Northeast Ohio is an 18-county region bordering on one of America's Great Lakes to the north and including the major metropolitan center of Cleveland and the cities of Akron, Canton and Youngstown. To Americans of a certain age, the names of those cities tell the tale of the Industrial Age. This region was one of America's great trade and manufacturing centers, a key link in the national transportation system, home to steel companies and the place where Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller made his fortune. Following the Second World War, however, it fell into seemingly unstoppable decline, particularly in the core urban areas, as US manufacturing lost competitiveness in a global market. Amidst rising unemployment, eroding institutions, population loss and racial unrest, the tremendous wealth created in the industrial era was no longer invested in creating new businesses and industries, nor in education and the development of social capital. In 1978, Cleveland became the first US city to default on its creditors since the Great Depression and, in 2004 and 2006, was named America's poorest big city.
Yet the region retained hidden strengths: world-class health facilities, a vibrant arts culture, three major professional sports teams and respected institutions of higher learning, including Case Western Reserve University and Oberlin College. Another major asset was buried in a literal sense. During the 1990s, the telecom industry built out more than $4 trillion of fiber-optic communications systems worldwide. In most cases, these circuits followed the traditional transportation corridors such as rail lines and highways, which meant that Northeast Ohio found itself once again at the hub of a high-capacity transportation network.
In 2002, Case Western named as its new chief information officer a visionary named Lev Gonick. With global technology and community development experience on his resume, he soon began outlining a revolutionary idea. He believed that the region's nonprofit institutions could spearhead development of a common community network that would not only save them money and expand capacity but foster a wide range of innovation collaborations. The vision impressed many regional leaders, notable among them Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell. Case Western and the city assembled a core group of institutions including NorTech (an economic development organization focused on technology), Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University, the county library system, the local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) affiliate, and Cleveland's transit authority and school district. These were the founding members of a public-private partnership they called OneCleveland, which was eventually renamed OneCommunity. Under the leadership of its president Scot Rourke, OneCommunity forged partnerships with the region's telephone and cable carriers, under which the carriers donated unused fiber-optic circuits to OneCommunity and OneCommunity contracted for last-mile fiber and VPN services from the carriers.
To make the deal, OneCommunity had to overcome resistance to the creation of what carriers at first viewed as a new competitor. Fortunately, Rourke and his team came from the venture capital industry, which allowed them to talk the language of business plans and return on investment. It also ensured OneCommunity began life with a sustainable business model. Eventually, they persuaded all parties of OneCommunity's essential value: by helping the public and nonprofit sectors become better users of IT and telecom services, OneCommunity would save them money while simultaneously boosting demand across the region. And boost demand it did. Lev Gonick reports that, prior to OneCommunity, Case Western was using about 40 megabits per second of capacity for all of its operations. Within a few years of joining the OneCommunity network, average demand had risen to 400 Mbps. Since start-up, the OneCommunity network has expanded to connect more than 1,500 schools, libraries, governments, hospitals and universities. Its OneClassroom content and digital asset management system connects these users to world-class content from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Orchestra, PBS and other sources. In 2006-07, the network hosted an 18-month program called Voices & Choices, which engaged tens of thousands of area leaders in Web-enabled "town meetings" in order to educate people about the challenges facing the regional economy and obtain their input. Voices & Choices has led to a regional economic development plan called Advance Northeast Ohio, which focuses on business growth and attraction, talent development, inclusion and government collaboration for greater efficiency.
OneCommunity would be impressive just as a story of network deployment - but it would not have achieved the potential that its creators envisioned. Because OneCommunity's Board is made up of the leading governmental and nonprofit institutions of the region, it became the hub of intensive collaboration. Today, the work of tech-based economic development agency NorTech, for example, is complemented by Team NEO, a joint venture of the largest metro chambers of commerce, which works to attract business investment in targeted sectors. Another nonprofit, JumpStart, provides venture capital to start-up companies with high growth potential. In 2006, it tied for ninth among the 100 most active investors making first-time investments in start-up or early-stage companies, according to Entrepreneur magazine, up from 61st place in 2005. Meanwhile, private investor Morgenthaler Ventures, founded in Cleveland with offices in Silicon Valley's Menlo Park, tied for 11th most active on the Entrepreneur list.
BioEnterprise is another nonprofit partnership, founded by The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western and Summa Health Systems. It supports business formation, recruitment and acceleration for emerging medical device, biotechnology and health care service firms. Since its founding in 2002, it has created, recruited or accelerated more than 60 companies, helped them attract more than $565 million in funding, and concluded over 225 technology transfer deals with industry partners.
Rebuilding an Entrepreneurial Culture
In November, OneCommunity announced that it would share with the Northeast Ohio Regional Health Information Organization (NEO RHIO) an $11.2 million grant from the US Federal Communications Commission to develop a regional broadband health care network. The network will connect 19 rural hospitals and numerous clinics in 22 counties to over 30 existing hospitals already on the OneCommunity network. The project will enable NEO RHIO and its collaborating medical providers to deliver telemedicine, records access, medical imaging and remote diagnostic services to improve community health care. At the same time, it creates the opportunity for the region to become a center of excellence in the emerging business of electronic patient records management.
