York is a very unusual city. It is actually an amalgamation of nine cities, towns and townships that began in 1970, as well as a reserve where the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation reside. It covers more than 1,760 square kilometers (680 square miles) from the northern border of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, to rural land on the shores of Lake Simcoe, in what the Canadians like to call “cottage country.” It is about as diverse – geographically, economically, socially and politically – as a community can rightly be.
Diversity has strengths. The municipality is the nation’s third largest business hub, home to 600,000 jobs and 51,000 businesses. Most are concentrated in the affluent southern cities of Markham, Newmarket, Vaughan and the town of Richmond Hill, which also serve as bedroom communities for Toronto. Companies with facilities there include IBM, Lucent, Honeywell, Apple, Genesis Microchip, Compugen, Compuware, Lexmark and Rogers Communications. The farther north you go, however, the more that technology gives way to historic downtowns, farmlands, wetlands and forest. A road network laid out in the 1790s connect north and south, east and west, and an effective transit system, including bus rapid transit, helps unite the municipality into a whole.
Geographic size and diversity also brings challenges. The southern cities and towns are well-served by private-sector broadband carriers but as in any other urban-rural community, less-populated areas are not. To overcome the digital divide, York launched a regional broadband strategy in 2013 to identify connectivity strengths, gaps and opportunities. A Broadband Strategy Advisory Task Force oversees its execution, which includes a C$6 million commitment in support of an C$18.5 million proposal to the Federal Connect to Innovate program to extend the region’s current dark fiber network into rural communities. York has founded a corporation to oversee the extension of that network, which provides open access to municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals, as well as private-sector carriers. Among its prouder achievements was the 2014 installation of a point-of-presence on the dark fiber network for ORION, the Ontario Research & Innovation Optical Network. ORION is a high-speed fiber network dedicated to research and education, which connects more than 2 million users including advanced computing centers across the province. The ORION connection gives York’s city governments, schools, local incubators and healthcare facilities access to the same connectivity and computing assets as the most advanced R&D institutions in Ontario.
Leveraging the existing strengths of the region, York has partnered with the province and the City of Newmarket to develop NewMakeIt, a digital innovation hub and makerspace for members of the local community. It provides entrepreneurs and creative professionals with co-working space, high-speed broadband, tools and technologies to turn ideas into commercial products and services. In its first two years of operation, NewMakeIt gave birth to 12 new businesses and helped 17 existing ones expand their operations, with an estimated economic impact of C$3.9 million. But it is not just about business starts. NewMakeIt also offers a Repair Café, where the public can learn how to fix household items, robotics enthusiasts gather to build, and workshops train member in everything from woodworking to 3D printing.
Diversity can also mean inequality of opportunity. The municipality has launched digital equality programs in partnership with its many cities and towns. They include free Wi-Fi access at administrative facilities, libraries, transit terminals, recreational centers, hospitals and long-term care facilities. Libraries in rural communities offer the ability to check out high-speed wireless modems with a library card, and in-person and online skills training from basic computer skills to continuing adult education.
York is also investing in modernizing its transportation network to better serve residents in both rural and urban areas. Mobile transit payment solutions are reducing waste and speeding processing. Expanded video monitoring along roadways and improved control of signal systems are easing congestion and delays. The C$20 million initiative uses Bluetooth device tracking and a data sharing partnership with Waze to develop a rich and real-time portrait in data of transportation patterns, so that the municipality can develop solutions that serve the entire region.
A regional municipality is an unusual thing. It enables its individual cities, towns, townships and reserves to each do much more than they could alone, and to pursue collective solutions to individual problems. It also challenges them to see past their traditional boundaries – to realize that the success of one community in winning inward investment or new jobs is not a loss for its neighbors but a multiplier that makes them all more successful. While leaving local governance to its cities and towns, the Regional Municipality is coordinating and attracting investment in the technology foundations of balanced, inclusive growth for the greater community.
Few communities can boast of having a globally recognized scenic wonder on their border. The city of Niagara Falls can. The Niagara River divides Canada and the US and, at the Falls, more than 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of it plunge 60 meters (190 ft) down into the Lower Niagara.
Such a massive source of hydroelectric power attracted electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries in the first half of the 20th Century. But the rise of global competition in the Seventies and Eighties eroded their competitiveness, and tourism became the city’s most important business. The Canadian side of the Falls offers superb views, but promoting tourism was not left to nature. The province of Ontario has a legal drinking age of 19 compared to 21 in the US, which tends to draw young consumers across the border. The province also legalized gambling in the mid-1990s, and by 2004, Niagara Falls boasted two major casinos and numerous luxury hotels.
Building the Foundation
Even with a spectacular waterfall thundering nearby, tourism can be a slender threat on which to hang a community’s economy. The leadership of Niagara Falls has committed itself to laying the foundation of an economy that can prosper in the digital age, create high-quality employment, and equip its people with the skills to make the most of it.
