In the late Eighties, fourteen semiconductor manufacturers and the US government created a partnership called SEMATECH to solve common manufacturing problems.
The selection of Austin as its headquarters sparked a technology boom. Growth was so robust for so long that the Austin economy began to look recession-proof – until the dot-com collapse of 2001 tripled the unemployment rate.
Responding to Collapse
In response, city government partnered with the Chamber of Commerce on a long-term economic development strategy that led to a nearly $6 billion increase in regional payrolls over five years. A second five-year plan launched in 2010 seeks to add another $11 billion. Austin's successful tech companies – including such major names as Freescale, Samsung, Facebook, eBay and Altera – are bolstered by rates of Internet access far exceeding US averages, a highly educated workforce and the presence of multiple universities. But achieving the 2015 goal will take more than repeating the past.
Educating the Workforce
Austin faces a workforce challenge: only 4% of the homegrown population attends higher education and only half of secondary school graduates emerge "college-ready." A significant low-income population accounts for this performance. Technology commercialization and tech transfers also present a challenge, despite high rates of patents issued for developments at the University of Texas in Austin, due to shortages of seed funding and expertise in building a business.
A program that puts College Enrollment Managers into public schools to guide the choices made by students has helped boost the graduation rate for low-income students 14 percentage points to 75%. The City Council has also created an Emerging Technologies Program to provide a single point of contact for entrepreneurs, tech businesses and Austin's many incubators. It offers consulting, matchmaking and expert advice on where in Austin to find the resources a growing company needs.
It is through this kind of public-private collaboration that Austin will achieve the growth it needs to maintain its place as America's second Silicon Valley.
Labor Force: 436,336
Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that people have a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones. Not surprisingly, when we finish a project, we file it away. But when it remains “in limbo,” it stays active in our minds. This is how I describe the “inner lives” and the real, on-the-ground activities of Intelligent Communities. While policies are in place, they are on shifting sand. The communities I see and like are a wave of unfinished business and ideas being thrown into places that have been disrupted and were once reeling. It is the right approach, but it is also why netizens in places like Surrey, Canada (@SurreyBC) will post comments that utter a sense of disbelief and skepticism over learning that they have made an international list that ranks them high among cities. Some call it skepticism, others a PR stunt (others worse), although the majority cheer the news because an outsider has recognized their hard work.Read more
Arlington County benefits greatly from its location on the border of Washington DC. It is home to the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (whose research created the Internet) and the National Science Foundation. More than 8,000 Federal employees work there, and tens of thousands more private-sector and nonprofit jobs are enabled by Federal spending. The concentration of nationally-known universities has given the county a remarkably educated workforce, in which more than 73% of adult residents has a graduate degree. Its high-tech public school system is ranked in the top 2% nationwide.
Arlington County is also a national example of smart growth planning, thanks to successful lobbying in the 1980s that caused a new Metrorail line from Washington to run through an existing commercial corridor rather than a cheaper route along a future interstate highway. High-density economic growth took place around Metrorail stations, leaving quiet residential neighborhoods and 1,100 acres of green space beyond.
Attracting the Leading Edge
But what Washington gives, Washington can also take away. Decisions by the US Department of Defense will empty 3.2 million square feet (297,000 m2) and export 13,000 jobs over the next several years. Arlington’s success has raised housing costs and commercial rents while expansion of the Metrorail system is putting the county into competition with cities offering lower costs. Nearly 60% of Arlington’s commercial space was built before 1990 and lacks the amenities needed to attract today’s leading edge companies.
Attracting leading edge companies in high-growth tech sectors has become Arlington’s top priority as it seeks to reduce its vulnerability to Federal decision-making. It is going about this job as it has always done, through something called The Arlington Way. It consists of a formal structure of more than 40 citizen advisory groups and commissions, which influence decisions on everything from land use to technology, and intense collaboration among government, business and the nonprofit sector to spur innovation.