The efforts of OneCommunity and its partners are all directed to the same goal: rebuilding the business, political and social culture of entrepreneurship that created the region's Industrial Age prosperity. In the Broadband Economy, that takes a different set of assets and skills, from broadband to partnerships to digital literacy. It also takes long-term investment in human and social capital. But the partners are betting that same spirit that drove the region's earlier success can create a sustainable and inclusive economy in the 21st Century.
Labor Force: 2,125,400
Smart21 2008 | 2011
Like rural cities around the world, Mitchell has been shaped by the productivity revolution in agriculture. Over the past 80 years, automation has transformed farming from a labor-intensive business to a capital-intensive one employing a tiny percentage of the workforce. The six counties surrounding Mitchell have lost one-third of their population since 1930. The most talented and ambitious are inevitably the first to go.
Vision 2000 and Mitchell Technical Institute
Mitchell began to plan a different future in the late 1980s. A strategic plan called Vision 2000 called for a community-wide emphasis on education, healthcare, infrastructure and recreation. It led to the merger of two hospitals, creating a unified healthcare system that became the city’s biggest employer, and the construction of new schools that partnered with the local university and recreation center to advance educational excellence. Investments in city infrastructure were funded by an increase in the local sales tax.
It was during this period that the local community college, the Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), began to assume a unique leadership role. MTI and a consulting company, Martin and Associates, developed a plan to create a municipal telephone company to bring advanced services to the city. Put to a vote, the plan was defeated due to concerns about cost fed by the opposition of incumbent providers. But MTI was undeterred. It developed a technology center to serve students and the community, which soon became a collocation facility for communications providers. Through a Federal grant, MTI upgraded it into a Network Operations Center meeting strict industry and government security standards, and the NOC began to host more and more networks including university connections to Internet II. This evidence of demand persuaded regional carriers to expand broadband service, culminating in a 2005 decision by Santel Communications to build a fiber-to-the-premise network.
Investing in the Next Generation
Telecommunications development has created another economy on top of Mitchell’s agricultural one. It consists of engineering, consulting and software companies that have made Mitchell into a regional hub for expertise and services. The city and its institutions have responded by deepening their support for the digital economy. The school system has introduced a 1-to-1 laptop and tablet program for middle and secondary school students, and is piloting mass customized learning.
MTI has invested $40 million in a new technology-based campus, where it trains hundreds of communications and data technicians, while Dakota Wesleyan University has created centers for entrepreneurship and health sciences. A local angel investors network has sprung up and begun incubating new communications startups. So successful has the new economy become that it is attracting new office industries including healthcare support companies Alleviant and Avera Health Systems. Mitchell is responding by partnering with recruitment companies to attract talent from across America to the city. Rather than seeing its population decline, Mitchell has become a Midwest magnet for ICT talent.
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Mitchell was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Smart21 2013 | 2014 | 2015
A rural city of 26,000 people 60 miles southwest of Atlanta, LaGrange has pioneered in developing public-private ventures for broadband-based economic development. Set in the rural Georgia countryside, LaGrange is an enterprise-based community that levies no local taxes but instead earns revenue by delivering services: electricity from the municipal-owned plant, water and sewer, and most recently telecommunications. Through partnerships with companies including ITC Holding and Charter Communications, the city has funded and constructed a total of four broadband networks, serving businesses, institutions and residents within and beyond the city limits.
Creating a Community of Use
Using this infrastructure, the city introduced in 2000 a free high-speed Internet access service for all residents, with free installation and training, delivered via a Worldgate set-top system and the cable TV network. Free Internet access has become a valuable community-building tool that provides residents of all ages and economic levels with email and Web-browsing services, creating a “community of use” for Internet and broadband applications. Using its network, the city has attracted a new calling center company and recently opened an Internet hosting center and small-scale TV production facility. At the same time, its network operations generate over $1 million in revenue for the city treasury each year. Despite its small size and location in a rural area of the US, LaGrange is a proven leader in broadband deployment and the creation of applications that attract a critical mass of local users.
Intelligent Community of the Year 2000
In 1996, a group of Florida educators, business owners and economic developers teamed to create the Florida High Tech Corridor Council in an effort to make Florida, known worldwide as a tourist destination, a viable place for high-tech industries. The Corridor includes 21 counties stretching across the center of the state from Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic to Tampa Bay on the Gulf coast. This regional community now contain 6,800 high-tech companies employing more than 158,000 workers in optics and photonics, medical technology, information technology, aviation and aerospace, simulation and training, and microelectronics. Business Week has rated it one of the fastest-growing technology centers in America. In terms of broadband, the region ranks among the best-served in the nation, with the local carrier, Verizon, having invested more than $1.7 billion in the last five years. For consumers and small businesses, companies including Verizon, GTE, RoadRunner, Time Warner, Earthlink and AOL deliver DSL and cable modem service — an array of providers that most Americans can only dream about.
Like most successful technology clusters, the Corridor was the result of effective collaboration between academia (University of Central Florida and University of South Florida), the private sector and local and state government. That cooperation continues, with the partners creating programs in workforce development to fill an anticipated gap between the growth of the working age population and demand for employees, including US$80 million recently raised by the universities and private sector to fund new workforce development and research programs. The Council was also able to attract a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund technology education. The Florida High Tech Corridor Council is an outstanding example of a public-private partnership that aims to solve workforce development problems for the broadband economy before they can stifle future growth.