When it became clear that communications carriers would not invest significantly in the region, the city helped found the Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN) in 2004. Its original goal was to meet the high-speed connectivity needs of municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals in the region. Once the network was operational, it expanded service to business customers. Today, it consists of 700 km of optical fiber with eight points of presence serving 680 sites in the region. NRBN also leases telecom carrier hotel facilities in Toronto and Buffalo to provide high-quality global connections. It has proved instrumental in retaining employers by allowing them to optimize operations.
If technology is one foundation, people are another. Niagara Falls currently has the educational demographics typical of a tourist destination. Fourteen percent of the population has an undergraduate degree or higher, while 42% have a community college certificate or “some college” in their background. The city is investing at the ground floor in the long process of changing those demographics.
Multiple programs focus on teaching elementary and high school teachers how to use technology and incorporate it into their work. The Blended Learning Institute trains math and science teachers to effectively combine digital and online content with traditional teacher-led instruction. A computer science track teaches them programming and web design, as well as how to make these topics accessible to all learners. This is complemented by a provincial program called IT4Learning, where online content connects with in-class teaching and gives students more control over the pace at which they learn. Participating students can access coursework anytime, anywhere, and teachers can interact with students and fellow teachers in a secure online environment. The highest expression of this educational innovation is Teach One, a program that provides mastery-based learning. Students are assigned groups based on skill level and learning style rather than age. They participate in skill-building activities alone, in groups and with teachers. They are assessed daily to determine their mastery, and this assessment guides the next day’s lessons. Teach One equips teachers with unprecedented real-time data on how their students are doing, and ensures that students master one foundational principle or skill before moving to the next.
Behind much of this innovation is a government-university project called ihub Niagara. It is an incubator with portfolio companies that focus on educational technology for kindergarten through university. Like any incubator, it provides technical assistance and professional services to help start-ups develop products and services and bring their first customers on board. It is distinct in its partnership with the city’s schools and nearby community college and university. It hosts quarterly Dragon’s Den-style events that bring together educators and edtech startups to review emerging tech solutions against real challenges in school communities. It provides a safe space for educators to critically evaluate new products and offer early-stage feedback that helps develop better products to serve their needs.
Enriching the Ecosystem
The ihub Niagara incubator is only one part of an emerging innovation ecosystem in a 12-muncipality region. It includes a business development district in Niagara Falls, the Spark Niagara Accelerator, the nonprofit Innovate Niagara, the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center at Niagara College and the Biolinc incubator at Brook University focusing in biotechnology. This set of partnerships is overseen by the Niagara CIO Consortium, which unites the technology leadership of the city, a regional chamber of commerce, the school board and participating colleges and universities.
The drive to prosper in the digital economy focuses not only on the future. To address lack of digital skills in today’s population, the library system offers computer access and technology training programs, and is building a makerspace. This is part of a broader Digital Inclusion Framework that has served more than 12,000 participants ages 12 to 65 and offered 7,500 hours of training to end-users and another 3,800 to the volunteers who provide the training. Volunteerism is central to the program: 99% of the people who staff it are volunteers working with such charities as the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club and United Way. The digital training they provide has immediate relevance to its recipients, because it focuses on health and wellness, education, employment and engagement in the community.
Beyond the Falls
In 2012, the city launched the Connect Conference as showcase for its educational technology cluster and a driver of continued innovation. Every year, it attracts 2,000 education leaders, CIOs, directors of education, IT experts, business managers and government officials, and its program covers the complete educational cycle from kindergarten to higher education, libraries and workplace learning.
The roaring Falls will never stop being a vital contributor to the economy and culture of the city on its Canadian side. Niagara Falls aspires, however, to be much more than a place to gamble, party and admire the view. It is on the path to becoming a place where digital technology drives innovation, creates new jobs and new industries, and providing a rewarding quality of life for coming generations.
Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, Kai Lehmann Niagara Falls, commercial use allowed
Kinmen County is an archipelago of islands separated from mainland China by a mile or so of water. But it is part of Taiwan, whose main island lies 100 miles (161 km) to the east. That geographical oddity has done much to determine the county’s past – and also hold the keys to its future.
Kinmen became part of Taiwan in 1912 and was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, the PRC laid claim to Kinmen, which triggered its transformation into a military base that was home to more than 100,000 soldiers. The base withstood heavy artillery fire during two Taiwan Strait crises in the 1950s. It would be nearly 40 years until the military control of Kinmen County was lifted. That milestone in cross-Strait relations, however caused annual economic growth in the county to plummet from 10.5% to under 1% in the following ten years.
By 2014, only 3,000 soldiers were still stationed in the county. But in that same year, Kinmen received 1.2 million tourists and other visitors from mainland China, the rest of Taiwan and the Chinese populations of Singapore, Malaysia and other nations. An economy built on conflict had found a new focus and the leaders of Kinmen County were determined to continue its growth and create a diverse economy capable of retaining young talent and connecting its citizens to the world.
