government policies no doubt create a lot of mandates and red tape, but the New Taiwan Buck stops at the local level. It was New Taipei City (NTC) that built the Yingge Ceramics Museum (pictured right) to help rescue a commodity ceramics industry and direct it to art and high tech production. It is NTC that organizes missions that take its ceramics artists and arts to conventions in Europe and the US to create an international brand for local products.
It is Hsinchu that devised a resident smart card that provides discounts in stores and can be loaded with money and act like a debit card in shops and transit – while capturing valuable data that helps local government plan transit routes, zoning and traffic patterns. (Mayor Hsu presented me with my own card when I visited.) It is Hsinchu that, with the help of central government training programs, guided manufacturers of glass and tile to open “tourism factories” that attract visitors and expand revenue opportunities.
What are the lessons we can take away? First of all, go to your local temple, light some incense and pray for clear, consistent and smart national policies. Second, don’t be afraid to act. When infrastructure is needed, when traditional businesses are losing ground, when cultural treasures are threatened, only local government can get it done.
|Monday, March 24, 2014|
|No Idea is Too Small and No Community Too Remote|
“No Idea is Too Small and No Community Too Remote”…With those basic ideas I began my precious 18 minutes on the stage at TEDx Pirai. They were a quick 18 minutes as TEDx events severely limit each speaker. A huge timer counts down the seconds. If you go over, it visually assaults you from the back of the room with a huge flashing sign and in front of your eyes at the base of the stage with a 64 inch screen, flashing “00.00” over and over again in different colours. There is no such thing as missing the end of your presentation. They might as well pull you off the stage with a hook. The production - yes production - not a conference- is exciting to be part of, but also intimidating. This is entertainment as much as it is a “talk”. Thank goodness I am right on time with a few seconds to spare.
I was invited to Pirai on the outskirts of Rio for this TEDx talk. Since I first came across this community over a decade ago, I had always imagined it was in the middle of a jungle. Not so. It’s a quaint town of about 25,000 inhabitants. The former Mayor, now Vice-Governor’s house, is as elegant as you would find in Westchester or even London. True; the jungle surrounds it and I could hear the unmistaken sounds of a jungle in the summertime late into the evening. It was quite peaceful, actually.
Pirai was recognized by ICF in 2005 as one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities in the world. I imagine that few people had ever heard of it before then outside of Brazil. Its small but brilliant idea of connecting a 14 Mbps wireless broadband network to every public school, the town hall and all other public facilities was pretty impressive for such a small and remote place at the time. The political will of its Mayor Luiz Fernando de Souza and the collaboration of its community members made the difference and established it among the international ICF jury as one of the best that year.
Decades earlier most people in Pirai worked for the local power company. But with the sale of the utility from the state government to the private sector, many thousands became unemployed. In an effort to seek new ways to create economic development and prosperity for its community, Pirai’s Mayor invited the Brasilia University to develop an IT Master Plan. Convinced that information technology and communications would convert the city’s fortunes, the city initiated its “Pirai Digital City” project, focused on development of its educational network throughout the community. The project was later expanded to bridge the digital divide. It was this small, but mighty decision that catapulted the community to domestic and later, international fame.
While it doesn’t seem like much today, back at the turn of the Millennium, fewer than 6% of Brazilians, or only about 11 million of its 180 million people were users of the Internet and mostly only in large centers such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Undertaking such a project in the jungles of Brazil was unheard of. Without proper funding at the front end, the community was forced to innovate. An advisory board was formed under Mayor Souza’s government to guide the long term evolution of the plan. Local businesses, a competitive telecommunications operator as well as educational institutions collaborated to create an Educational Technology Center and improvements to the communications network. The innovative ecosystem that was created through these efforts helped drive down normal costs and allowed the collaborative group to focus on developing sustainable uses that would help to evolve and transform the community. Since 2004 the community came together under the mantra of “Digital Pirai”. This project has provided free access to the Internet everywhere in Pirai but more impressive is the fact that every child has been given access to a laptop, an idea that was revolutionary at the time. Today, these children have benefitted from being early adopters of technology and are much further ahead than most other cities when it comes to jobs and opportunities for further education.
According to local people I met in Pirai, the community turned around in the decade since. Most people are now re-employed, restaurants are thriving and there is a tremendous community spirit in Pirai that came out to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Digital Pirai Project. One of the children spoke at the Tedx Pirai with Intel Brazil’s President Fernando Martins about the opportunities given to her and her classmates through the Digital Pirai Project. She praised the program and spoke of the opportunities this has presented her, something that would not have normally been possible in other similar sized communities in Brazil at the time. Today, Pirai acts as a model for other communities in Brazil and elsewhere to emulate. The inspiration of what can be possible no matter what the obstacles is a very big idea which started small and in a remote corner of the globe.
So that is how I started my presentation on Intelligent Communities at TEDx in Pirai. I spoke about Smart Cities and how to convert them into Intelligent Communities. I spoke about how excellence in technology and good governance can help to create innovative ecosystems that attracts and retains investment and talent, and among other tips about becoming an Intelligent Community, I gave examples from Waterloo, Eindhoven, Taichung and Rio de Janeiro. But what captured local people’s interest that day was what resonated with them in the first few minutes of my talk as I reflected on what I had learned while I was in Pirai during these celebrations – that no idea is too small especially if it is good and can be shared globally over the Internet; and that these ideas can come from anywhere, even from the smallest and remote locations in the world, especially if they can be accessed from anywhere else in the world. Money (and people) will follow good ideas no matter where they come from. Prosperity will soon follow.
Other speakers also spoke about the process of becoming the Intelligent Community of Pirai; the struggles, the process and the many people involved in making that happen. It was not simply the work of one leader; it took the imagination and fortitude of many volunteers and devoted citizens and businesses to make it happen. More impressive than the technology of the day was the vision and the collaboration that it took to see it through. I was most impressed in the fact that the Digital Pirai Project survived all these years and is an active and sustainable part of the community, a decade later. I was reminded by the organizers (as they showed me a time line pavilion at the event) that in 2005 when ICF gave Pirai the recognition as one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities in the world, it was the recognition that they needed at that moment to continue on. Sometimes we forget at ICF of the kind of impact we have had on some communities around the word. I was proud and honoured at that moment to see where we have helped to make a difference.
The celebration in the main square with Brazil’s iconic former Minister of Culture, and long-time favorite Brazilian musician, Gilberto Gil, heralded a celebration of community togetherness like no other I have seen. Singing nationally known songs of Mr. Gil’s repertoire, the community embraced the culture but also the spirit of the moment. In between songs, Mr. Gil spoke about Pirai’s efforts to be true to themselves; to maintain their culture but also look into their future using the technology and applications available to them to teach their children about a better way to live and thrive in modern day Brazil and in the global economy. It was inspirational.
Thank you Pirai for the lesson that no idea is too small and no community too remote, especially when you can share the idea around the world easily via access to high speed broadband anywhere in the community.
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