In the United States, the financial crisis of 2008 gave rise to plunging property values, massive government deficits on the national and state levels and an anguished round of budget-cutting. Which makes all the more remarkable the steady, long-term approach of the small city of Dublin, Ohio USA.
Most American cities and towns fund themselves on property and sales taxes, but Dublin has a local income tax. It provides a dependable stream of revenue that allows the city to maintain ample cash reserves and plan for the long term. Dublin also has a successful track record at using its income tax receipts as collateral for what is called tax-increment financing. This has helped make possible a virtuous cycle in which savvy investments by the city attract investments by business that create high-quality employment. With a population of 41,000, Dublin has a labor force today of 70,000, drawn to the city from throughout the Columbus metropolitan area.
Much of this investment in in physical infrastructure Twenty-five percent of the 2% income tax is dedicated to capital improvements, which have included the Emerald Parkway, the Dublin Commmunity Recreation Center, and a planned 1,300 Innovation Park, a next-generation technology business campus that aims to unite the community’s strengths in ICT, research and development. Government services are also well-funded; all three secondary schools in the city were named to Newsweek magazine’s 2010 list of top schools in the country.
But one form of infrastructure stands out in Dublin, and has become a connecting thread that unifies and powers its other economic and social assets. They call it DubLink.
Following telecommunications deregulation in 1996, Dublin began installing a network of underground conduit to encourage deployment of broadband by private carriers. A public-private partnership with the Fishel Company soon followed, and by 2003, Dublin had built and lit the DubLink fiber network to connect city facilities and replace telephone company service. Dublin's contribution to the project came from those tax-increment financing bonds, funded by future increases in tax revenue that would result from the improvements being financed.
In managing the network, the city drew a bright line between public and private use. The city delivers no services except for governmental use, and leases either conduit space or its own dark fiber to carriers serving the local market. It is an "open access" strategy that has proven successful in communities as diverse as Stockholm, Sweden (2009 Intelligent Community of the Year) and Loma Linda, California (2007 Smart21 Community).
As Dublin installed more and more fiber in its conduits, it began doing capacity-sharing deals other public and public-private entities. DubLink now interconnects with Columbus FiberNet, which reaches the state capital and four other cities in the metro area. It partners with the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), carrying some of the traffic on OSC's 1,600-mile fiber backbone. In return, the OSC and Dublin joined forces to create the Central Ohio Research Network (CORN), a fiber infrastructure connecting governments, schools and businesses to Ohio colleges, universities, research institutes and Federal labs. Other fiber transport partnerships include Central Ohio Broadband, linking with other cities that have developed fiber networks, and agreements with two carrier hotels in Columbus to exchange traffic in return for giving DubLink customers connection to global carriers. A Dublin nonprofit, the Online Computer Library Center, was granted two fibers on the DubLink network, and uses them to help provide research services to nearly 70,000 libraries in 112 countries.
This “invisible infrastructure” has had major positive impacts on the community. CORN allows schools, businesses and institutions to explore experimental networking technologies through Internet2, where the next generation of commercial networking technologies is taking shape. An annual Ohio Supercomputer Center project uses videoconferencing to bring together thousands of elementary and secondary school students for an all-day learning conference. DubLink is used to deliver robust e-government services, from online registration for classes, tax filing and permits to remote attendance at City Council meetings. The city also partners with state government to promote OhioMeansJobs, a career Web site currently hosting 8 million resumes and hundreds of job openings.
Dublin developed a city-center WiFi network, which uses DubLink as its backbone. It has now budgeted for expansion to cover the entire city. In this public-private venture, Dublin contributes its infrastructure (network and hotspots on city property) and a private company, HighSpeedAir, provides services. The city uses the network for mobile computing by its first responders and field staff, fleet monitoring of snow plows and other city vehicles, and video monitoring of traffic. It is also used to support city-sponsored cultural events, like the Dublin Irish Festival weekends and the Jack Nicklaus' PGA Memorial Tournament. And HighSpeedAir markets access to small businesses through corporate buildings and office parks.
The city also views WiFi as a way to reduce digital exclusion. To support widespread, affordable connectivity, Dublin provides free computer training to adults and seniors through its recreation centers.
It takes more than information transport, however, to build a competitive economy. Dublin is a partner of TechColumbus, a regional nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate the growth of the innovation economy through business plan counseling, market assessment and help in gaining access to capital. More than 60 Dublin companies have benefited to date. The $625,000 that the city invested in TechColumbus in 2009 has already yielded $14.6 million in investment, debt financing and new revenue.
The city's Dublin Entrepreneurial Center (DEC) opened in 2009 with one start-up tenant and now houses nearly 50 companies and support organizations, including the Center for Innovative Food Technology and the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition. It hosts twice-monthly co-working events, where Dublin's business community participates in training and meets the community's newest entrepreneurial class. Inspired by its participation in ICF’s programs, the city is also establishing a Center for Global Business Development at DEC to provide collaboration, education and support for Dublin companies seeking to do business overseas.