The epicenter of the tourist economy is the Kinmen National Park, which preserves the vast military infrastructure of what is known locally as the Battlefield. One out of every three visitors tours the military camps and enjoys digital, interactive and real-life simulation games that recreate the tensions of the 1950s. These include interactive touchscreens and a 3D tour map accessible both onsite and through a mobile app, while a Facebook page and YouTube channel provide external marketing. In 2009, the county launched the world’s only Tunnel Music Festival, which takes place in one of the vast tunnels constructed to protect military supplies. It now attracts thousands of tourists from around the world each year.
The county has also poured investment into restoring hundreds of historic buildings that showcase traditional architecture. An interest-free loan program encourages young adults to launch tourism-related businesses such as guesthouses there. Two major real estate developments are also driving tourism as well as creating local employment. The Wind Lion Plaza provides duty-free international boutiques focusing on regional culture and green technologies. The Golden Lake Hotel attracts both tourists and business people from China and Taiwan. They take advantage of Kinmen’s new role as a weekend tourist destination for Taiwanese and Chinese mainlanders, and the relocation of businesspeople to the island for easier access to the vast markets of the mainland.
Seeding a Knowledge Economy
Kinmen County leaders are not content, however, with attracting visitors and their spending. County government has invested millions of New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) in education. The Taiwan Academic Network provides gigabit connectivity to primary and secondary schools as well as universities and cultural and research centers, with a submarine cable link to the network center in Taoyuan (a Top7 Intelligent Community, most recently in 2017). Schools run robotics summer camps and Digital Opportunity Centers provide training courses and enrichment activities for students ranging from age three to seventy-eight, regardless of income level. The county operates five senior learning centers for its elderly population offering courses in life safety, healthcare, advocacy and, of course, digital skills, which have reached tens of thousands of residents.
Kinmen County is also home to multiple institutions of higher learning, including National Quemoy, Ming Chuan, Nanhua and National Tsing Hua Universities. In addition to general courses, many offer education on R&D, technology, business, innovation and food processing.
These support parts of the economy having little to do with tourism. The Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor distillery, established by the county in 1953, has substantially upgraded its operations, distribution and marketing. Its Kaoliang fortified wine has a 75% market share across Taiwan. Because the long military occupation of Kinmen left so much of the land undeveloped, the county also has a large livestock industry, which generates half of the value of the county’s agricultural economy. Beginning in 2006, with the encouragement of county government, the distillery worked with the Livestock Research Institute on re-purposing as cattle feed the large volume of rice, malt and grain residue left from brewing. The livestock industry, with support from a national government ministry, is also moving up the value chain. A NTD 100 million investment has created the county’s first meat processing plant, and innovative companies are developing businesses that turn by-products, such as excess fat, into skin care products and bath supplies instead of burying them in landfills.
Between 10 and 15% of university graduates choose to remain in Kinmen County and seek employment each year. The universities, along with the Industrial Development and Investment Committee of Kinmen, hosts career fairs and has re-purposed an abandoned military base as the home for start-up companies. County government has spurred innovation in its small-to-midsize business sector with millions of NTD for research, which has produced nearly double that level of private-sector investment and additional revenues of nearly 130 million NTD as of the end of 2017.
Conservation and sustainability are important values in Kinmen County. Investments in solar power systems, wind turbines and microgrid energy storage are meeting one-fifth of total demand for electricity. The Low Carbon Island program, launched in 2013, led government to install 5,000 kW of solar systems on public buildings, schools and universities, leading to a reduction of 1.24 million kilograms of carbon dioxide through May 2017.
The foundation for these positive changes lies in the network. In keeping with the national i-Taiwan program, Kinmen County has installed hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots across its offices, libraries, tourist attractions and public transport and facilities. In the five years ending in 2017, the wireless network supported more than 43,000 sessions with traffic of 3,900 Gbits. So successful has unwired broadband been that the usage rate of fixed broadband actually decreased slightly from 2012 to 2017, when mobile broadband adoption reached 93%.
Yet the past is never far away in Kinmen County. One of its unique products is the Kinmen Knife. It was developed by local artisans from the remains of the artillery shells fired by China into the county in the Fifties, and the high-quality knives are sought after by chefs and connoisseurs. In sharp contrast to those times, Kinmen County imports more goods from the mainland than from Taiwan due to the lower costs. The county’s future will continue to depend on combining the best of both worlds for the benefit of its people.
Photo by Seasurfer, Wikimedia Commons. Used under the Free GNU Documentation License.
For additional images of Kinmen County, see “Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, Only a Few Miles From Mainland China”, The Atlantic, October 18, 2015.
Founded in the late 1800s in rural Alberta, Olds has been a small farming community for most of its history. Over the past twenty years, however, it has developed into an educational and technology center capable of luring tech entrepreneurs from the nearby city of Calgary. Olds has focused its efforts on its traditionally rural needs, bringing fiber-optic broadband access to even its most remote citizens as well as an expansive learning campus that includes both local high schools and Olds College.
