Turning Connectivity into Growth: The 2023 ICF Smart21 Conference

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A decade ago, municipal leaders could still be skeptical that investments in broadband would make any real difference to the local economy. If high-speed connectivity was just about streaming movies and playing video games, did it justify the attention of government?

The pandemic made clear to all that digital connectivity and services were essential. But it left unanswered the question: do they contribute directly to an increase in business investment, employment and prosperity? If so, what combination of policies and programs does it take, and how should economic development strategy adapt to this new “invisible infrastructure?”

In this online conference hosted by ICF, the Economic Developers Association of Canada and Economic Development Australia, community leaders and experts around the world tackle these questions – not in academic debate, but in real-world practices and their results, from business retention to talent attraction, innovation programs to branding decisions. The day ends with announcement of ICF’s Smart21 Communities of 2023, semi-finalists for the coveted Intelligent Community of the Year award to be presented in October.

What you will take away from the event:

  • Best practices for attracting private-sector investment in broadband by increasing the attractiveness of your local market
  • How to assemble the business and social “infrastructure” of events, incubators, accelerators and programs that leverage connectivity for business formation and attraction
  • What partnerships are most effective in making broadband an economic asset and how to develop them
  • Encouraging digital services adoption by small businesses that employee most residents
  • How to integrate digital connectivity and services into your economic development strategy

Who will attend?

Mayors, member of Council, CIOs and economic development officers from ICF’s global network of communities, and executives of their partners in technology, telecommunications and consulting.

When will the event take place?

The conference will have two programs:

  • For the Asia-Pacific, February 22, starting at 10:00pm EST (UTC-5)
  • For the Americas and Europe, February 23, 10:00am EST (UTC-5)

All attendees may attend all programs, regardless of their location, and will have access to all sessions in archive form after the event.


All times are EST (UTC-5).

February 22

Welcome and introduction

Speakers include:

  • Jacqueline Brinkman GAICD, Chief Executive Officer, Economic Development Australia
  • Robert Bell, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum
  • John Jung, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum
  • Lou Zacharilla, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum


Turning bits into coin: an economic developers’ roundtable

Connectivity by itself adds little value – it is what people do with it that counts. Learn from communities that have leveraged their broadband assets for business retention and attraction, market differentiation, talent attraction for remote work and regional partnerships.

Speakers Include:

  • Tiffany Bower, Project Officer, Economic Development - Future Industries, Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia
  • Ron Gaudet, President, Gaudet & Associates
  • Rose Klukas, Economic Development Officer, City of Campbell, BC, Canada
  • Sindy Yeh, Senior Business Ambassador, Arlington Economic Development (Virginia, USA)
  • John Jung, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum (Moderator



Activating your small business sector

Small businesses employ most people in most places. They are also slower adopters of digital technology than their larger peers. How can local government gain their attention, motivate their engagement and equip them with the skills they need for success in the digital economy?

Speakers include:

  • Val Gafka, Senior Manager, Economic Investment and Development, Township of Langley, BC, Canada
  • Michael Law, Councillor, Whanganui District Council; Chief Vision Officer, Surge (Whanganui, New Zealand)
  • Simon PutanBusiness Growth Advisor, Whanganui & Partners (Whanganui, New Zealand)
  • Marianne Archibald, Corporate Services Group Manager, South Taranaki District Council, New Zealand (Moderator)




22:50-23:00 - Closing and Smart21 of 2023 Preview


February 23

10:00 EST - Welcome and introduction

10:10-11:10 - Broadband success stories

In short use cases, ICF’s Intelligent Communities share their struggles and successes at building out broadband infrastructure and turning broadband and digital services into effective drivers of economic growth and transformation.

Speakers include:

  • Jason Bechtold, Assistant City Manager, City of Westerville, Ohio, USA
  • Laura Bradley, General Manager, YorkNet, Regional Municipality of York (Ontario, Canada)
  • Paulo Cesar Krauss, Technical Director, Curitiba Agency for Development and Innovation (Parana, Brazil)
  • Robert Bell, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum (Moderator)





11:10-11:50 - Innovative approaches to battling homelessness, drug addiction and crime

Homelessness, drug addiction and mental health have morphed into a three-headed menace in nearly every community in North America and, increasingly, Europe. The causes and cures are varied and rare. We know that there are hundreds of experiments at the local level in places as diverse as Hamilton and Surrey; Riverside and New York. Some are having success. We know that Intelligent Communities such as Espoo, Finland has been successful using AI to address the identification and delivery of mental health management programs. “Mental Health Days” have been declared to give visibility to this slow motion suicide of the places we call Home. What is the connection between the problem and the human technologies that can help us alleviate our mental health crisis and put us back in balance?

Speakers include:

  • Melissa Mean, Co-Convener, Redcliffe Neighbourhood Development Forum; Director, WeCanMake (Knowle West, Bristol, UK)
  • Lou Zacharilla, Co-Founder, Intelligent Community Forum (Moderator)


11:50-12:00 - Break and Interstitial videos

12:00-12:45 - Attracting broadband investment: a CIO roundtable

How can you improve the business risk profile of your community and make it a more attractive investment opportunity for the private sector? Imaginative strategies range from infrastructure investments to improved permitting processes, and from identification of total demand to research partnership.

Speakers include:

  • Gladys Gonzalez, CIO, City of Doral, Florida, USA
  • Duane Powell, CIO, City of Hilliard, Ohio, USA
  • Brian Snider, CEO, Lit Communities, USA
  • Peter Cresse, President, Entropy, USA
  • Moez Chaabouni, Jury Chairman, Intelligent Community Forum (Moderator)

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12:45-13:00 - Smart21 of 2023 Announcement

We invite you to join us for this engaging & compelling virtual event and take advantage of the opportunity to network with business, government and non-profits delegates from across the globe who have adopted smart technologies in communities to solve problems and to innovate ways of doing business.


Economic Development Australia is a nationally recognized network of economic development professionals, fostering prosperity in communities across Australia. EDA builds their capacity, promotes excellence and provides leadership on issues that matter to our members. Established in 2007, EDA has over 1700 members across Australia.

EDAC is Canada's national association of economic developers working to enhance professional competence, advance economic development as a profession, and contribute to Canada's well-being. With over 1,000 members , EDAC offers its members professional development, networking opportunities, education, and an annual national conference.


The Smart21 Conference is made possible by our Sponsors, Partners and Members.















February 22, 2023 at 9:00pm - February 24, 2023 | Eastern Time (US & Canada)