This ongoing effort to support and strengthen entrepreneurship helps explain why there are 3,000 companies in Dublin, with an average of just seven employees each, while the city is also home to multinational corporations such as Wendy’s International and Ashland. Innovative young companies include Neoprobe, which develops biomedical devices to improve cancer surgery outcomes; EnergyGateway, which offers energy management services to commercial customers and was recently acquired by WorldEnergy; Sypherlink, whose software automates data-sharing across the enterprise; and Cardiox, which sells detection systems for the prevention of strokes.
Healthcare has been a particular beneficiary of Dublin’s high level of connectivity and the anchoring presence of Cardinal Health, a Fortune 17 provider of healthcare management services. OhioHealth, a nonprofit network of hospitals and healthcare facilities, uses DubLink and partner networks to connect five major hospitals, billing centers and its corporate headquarters across Central Ohio Three years ago, OhioHealth opened Dublin Methodist Hospital, the first new nonprofit hospital in the region in two decades, which has been named one of the “Most Wired” hospitals in America by Hospitals and Health Networks magazine every year since then.
The hospital has deployed technology to create a completely digital, wireless and near-paperless environment that better serves patients while increasing productivity. A comprehensive electronic medical records system provides access to physicians and clinicians both inside and outside the hospital. Fingerprint authorization protects drugs in the pharmacy system from abuse, and a barcode scanning system checks all medications to make sure that the correct drug is being used at the correct dosage. RFID tags keep track of all equipment in the hospital, which reduces losses to theft. Staff and physicians use a wireless system to locate and communicate with each other, saving countless hours, while mobile camera carts can be deployed to provide continuous video monitoring of patients anywhere in the facility.
Workforce of the Future
In 2008, Dublin began a major focus on workforce issues. The city benefits from proximity to Columbus, the state capital, with its many colleges and universities. Eighty percent of residents have a bachelor’s or graduate degree. But Dublin’s leaders understand the vital importance of creating a workforce that meets the specific needs of its major employers and fast-growing entrepreneurial companies.
The city began by hosting a series of education and business roundtables, which led to an annual Business-Education Summit on Workforce Development, now in its third year. Among other results, the effort led to a partnership between the state-sponsored BioOhio program and Dublin’s Tolles Technical & Career Center for the creation of a biotechnology program, and another between the city and the Columbus State Center for Workforce Development to bring targeted training programs to the city.
The old adage says that “slow and steady wins the race.” Through good and bad economic times, Dublin has shown remarkable steadiness in assembling the key elements of 21st Century economic growth. Slow, however, does not appear to be a word in the Dublin vocabulary.
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Dublin was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Seizing Our Destiny.
Labor Force: 70,000
Smart21 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011
Top7 2010 | 2011
Columbus is a city of sharp contrasts. The capital of the state of Ohio, it has the highest metropolitan concentration of Fortune 1000 companies in America and is the home of the research school Ohio State University (OSU) and Battelle, the world’s biggest private research institute. But the city also has a large, low-income population stranded by the decline of low-skilled factory employment and is ranked 46th out of the 50 largest US cities for upward mobility. As a result, average per-capita income trails America’s and its employers struggle to find qualified staff while unemployment and low-wage jobs afflict too many citizens.
Municipal Broadband Attracts Competitors
Columbus is attacking these challenges on multiple fronts and through collaboration among government, education, business and institutions. It is also leading a regional approach to economic development with surrounding communities including former Top7 Dublin. The collaboration plays out in broadband, where the partners have interconnected their fiber networks supporting schools and universities, hospitals, research institutes and government facilities. This continuing investment in advanced broadband has helped attract multiple competing commercial providers as well as enabling a unified traffic management system and mobile solutions for the city workforce including first responders.
Educators meanwhile are collaborating to improve the chance that low-income students can afford higher education and also succeed at it. The Central Ohio Compact unites K-12, community college and undergraduate institutions to guide low-income students into higher education. Preferred Pathway is one program that guarantees community college graduates a university placement, which lets them turn their 2-year degree into a 4-year degree at a fraction of the normal cost. City government supports this effort with programs including Capital Kids, which provides after-school digital literacy programs for K-12 students, and APPS, which works to give at-risk youth positive alternatives to being on the street, including computer labs funded by Microsoft.
From Brain Drain to Brain Gain
Another partnership, TechColumbus, offers startup acceleration, business mentoring, seed funding and capital attraction. Its First Customer program helps young companies generate their first revenue from established companies in the region.
The East Franklinton neighborhood was once the heart of a vibrant African-American cultural scene and Mayor Coleman has made its revitalization a personal crusade. A community-based planning effort has created a vision for building residential, retail and creative space as well as a business incubator, and private investment has already converted an abandoned warehouse into a performance and studio space supplemented by an art gallery, coffee shop and farmer’s market. Grant funding is going into the development of a makerspace and community workshop.
Go to the App Store on the iPhone or Android and search for MyColumbus. Downloading this app (rated 3.5 out of 5 by users as of June 2012) will put the City of Columbus, Ohio, USA into the palm of your hand.
MyColumbus started out as a student project at Ohio State University. Students worked with the IT department of the city to identify open-data databases that could provide the most up-to-date information on city services, location of facilities and schedules of public events. They then built an app to access the data and turn it into easy-to-understand information. The city’s IT department was so impressed with the result that, with the students’ permission, it hired a software company to expand the app and put a professional gloss on it.