A Connected Community Network
Olds was the first town in its region to offer gigabit Internet speeds through its community-owned and operated Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network, O-Net. In 2010, the non-profit Olds Institute for Community & Regional Development borrowed funds from the Town of Olds and combined it with grant money from the Province of Alberta to develop O-Net. Once the network was complete, the Olds Institute sought a local provider to offer triple play services to the public, but none chose to do so. Taking the lead again, the Olds Institute created its own local telecommunications company to offer such services. As of today, 100% of sites in Olds have broadband capability with over 90% of the population making use of services.
Creating a Community Learning Center
As of 2006, the Olds High School was in serious need of a new building, as rapid development in the area had left it separated from its sportsfields and secondary facilities by a highway. Rather than simply replace the school, however, the town decided to develop a Community Learning Campus, inspired by the Alberta government’s Rural Development Initiative. Local businesses partnered with Olds College, Chinook’s Edge School Division and the Town of Olds to fundraise for the project. The result was a 77-million-dollar educational, employment and cultural “commons” in a traditionally rural region with little access to modern educational tools or the arts.
The Olds Community Learning Campus was completed in 2010 with the opening of the Ralph Klein Centre, which houses a community fitness center, the new Olds High School, the Central Alberta Child and Family Services office, the Olds Alberta Works Centre and the Olds Campus Community Health Centre. Olds College gained four new educational facilities as part of the Community Learning Campus, and its Broncos now host most of their games there as well. Since completion of the Community Learning Campus, Olds has seen greater high school completion rates, better diploma exam results and expanded course offerings. Olds High School was also chosen as one of two high schools world-wide to be included in an Innovative Learning Environments study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Developing a Culture of Use
With Internet access now available throughout the town, Olds has focused its efforts on training residents and businesses to make the most of this new resource. Beginning in 2011, the Olds Connected Community Committee developed a series of training programs, including more than 20 educational videos of people using and explaining technology in the community. The committee has also created a cyber seniors program to bring in local youth to teach seniors how to use new technologies.
Members of the cyber seniors program have gone on to help the committee develop the Digital Network Area Centre at the Olds Municipal Library. The DNA Centre is a technology demonstration center available to the whole community, where residents can go to use new devices such as a 3D printer as well as various programs and applications for work and recreation. Positive response to the DNA Centre has led the library and local schools to add more STEM programming, including tweet ups, video gaming events and social media and new media competitions.
Soaring Public Engagement
The success of local programs has fostered a strong culture of public engagement in Olds. The Olds Institute for Community & Regional Development has brought together members from the government of Olds, Olds College, Olds Regional Exhibition, the Mountain View County government, the Olds and District Chambers of Commerce and local schools to discuss new community initiatives and needs, to pool their resources for fundraising and project management and to encourage residents to volunteer their time and take up leadership positions in projects that matter most to them. This collaboration has yielded impressive results, including the creation of O-Net and the relationships needed to build the Community Learning Campus. With so much accomplished in the past twenty years and community engagement reaching new heights, Olds races toward a bright tomorrow and an even brighter future.
Kelowna is the largest city in the tourist-oriented Okanagan Valley and one of the fastest-growing cities in North America. Its 127,000 people are largely employed in tourism, which spans all four seasons and brings more than C$1 billion per year into the region. It is also home to two post-secondary institutions with a combined student body of over 13,000 full-time students. With a dry, mild climate and scenic lake vistas, it is surrounded by provincial parks, pine forest, vineyards, orchards and mountains. It is, in short, a beautiful spot that is a long way from any place even close to its population size.
This relative rural isolation and the low-skilled, low-paid nature of most tourism work presents Kelowna with challenges. Rapid development has triggered sharp debate in the community while driving up property prices to a level that places Kelowna among the top 10 most unaffordable markets in Canada. It has high rates as well of property crime, illegal drug use and opiod overdoses. Changing those dynamics while preserving what makes Kelowna so attractive is the vital task that Kelowna's elected leaders have set for themselves.
Breaking Down Barriers
Kelowna already operates a dark fiber network that connects city facilities and saves money, and offers 1 Gbps service on a leased basis to nonprofits, schools and private businesses. The benefits in terms of access to markets, knowledge and services are significant and growing. Its next target is underserved rural businesses and households. The city began network expansion in February 2017 using funding from the provincial Connecting British Columbia program.
Most of Kelowna's new residents come from other parts of Canada, and retirees over 65 make up more than 20% of the population. The Silver Surfers program connects seniors with Okanagan College students, who mentor them in using an iPad to surf the web, take pictures, send email, use Facebook and connect with family and friends over applications like Facetime. Originally piloted in 2016, the program has matched 96 seniors with 40 student mentors. Before the program, participants reported connect with family members twice per month; they now are connecting an average of twice per week.