The resulting MyColumbus provides MyNeighborhood (location-based mapping and information about community resources, refuse collection and health inspections), GetActive (links to events, bike and trail guides and healthy lifestyle tips), GreenSpot (with information on sustainability) and 311 (where residents can log service and information requests). Service requests submitted via MyColumbus are resolved 3.3 times faster, on average, than telephone requests. Why? Because users can submit photos and GPS coordinates with their service requests, which helps maintenance workers show up with the right tools and materials to get the job done.
MyColumbus is so effective because of the rich data that Columbus’s IT department makes available to it. The city’s geographical information system (GIS) has hundreds of layers and supports applications including One-Stop-Shop Zoning, Utility Dashboard, Capital Improvements Planning, Fire Hydrants Inspection/Maintenance, and that all-important function in snowy southern Ohio, Snow Removal. The data derived from databases, sensors and GPS flows through to operations managers, planners, businesses and citizens in a never-ending stream.
This range of programs and applications is having measurable impact. Columbus is now one of a handful of US metros that turned a brain drain in 2005-2007 into brain gain in 2007-2009. Employment growth in skilled manufacturing has exceeded 35% over the past decade. And in 2013, Columbus was named one of the top 10 cities in the US for new college grads.
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Columbus was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Intelligent Community of the Year 2015
Smart21 2013 | 2014 | 2015
Top7 2013 | 2014 | 2015
Surrey is one of just seven global communities to make the final shortlist for the title, Intelligent Community of the Year for 2016. Surrey has been ranked by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) of New York City for 2016 and 2015 and has made it to the finals both years. Louis Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum tours Surrey May 4-5 and city officials will be showing him some of the programs and projects that have made the city such a consistent contender for the sought after recognition.Read more
During the Industrial Age, the city of Cleveland in Northeast Ohio was one of America's great trade and manufacturing centers. A key link in a transport system of rivers, canals and railroads, Cleveland was home to steel companies and was the place where Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller made his fortune. Its last "boom" years, however, came just after the Second World War, when its population peaked at 914,000 in 1949. The second half of the 20th Century brought industrial decline, rising unemployment and racial unrest, culminating in 1978 when Cleveland became the first US city to default on its creditors since the Great Depression. Dismissed in the press as "the mistake by the lake," Cleveland appeared to face the bleakest of futures.
Under Mayors Michael White and George Voinovich, however, the metropolitan area began to recover. New investment poured into real estate projects in the downtown area, bringing hope for the future. But traditional economic development strategies had only limited impact. At the end of the century, Cleveland had one of the highest poverty rates among large American cities, with almost one-third of adults and 47% of children living at or below the poverty line. As a result, many inner-city neighbourhoods remained troubled and the school system faced serious problems. More importantly, the economic environment in which Cleveland had to compete was changing fast. The original advantages that had powered its growth were of little value in a knowledge-based economy.
Among the metropolitan area's assets, however, were strong government and nonprofit institutions, including Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College and Nortech. These organizations teamed with the city, the regional transit authority and other partners to form a nonprofit called OneCleveland, now known as OneCommunity (www.onecommunity.org). Its mission: to deploy a community-based ultra-broadband network in the metropolitan area and to build a new knowledge economy on its foundation. The project was the brainchild of Lev Gonick, CIO at Case Western. The network was switched on in 2003 and today has a dozen institutional subscribers ranging from the city and the regional MetroHealth System to the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra. Applications running on the network include high-definition videoconferencing connecting Cleveland Clinic doctors to city schools for the delivery of healthcare, best-in-class programs from the Cleveland Museum of Art delivered to branch libraries, and a pilot wireless project with Intel to enable city and county inspectors to file and exchange data on building permits in the field. In 2005, Intel named the greater Cleveland area as one of three Worldwide Digital Communities deploying wireless broadband applications to improve government and other services.
Under President Scott Rourke, OneCommunity has focused as much on human factors as technology. The nonprofit has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from governments, foundations and businesses to invest in technology training and network expansion. A model program called Computer Learning in My Backyard or CLIMB focused technology and financial literacy training on low-income, working-age residents, and included funding to subsidize PC and Internet access purchases. The Fund for our Economic Future, a collaboration among 66 regional foundations, launched in February 2006 an 18-month program called Voices & Choices. The program aimed to engage an estimated 50,000 area leaders in Internet-enabled "town meetings" and smaller-scale discussions in order to educate people about the realities facing the regional economy and create an action plan for fostering growth. OneCommunity became the Web services provider for this public dialogue.
OneCommunity has also been a relentless and skillful marketer of its efforts, and has received coverage in publications ranging from Computer World to The New York Times. Its high profile surely played a role in a decision by IBM to select Cleveland as the first region to benefit from a grid-computing initiative called the Economic Development Grid, which allows government, institutions and businesses to leverage computing power. Northeast Ohio has also become home to Cisco's wireless technology operations and research center, Agilysys, Progressive Insurance and other companies.
Still very much a work in progress, OneCommunity is recognized by the ICF for the breadth of its vision – encompassing technology, education, digital democracy, innovation and marketing – and the very real progress it has achieved in a relatively short time.