Creating a Knowledge Workforce
Kelowna projects that the local economy will demand 56,000 new workers in the next five years, but like most rural cities, it watches too much of its student population depart after graduation. To reverse this trend, the city and community groups created in 2012 the Okanagan Young Professionals Collective (OPY), an umbrella organization that fosters and supports young professional groups engaged in volunteer, social, professional, sports, arts and cultural activities. One is Motionball, which builds awareness and raises funds for the Special Olympics Canada Foundation. Motionball aims to introduce the next generation of volunteers and donors to the Special Olympics through social and sporting events that put fun into giving. It was one of the founders of OYP.
Through 2017, OYP has raised over $360,000 in funds and services and persuaded local companies to contribute more than 3,500 volunteer hours of accounting, web development and business planning services to local nonprofits. Employers in the region have begun using OYP as a tool in their efforts to recruit young professionals from outside the region – and the results are showing. Kelowna's census district has experienced growth above the provincial average in 30-34 year olds since 2011, and the increase in the number of children has been more than double the average for the province.
Foundations of an Innovation Economy
Today's young professionals tend to be entrepreneurial, and the community has begun building the infrastructure to support a startup economy. A group of local entrepreneurs, community and civic leaders set a goal in 2014 of creating 10,000 technology jobs within 10 years. Their ambitions gave rise to the Okanagan Center for Innovation, a partnership among the city, the province, the Federal government and a local tech entrepreneur. The Center offers commercial space at market rates to companies, and publicly-supported spaces and services to startup and early-stage companies, community members and social enterprises. Since the opening of the 105,000 square-foot (9,700 m2) building in May 2017, all 48 desks in the publicly-supported section have been rented and 34 companies have joined an acceleration mentorship program. Atrium Ventures, an entrepreneur-led venture capital firm funded in part by government, has an office in the building and provides access to a direct investment pool.
Investing in Climate
As a low-density community, Kelowna residents depend heavily on private automobiles, and road transportation accounts for more than 65% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. The city's Climate Action Plan seeks to compensate with an aggressive tree-planting program in Kelowna's natural parks as well as upgrades to city-owned heating, lighting and waste-water treatment facilities. A landfill gas purification plan is reducing 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year while providing a renewable resource for provincial gas customers.
This is one aspect of a broader "Imagine Kelowna" project, which engages the public in helping to plan the community's future for the next 25 years. Kicking off in May 2016, the project has attracted hundreds of inputs online, through the mail and in community events and workshops. It envisions a future with fewer cars and more public transportation options, and the creation of vital urban centers with housing for all income levels, to take the place of urban sprawl. A diverse and inclusive economy, built on a culture of entrepreneurship, will address the community's economic and social challenges.
Kelowna approaches the future with important assets: a successful tourism industry, a growing population and the outlines of a broadband-powered, innovation-driven economy. Its success will be determined by how it fills in those outlines and how it ensures that the benefits of tech-based growth reach far and wide across the community.
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.
In the far northern nations of the world, people tend to cluster southward. Espoo, Finland's second largest city, lies on the border of its biggest city and national capital, Helsinki. Both stand on Finland’s southern coast, directly across the Gulf of Finland from Tallinn, a frequent Top7 Intelligent Community and the capital of Estonia.
In 1950, Espoo was a regional municipality of 22,000, which drew its name from the Swedish words for the aspen tree and for river. Today, Espoo is still a place on a river bordered by aspen, and about 8 percent of its population still speaks Swedish as its first language.
Sixty-five years later, however, it is an industrial city of 270,000. It retains its dispersed, regional nature, however, being made of up of seven population hubs arrayed along the border with Helsinki, where many of its citizens work.
In 2010, Finland’s Parliament made history by declaring that access to 1 Mbps broadband is a legal right. Today, Finland ranks second in the world for mobile broadband adoption, according to the OECD. It is also one of the leading countries in Europe for ultra-broadband adoption, with more than 50% of households having access to a fixed connection of 100 Mbps.
In such an advanced broadband economy, it is natural that the Intelligent Community of Espoo would take a next-generation approach to improving broadband access and adoption. With the explosive growth of mobile data, driven largely by video, the city sees a serious risk of capacity bottlenecks threatening city digital services and throttling the future online experience of residents. Its answer is LuxTurrim 5G, a three-year pilot project that engages Espoo companies and research institutions in evaluating smart light poles as transmitters for 5G, the emerging mobile standard that promises hundreds of megabits per second of service. The light poles will include miniaturized 5G antennas and base stations, sensors for smart city systems and digitally controlled LED lighting. Launched in the spring of 2017, the project aims to create a proof-of-concept for the technology integration and then to start building an export business for the city’s partner companies.
Finland also has an educational performance that is the envy of the world. For most of the 21st Century, its 15-year olds have been among the very top performers in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an ongoing study administered every three years that tests the reading, math and science literacy. Eighty-four percent of Finnish 25-64 year olds have at least an upper secondary education, compared with 75% for the OECD, and 39% hold a higher education degree, compared with 32% for the OECD.
As with broadband, so with education. For students at secondary school level, Espoo is working with a local university and private-sector companies on a completely new model for education called School as a Service (SaaS). A school is traditionally defined as a building. The emerging SaaS model redefines school as a network of resources to support learning. In a process designed by school staff and students, teachers change their focus from imparting knowledge to helping students identify the best way for themselves to learn. They have access not only to their own facilities but to university instructors, classrooms, laboratories and science showcases.
In the first year, students have actively grasped the opportunity to attend university courses. The high school has attracted 150% more applicants than in the previous year, and the new model is reducing costs by 25% through better use of space. A second high school is adopting the SaaS model in 2018, and it will be applied in Shanghai, China as well through a partnership with Tongji University.
To help job-seekers with little education, the Employment Concert Sello project trains the unemployed in job-specific skills in partnership with large shopping centers in Espoo and the companies located there. Employers agree to offer trial places to unemployed residents. Trainers in the program find job seekers who are best suited to each company, train them in applying for jobs and the requirements of work. Since the program’s start in 2015, more than 100 companies have agreed to offer trial positions to job seekers, and over 130 job seekers have gained employment and found access to education.
Educational Innovation for Profit
In Espoo, education is not just a means of equipping the next generation with inquiring minds and employable skills. It is also an economic development program. In 2016, Espoo launched a collaborative project called KYKY Accelerated Co-Creation. It turns schools into living labs that support students’ learning and growth while giving educational technology companies a platform to develop products and services for learning. It recognizes that today’s edtech companies lack real understanding of today’s school life, pedagogy and curriculum, and is creating a new operating model to overcome the challenge.
There are risks in letting profit-minded businesses set the terms of education. The KYKY operating model sets clear steps for schools and companies to co-create new products and services that support learning and digital skills. Co-creation activities are user-driven, participatory and empowering, with school and company deciding together on structure, methods and goals. So far, schools participating in the program have seen an increase in the digital skills of students and teachers, as well as their understanding of entrepreneurship as they rub shoulders with edtech company employees. A total of 40 schools with 33,000 participants took part in the program by the end of the spring term in 2017, and the program claims credit for guiding five education startups to international markets – all of them using the “Co-Created with the City of Espoo” brand in their marketing.
Sustainable at the Core
The term “industrial city” usually describes a place where the needs of industry outweighs the needs of citizens for air they can breathe, water they can drink and a safe place to raise their children. Not so in Espoo. An international benchmark has named Espoo the most sustainable city in Europe. The city gives credit to an ongoing partnership among city government, residents, businesses, universities and other stakeholders. From 2013 to 2016, more than 100,000 people participated in sustainability events and city government launched 17 new sustainability projects in collaboration with partners and citizens.
One of the most remarkable things about Espoo is its recognition that, despite being Finland’s second largest city, it is a small player in a global economy. Espoo is a partner in the Six City Strategy, a cooperative policy uniting the six largest cities in Finland to tackle urban challenges. It focuses on open innovation, open data and open participation. The aim is to facilitate the development of smart city solutions by companies and to create an open market among the cities and companies that provides a nationally significant platform for innovation. Cities offer data while identifying their needs to better serve constitutions. Companies bring their tech expertise, market knowledge and corporate objectives to the partnership. Together, they make the opening up of data a natural part of city operation, while driving the creation of commercially viable applications and businesses. From 2014 to 2017, the municipal and corporate partners have launched 26 projects with a budget of 45 million euros, with an additional 55 million euros forecast through 2020.
The cycles of the year are strong in Espoo. In mid-winter, daylight lasts only seven hours, while in midsummer, the sun is a presence in the sky for all but three hours out of twenty-four. Perhaps it is this which gives the city such an appreciation of the forces beyond its control – in particular the technology changes rippling the world’s economy and challenging every community to adapt. With 275,000 people, Espoo may be Finland’s second biggest city but its adaptability to the future is second to none.
The capital of the state of South Australia, Adelaide also enjoys, according to The Economist, the distinction of being among the most liveable cities in the world. It is the center of a metro area of 1.3 million that contains 75% of the state’s population. That high liveability factor is the result of its comfortable Mediterranean climate and coastal location, a legacy of planning that dates back to its founding in the 19th Century, and a diverse and well-educated population, of which 30% come from overseas and more than 34,000 are international students.
The community is home to the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, Flinders University and campuses of Carnegie Mellon and University College London. The educational connection has given birth to multiple research and development parks, including the Waite Research Precinct, Technology Park, Science Park and the Research Park at Thebarton.
Growing the IT Economy
Despite its dominance of the state’s population, Adelaide’s housing is relatively cheap – about half the average price of Sydney and two-thirds that of Melbourne. That helps support the growth of an economy that is currently and comfortably driven by government spending. The largest employment sector is health care and social assistance at 13%, followed by retail at 12%. Metro Adelaide is also home to a significant percentage of Australia’s defense industry and a major Royal Australian Air Force base.