Labor Force: 1,800,000
Every time you take a sip of Coca-Cola, you are tasting a bit of the history of Chattanooga. In 1901, the Atlanta-based company was selling its sugary syrup base to restaurants and drug stores, where it was mixed with carbonated water at the point of sale. Then a group of young Chattanooga businessmen persuaded Coke to sell them the right to pre-mix and bottle Coke. So skeptical was the company of their success that it sold the rights for $1. The businessmen turned that modest investment into a nationwide empire of bottling plants that sparked the global distribution of today.
For a century following the end of America’s Civil War in 1865, Chattanooga thrived on this kind of entrepreneurship. The tow truck was invented and commercialized there, and a number of national food brands were launched from Chattanooga. Chattanoogans also founded two of America’s largest insurance companies. But foundries, casting metal parts, were the mainstay of the economy. Heavy industry created wealth and ample employment for blue-collar workers. It also produced pollution. Local joked about changing their shirts twice a day and turning on the headlights of their cars at noon, but in 1969, the US government cited Chattanooga for having the dirtiest air in America.
The designation shocked the community into action. The city council joined with local manufacturers and doctors to pioneer an air-quality control program a year before the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An air pollution control bureau covering all of Hamilton County, which surrounds Chattanooga, motivated manufacturers to invest $10m in pollution control. The effort proved so successful that the EPA recognized it as a national model in 1972.
Local government, business and institutional leaders did not know it at the time, but they had just created the team they needed to steer the community through tough times to come.
The Lost Decades
The 1970s began a period of long, slow decline as Chattanooga’s manufacturers fell victim to the forces of rising global competition. Legacy companies shrank and closed, and few new ones stepped up to take their place. The entire decade of the 1990s passed without producing a single new major employer.
The city did not go down quietly. The civic leadership, which had conquered the air pollution problem, organized and funded a massive effort to revitalize the urban core. In the 1990s, they constructed the Tennessee Aquarium, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium when it opened, and a children’s Creative Discovery Museum. They redeveloped the waterfront, built riverside parks and an 11-mile river walk to reconnect the city to the Tennessee River.
In fact, Chattanooga gained a national reputation for downtown revitalization, which created confidence and produced a cityscape that made citizens proud. But once the construction stopped, the projects did little to change the economic fundamentals. Community leaders entered the new century realizing that they needed a new game plan. What emerged was not a single, coherent strategy but a set of coordinated actions by different members of a close-knit leadership. Decades of battling decline gave them the determination to move ahead on many fronts.
Like many manufacturing cities, Chattanooga had an educational system designed to turn out large numbers of low-skilled workers. It gave secondary school students a choice between vocational and college preparatory tracks. In 2003, the Hamilton County school superintendent junked this system with the support of the Chamber of Commerce and began holding all students to the higher standard. In a world where traditional blue-collar jobs increasingly require problem-solving and technical certification, there seemed no other choice.
Hamilton County schools also partnered with local companies and business associations to develop more than 30 Career Academies, in which secondary school students learn core academic subjects through their application to a particular industry. At a construction academy, students learned math by applying it to costing and completing construction projects. They still read Shakespeare but also learned how to read a construction contract and write a job proposal. That project and a health care academy were instrumental in boosting student scores. In the 2009-2010 academic year, the school system increased its graduation rate by 10%.
Chattanooga is home to a branch of the University of Tennessee and the Chattanooga State Technical and Community College. Their leaders established a close working partnership with each other, the Chamber of Commerce and a dozen local organizations to bridge the education last-mile. With the help of 1,000 volunteers, they deliver school-to-work programs to 15,000 secondary school students. One program, “Reality Check,” lets students role-play being a head of household at different levels of income based on their educational attainment. As they simulate paying utility bills, obtaining child care and making choices about transportation, they quickly learn that a single parent with a high-school diploma cannot afford to buy a sports car.
The two institutions have also partnered to help lower-income students start their education at Chattanooga State and finish it at the University, which can save the students tens of thousands of dollars. Chattanooga State offers a full range of technical degrees in health sciences, robotics, mechatronics and other leading fields, while the University offers a high quality College of Business, programs in engineering, computer science and math, and the National SimCenter for computational engineering, one of the world’s pioneers in solving engineering problems through computer simulation. The state of Tennessee ranks 48th out of 50 states in education, but the percentage of Chattanoogans with bachelor’s degrees exceeds the national average.
Putting Smarts into the Grid
When electricity was first commercialized in the US, the utility companies focused on America’s largest cities, where they could get a faster return on investment at lower risk. (The same would later be true of telephone service and broadband.) Chattanooga shares with many smaller American cities a valuable legacy of that earlier commercial neglect: a local electric utility owned by the City Council. The Electric Power Board (EPB) has delivered electricity to the city since 1935, telephone service since 2000 and Internet service since 2003, always with a mission to improve quality of life and economic opportunity for citizens.
A decade ago, EPB began studying the installation of a fiber-optic network to better control electric distribution. The technology looked promising: the business plan forecast that real-time information from smart meters and distribution systems would let EPB reduce its transmission capacity by 40% while delivering a higher quality of service.
But fiber was too expensive to meet the utility’s 25-year payback requirement. EPB’s technology team put the plan on the shelf and waited. They watched as, after the dotcom bust, the price of optical fiber cable fell sharply then continued to decline year by year. When the price was right, EPB moved.