Adelaide’s Intelligent Community programs, however, focus on building a more innovative economy. It has partnered with a company called TPG to install Ten Gigabit Adelaide, a fiber-optic network offering 10 Gbps symmetrical capacity to businesses. The goal is to have fiber running down every street of the central business district and other business centers, with rollout beginning in early 2018. City government estimates that Ten Gigabit Adelaide will deliver between A$16m and A$76m in economic benefit, lead to the creation of 2,500 new jobs in six years, and have a major positive impact on business attraction, retention and consumer spending. It will also provide the fundamental infrastructure needed to deliver future smart city projects for better traffic management, smart lighting and security video.
The city has also retained its first Entrepreneur in Residence to guide aspiring entrepreneurs, company founders and business leaders in growing investment-ready start-ups. Kirk Drage returned to Adelaide after a decade working for Microsoft as Head of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. His multi-country Asian team recruited more than 8,000 startups during his tenure. He works from the Smart City Studio, founded in 2015 in partnership with Cisco, which declared Adelaide one of its Lighthouse Cities that same year.
A different kind of guidance is provided by the Digital Hub Training Program, which encourages lifelong learning through community computer literacy training. The Hub delivered nearly 1,300 programs in its most recent year, which brought training on computers, tablets, smartphones, virtual reality and robotics to 3,000 residents. More than 200 organizations also sent their employees to workshops on selling online, using social media for growth, and understanding emerging technologies.
Supporting What Works
The emphasis on preparing for a digital economy has not diverted Adelaide from investing in the things that make it a great community today. Study Adelaide is a program that markets the city as a destination for international students. (Wonderful weather and great beaches probably help.) It targets 43 cities in 11 countries and provides a joined-up approach to attract students, provide support for them once they arrive and build connections with local employers as they prepare to leave school. The success of the program is easily measured: students from overseas currently contribute about A$1.3 billion in economic value to the city.
With quality of life such an important driver, it is no wonder that Adelaide has signed on to the Paris Climate Accord of Mayors. Its Carbon Neutral Strategy aims to have the city become the first in the world to be certified as producing zero net carbon emissions by 2020. Adelaide already slashed its carbon emissions 60% from 1994 to 2010, when a new energy management plan began to transform how the city obtained its energy. City Council reduced its energy consumption by 15% through 2015 and achieved savings of A$800,000 in the process. It is now piloting a smart LED lighting program that is expected to reduce energy consumption by a further 10% and produce an average monthly savings of 1.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Nature, location and history have been kind to Adelaide, which is Australia’s oldest municipal authority. Like all cities, it is faced with an increasingly unpredictable future, from climate change to disruptive innovation, and Adelaide is equipping itself with the infrastructure and programs needed to turn challenge into social, economic and cultural success.
Nestled between two mountain ranges and the sea at the northeastern tip of the island, Yilan County is a cultural melting pot for Taiwan. Multiple indigenous tribes have settled in the area, beginning with the Kavalan people nearly 1000 years ago, followed by the Atayal people 250 years ago and finally the Han Chinese fifty years later. Due to its diverse historical influences, Yilan is home to many culture festivals, including the International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival, Taiwan’s most internationally famous festival. The county’s striking location and unique culture have led to a thriving tourism industry.
Promoting Universal Broadband
Yilan’s networking demands have grown exponentially in recent history due to the rising tourism industry and the increasingly digital lifestyle of its populace. To meet this demand, the Yilan County Government has created the Promoting Universal Broadband project. The project focuses on three areas: free public Wi-Fi, FTTS and GSN/VPN. The county government has collaborated with the Taiwan central government to establish iTaiwan Wi-Fi hotspots all across Yilan. In addition, the local government of Yilan has worked with Taiwan Mobile to promote the Eland-Free Wi-Fi Plan, which provides free, Yilan-specific wireless Internet services in travel and tourist destinations. The Yilan County Government has helped to establish over 1,025 iTaiwan and Eland-Free hotspots as of 2016 with even more on the way.
The Yilan City Government’s FTTS Plan aims to bring Internet services into schools. As part of the plan, the government has set up broadband networks and digital facilities in 108 schools. Each class has also been allocated a computer and single-DMD projector to make use of the Internet availability.
The GSN/VPN Plan is the Yilan County Government’s project to build the architecture for county-wide Internet access. As part of the plan, the government also aims to build a large-scale virtual private Intranet for the county. All twelve townships in Yilan County have 100% network service coverage as of 2016 with over 300 locations providing network services.
Cultivating Future Talent in Yilan County
The Yilan County Government has introduced a series of educational and training courses for the county’s labor force, focusing especially on youth. Many of Yilan County’s schools, including Toucheng High School of Commerce and Home Economics, Luodong High School of Commerce, and National Yilan University have worked with local companies on the Youth Career Development Project. Together, they have held ten different information sessions, aiming to match school departments with appropriate companies in the county to help youth find the best jobs for them. The three schools have also organized the Labor Workforce Employment Skill Cultivation Project with J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. In 2015, 348 people participated in the project, and 228 of them acquired new skill licenses that allowed them to join the labor market.