By the end of 2010, EPB had installed its network into all of the 170,000 businesses and homes in its service area. With each fiber install went a smart meter able to provide real-time data on energy usage at that location. The meters are also capable of controlling energy-hungry devices in the home or office as well, but EPB is taking it slow in exploring their use. Some smart meter installations in the US have been controversial. Customers have accused their utilities of using the new metering systems to raise rates. EPB has kept the good will of Chattanooga for decades by ensuring that the innovations it introduces actually make its customers happy.
A fiber network, of course, is not just a control system for electricity distribution. Each home or business receives 1 Gbps symmetrical broadband as a standard offering, making possible Internet, voice and television service. The interesting thing about the EPB deployment, however, is that the telecommunications services are almost an after-thought in business terms. The network is fully cost-justified just for its impact on electricity distribution; revenue from communications is just a bonus.
Not only does Chattanooga have one of the smartest smart-grid systems in the world, it is providing every resident who pays for electricity –nearly every resident, rich or poor – with the world’s most advanced broadband network. The adoption rate in Chattanooga’s poorest neighbourhoods is little different from the rest of the community, and programs from its Housing Authority have provided training and computers to more than 600 housing units.
The network is also having an impact on Chattanooga’s healthcare system. The city’s three primary care facilities include a teaching hospital, children’s hospital and Level 1 Trauma Center. They are working with healthcare business ventures to leverage EPB’s broadband capabilities. A partnership between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Cerner Medical is implementing a Web-based medical records system able to store and transmit high-resolution medical images. Chattanooga’s public hospital has received a grant to use the new network for telemedicine: remote diagnosis of patients at outlying health clinics to determine if they can be treated locally or need hospital care. One radiological group has found that the EPB network has so reduced waiting time for large medical image files that the productivity gain is equal to having another doctor on staff.
What have all of these separate but coordinated efforts brought about? By its own admission, Chattanooga began the 21st century as an economic development non-entity, with lots of great parks and museums but not much in the way of long-term job generation. By 2007, a survey of US site selectors rated it among the “50 Hottest Cities.” The EPB fiber project played its part in that turnaround. Stories on the project have appeared in The New York Times, Bloomberg TV and dozens of other news sites, as well as garnering 9 million Twitter impressions. The city has attracted relocating customer care centers, which are bringing hundreds of jobs into the region. The National SimCenter at the University is in talks with IBM about locating one of its most powerful computers – one not even commercial available – in Chattanooga to take advantage both of the highly reliable power and communications infrastructure. Its crowning achievement has been to land a $1 billion Volkswagen assembly plant, which will provide both white-collar and blue-collar jobs and have a substantial economic impact.
There is also a steady uptick in the community’s entrepreneurial spirit. Nonprofit organizations have stepped up to accelerate the base of small company formation and innovation. The Chamber of Commerce runs one of America’s largest business incubators, with 60 companies employing more than 500 people under one roof. The Lyndhurst Foundation funds a program called CreateHere, which provides business planning and support to sustain and grow Chattanooga’s arts and artisan community. Culture and tourism are increasingly important parts of the local economy. Lyndhurst has also launched a second project, InnovateHere, which provides incentives for technology companies to locate in Chattanooga. Providing additional impetus is the Renaissance Fund, an angel investment group of Chattanooga investors seeking to build a pipeline of local companies that can mature to the point of attracting venture capital.
With its unemployment rate below state and national averages, Chattanooga received good news in February 2010, when the Moody’s financial rating service named it among the first wave of US cities entering economic recovery. With so many different actors pushing forward in so many different sectors, the recovering economy is more flexible and balanced than at any time in the community’s past. That leaves Chattanooga’s leadership well-positioned to keep doing what they do best: adapting to a fast-changing world.
More About Chattanooga
Labor Force: 162,000
Bristol is one of the few communities in the world with a political boundary running down its spine. Lying to the south of the center line on State Street is the city of Bristol in the state of Tennessee. On the north side is a different city with the same name: Bristol, Virginia.
Bristol is nestled deep in Appalachia, a mountainous rural region of the American Southeast known for coal-mining, tobacco-growing and their traditional companions: poverty, poor education and lack of opportunity for bright young minds. The city's per-capita income in 2007 was only $20,000 compared with the Virginia average of more than $41,000 and the US average of nearly $39,000. Bristol is proud of its reputation as "The Birthplace of Country Music" and as home to a 160,000-seat NASCAR car racing venue known as "The World's Fastest Half-Mile." But Bristol's leaders knew that a proud history and the ability to attract fans on race day are no foundation for prosperity in a 21st Century community.
Electric Legacy, Broadband Future
Like many rural American communities, Bristol Virginia owns and operates its own electric company, Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU). City-owned and cooperative utilities are a legacy of the last wave of rural development in the United States, which focused on electrification. In 1998, Bristol's city council voted to allow BVU to construct a fiber-optic backbone to improve communications and control among its eight electric substations. The business case was straightforward and the implementation successful. By 2000, BVU had extended the network to local schools and government offices to support telephone, data and broadband Internet, which reduced the city's operating costs and expanded the capabilities available to users. It also spurred demands from local businesses and real estate developers to provide service to them. So, in 2001, the council and BVU agreed to begin offering fiber-to-the-user (FTTU) service, branded OptiNet, to all residents and businesses.
Private-sector carriers were quick to challenge the move. One incumbent objected to the Virginia public utility commission, which regulates communications, stating that Virginia law barred municipalities from offering retail telecommunications services. Such a law was indeed on the books but, in Bristol's view, had been rendered invalid by passage of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. Only after Bristol sued the state did the Virginia General Assembly pass legislation in 2002 overturning the old law. As BVU prepared its commercial launch later that year, the incumbent cable TV operator claimed that the utility lacked the legal authority to provide television service. A court agreed. BVU returned to the Assembly seeking legislative and charter changes, which were granted in 2003. But later that year, the company's chief financial officer was back in the state capital testifying before a commission on the issue of cross-subsidies. The incumbent had accused BVU of charging phone rates that were below its costs and making up the difference on other services. The commission ruled against the complaint. Finally, after three years and $2.5 million in legal fees, BVU had won the right to deliver retail communications.
Financial Success Spurs Growth
As it turned out, the private sector was right to fear competition from BVU. Market research conducted by the company in 2001 suggested that 70% of respondents might switch telephone and television service from the incumbent operator, while half might switch Internet service. By August 2008, BVU's OptiNet FTTU service had captured more than 62% of the available residential and business market in its service area, thanks to effective marketing to electric customers with whom BVU already had a relationship. Despite millions of dollars of investment, OtpiNet had reached financial self-sufficiency on $16 million in net revenues in the 2009 fiscal year. A 2008 study conducted for the BVU Board determined that OptiNet customers, while enjoying the bandwidth bonanza of FTTU, had saved nearly $10 million over incumbent competitors' rates or special offers since the start of service.
The OptiNet service area was no longer limited by the city lines. BVU entered into partnership with the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission in 2003 to build CPC OptiNet. Managed by BVU, the network began with a 45-mile fiber-optic circuit reaching to Richlands, Virginia, funded by grants from the US government and the Virginia Tobacco Commission. It grew gradually to 200 miles across four rural counties with the help of additional grants. (The Tobacco Commission distributes money paid to the state by US tobacco companies following the 1998 settlement of the largest class-action lawsuit in US history.) BVU's success in designing, building and operating the network led it to establish a business unit called BVU FOCUS, which stands for Finding Opportunities for Communities throughout the United States. BVU FOCUS offers consulting and management services to other entities that seek to build advanced telecom networks. The unit's first customer in 2007 was MI-Connection, a telecom co-op owned by two communities in the state of North Carolina. Under BVU's management, the $80 million network grew its customer base nearly 5% in its first year and exceeded budget by 27%.
Creating a Broadband Culture
While the struggles of OptiNet make an exciting story, Bristol did not become a fiber carrier in order to win competitive battles with business. The city council's goal was economic and community development and, though the network is still so new, early results are positive. BVU's extension of the network convinced two major companies – CGI and Northrop Grumman – to build multi-million-dollar facilities in a regional business park during 2007. Since the network extension was completed in 2007, 185 businesses in the four-county service area have become customers and two new industrial parks began construction. Recent media reports indicate that business growth resulting from the broadband build-out has created 1,220 jobs in seven coal-producing counties worth $37 million in annual payroll, and attracted $50 million in new private investment. The new jobs entering the area are paying about two-thirds more than the normal weekly wage. To leverage this success, Bristol has launched a marketing campaign called AccessBristol, which makes its 1 Gbit broadband capacity the centerpiece of business attraction.
The entry of these major employers into the region has sparked a multi-level effort to develop a local knowledge workforce. Both CGI and Northrup Grumman discovered that it is difficult to attract outside employees to the region because payrolls are scaled to its very low cost of living. No matter what the arithmetic, employees resist accepting a reduction in salary as part of a move to a new area. The University of Virginia at Wise stepped forward to create the first undergraduate software engineering program in the Commonwealth, while three community colleges have joined forces to offer advanced technology classes.
These efforts are not occurring in a vacuum. Northrup Grumman's decision to locate a data center in southwest Virgina was not random; it was part of an outsourcing contract with the Commonwealth. A Southwest Virginia IT Task Force lead by Virginia's Secretary of Commerce brings together major area employers with state, county, educational and nonprofit organizations to identify requirements, develop programs and monitor their progress. In addition to the educational programs, projects include a "Return to Roots" campaign that seeks to attract highly skilled former residents to return to Southwest Virginia. Thirty percent of employees in Northrup's data center are locals and the percentage is expected to rise as the University graduates its first software engineering majors.
Bristol is also using the now 800-mile network to build quality of life and create opportunity for the next generation. Virginia High School in Bristol has nearly one computer for every student and relies on the rock-solid, high-speed access provided by the network to conduct all of its state-mandated standardized testing. BVU OptiNet has partnered with the Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education program to offer online access to preparation courses for the GED, a set of tests that give passing students the equivalent of a secondary school degree. The fiber network now links local, county and university libraries, giving residents access to more than 1.8 million items, as well as rural health clinics and city hospitals. The Bristol SeniorNavigator program provides online access to a database of services for seniors, adults with disabilities and their caregivers through libraries, community centers and senior citizen housing. Programs like these aim to power deep cultural change in Bristol, which will ensure that the hard work and innovation of its current generation of leaders pays dividends far into the future.
Labor Force: 8,120
Smart21 2009 | 2010