The local government has planned a number of other educational programs, including the Mobile Learning Exemplar School Project, the Scratch Program Design Competition, the digital learning platform Moodle, and the Junyi Academy. Together, these programs provide digital education for students of all ages, focusing on computer literacy, programming, and mechatronics skills. In particular, elementary and junior high schools in the county are now completing 3D printing and robot design courses. The four programs have attracted hundreds of participants as of 2016, including 700 students in the Mobile Learning Exemplar School Project and 560 contestants in the 7th Scratch Program Design Competition alone.
Blending Tradition with Modern Innovation
Yilan County aims to blend the best of the old and the new, using the benefits of the broadband economy to transform its traditional industries rather than building from scratch. The local government has begun two projects: the Chung Hsing Cultural and Creative Park – Industry Incubation Project and the Yilan Cultural Creative Industries Counseling and Promotion Project to achieve this goal. The Chung Hsing Cultural and Creative Park will be launched early in 2017 with a storefront factory layout that allows multiple local creative industries to attract customers side-by-side. The park will include a network-sharing center, travel resource and mobile location services, an AR tour system on the park’s history, an online payment system and online ordering platform, a cultural information and travel planning platform, and many other services. For ease of transportation, the Chung Hsing Cultural and Creative Park will also offer an electric shuttle system, an electric vehicle sharing system, and a smart parking system. As of 2016, twenty-eight micro-businesses and studios are scheduled to be part of the park on launch.
The Yilan Cultural Creative Industries Counseling and Promotion Project works to attract local industries, such as textile dyeing, carpentry, and paper-making, to the Chung Hsing Cultural and Creative Park alongside young entrepreneurs aiming to start new online businesses. As part of the project, the local government provides assistance in eliminating regulatory obstructions for local businesses and outside startups wishing to relocate to the park. The project also provides digital channels for all its businesses to promote their products to a wider audience online and showcase Yilan’s creative industries to the world.
Digital Access for All
As broadband access reaches across Yilan County, the local government aims to help residents better utilize it with free public computer courses. The Yilan County Government has set up sixteen township information management centers (TIMCs) throughout the area, each equipped with computers and broadband Internet access. TIMCs provide computer education and training courses to local residents, focusing on Internet research and accessing government, education, and life services online. As of June 2016, 19,033 residents have attended these free courses since the initiative was launched in 2006.
The local government has also set up a series of six digital opportunity centers (DOCs) throughout its rural townships to spread digital literacy and knowledge to the rural regions of Yilan County. The current DOCs include the Yuanshan DOC (Tong le Elementary School), the Sanshing DOC (the Sanshing Public Library), the Jhuangwei DOC (Houpi Community Development Association), the Datong DOC (Stacis Churg), and the Nan’ao DOC (Nan’ao Public Library). Each DOC is equipped with computer and networking equipment to assist with courses on computer, mobile, and social network applications. The Department of Applied Informatics at Fo Guang University has provided 25 of its students with the opportunity to work in rural education through these DOCs, aiming to reduce the gap between urban and rural education.
Yilan, Town of Happiness
To spread awareness of its unique cultural and business offerings, Yilan County has adopted the brand “Yilan, Town of Happiness.” The brand focuses on Yilan’s many festivals and beautiful landscape to attract visitors. The Yilan County Image Calendar Project, begun sixteen years ago, showcases Yilan’s vibrant communities to the world. Each year, twelve communities in the county each create one month’s page of the calendar, including image and text. To facilitate as much participation as possible, the local government sets up community subsidization plans to provide funding to any community that helps create the calendar that year.
Yilan’s International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival, held every year for the past twenty-one, is the country’s most internationally renowned festival. Each year, dozens of performance groups from around the world are invited to perform at the event, which includes exhibitions, games, performances, and cultural exchanges.
Yilan County is home to many other festivals and events as well, including the Yilan Green Expo, the Asia-Pacific Traditional Arts Festival and the Yilan Festival of Land, Arts and Creativity. The Green Expo includes various creative performances and an experience hall, which showcases green living and organic and sustainable production. The Asia-Pacific Traditional Arts Festival focuses on a specific arts topic each year with exhibits, performances, forums, workshops, seminars and demonstrations. The event creates a window through which the rest of the world can experience traditional Asian arts and crafts. Both the Yilan Green Expo and the Asia-Pacific Traditional Arts Festival have been held for over fifteen years. The Yilan Festival of Land, Arts and Creativity is by far the newest event, as it was established in 2016. The festival aims to raise public awareness of land conservation issues and local cultural offerings by inviting international artists and student groups to meet and interact with residents. This ensures that the works of art and other creative projects completed during the festival are a reflection of Yilan’s land and people.
Yilan County’s unique blend of people and cultures has always been its strength. With the introduction of broadband access and education, the county can show this strength to the world, attracting visitors and investors to spur future growth.
In the News
Read the latest updates about Yilan County.