A Plan for Rebuilding on Success
The county has forged a Telecom Master Plan whose centerpiece is Connect Arlington – a public-sector fiber network linking all county and school facilities, which is extending dark fiber connections to office buildings throughout the county. An E-Government Master Plan seeks to reinvent the way citizens engage with government and bring The Arlington Way into the digital age. A partnership with a venture capital firm is fostering the creation of a vibrant ecosystem for national security technologies. Most ambitious of all is a 40-year redevelopment plan for Crystal City, an important urban center, to house 26,000 new residents and attract 56,000 jobs in the kind of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods favored by the technorati. Through these and other initiatives, Arlington County expects to retain the competitive advantages that have underpinned its success and update them for the greater demands ahead.
In the News
Read the latest updates about Arlington County.
Smart21 2010 | 2012 | 2014 | 2015
Top7 2010 | 2014 | 2015
Located at the midpoint between East and West Coasts, Winnipeg is the capital of a province rich in agricultural and natural resources. In the 21st Century, the city is pursuing economic growth by better connecting industry and education, while better equipping its large aboriginal population for opportunity.
Improving Connectivity through Collaboration
Internet service in Winnipeg has long been plagued by high latency, high transport costs and frequent failures due to being routed through other provinces and even parts of the United States. To address these issues, four local businessmen began the non-profit Manitoba Internet Exchange (MBIX), the area’s only local IXP, in 2011. The exchange became operational in 2013, with initial members including Les.Net, Rainy Day, CIRA, Global Service Centre, Akamai International, Hurricane Electric, VOI Networks Inc., Adam Thompson and Packet Clearing House.
MBIX allows members to directly connect to one another over unmetered ethernet in order to exchange local Internet traffic, bypassing the need for expensive and complex routing. As of 2017, the MBIX owns and operates the ethernet switching platform used to interconnect local member networks. The IXP also offers access to an Akamai cache, local root DNS serves and a competitive transit provider to local ISPs peering on its platform. MBIX successfully attracted the global Hurricane Electric network to Winnipeg, which offers Internet transit at a fraction of the cost offered by existing local providers.
Educating the Next Generation of High-Skilled Workers
Sisler High School in Winnipeg’s historically underserved North End neighborhood is at the forefront of digital media education in Canada and has earned a reputation as an international leader in that sector. As one of Manitoba’s largest and most diverse schools, serving over 1,700 students from a wide variety of backgrounds, the school has taken steps to serve all its students by establishing the CREATE program in 2015. The CREATE program includes 24 different creative courses, including classes in animation, concept art, film, sound design, visual effects, graphic design, photography, motion graphics, game design, virtual reality and app development. It combines technical training courses with industry mentorship and access to internship opportunities, providing students with the tools they need to pursue high-skilled employment after graduation. Since 2015, the program has grown from 180 students to over 1,000—more than half of Sisler High School’s total student body—and has established the provincial curriculum framework for Motion Picture Arts education and Interactive Digital Media education.
In 2019, Sisler High School expanded the CREATE program to include an 8-hour post-graduate pilot program focused on job readiness and post-secondary pathways to employment. Of the post-graduate program’s first 26 students, 11 are employed in the industry with an additional 10 receiving full-ride scholarships to Vancouver Film School. Based on the pilot program’s initial success, the school expects to see even more scholarships provided to students in 2020.
North Forge Technology Exchange
The North Forge Technology Exchange is an innovation-based economic development agency in Winnipeg that provides entrepreneurs with award-winning mentors, subject-matter experts and a two-stage startup program that includes business training and access to financing. It was conceived by the teams behind The Eureka Project, AssentWorks, Ramp Up Manitoba and Startup Winnipeg working in collaboration. The North Forge Technology Exchange is Canada’s largest non-profit fabrication workshop, providing access to digital fabrication and prototyping equipment as well as training and support. Its services include cloud hosting for development servers, web servers, file servers and production environments; the UX Lab, which offers assistance with user and usability testing and stakeholder interviews; the Advanced ICT Lab, a digital maker space; and a subscription market intelligence platform. As of mid 2020, the North Forge Technology Exchange has produced over 3,500 developed prototypes, 83 currently in-development businesses with 94 new companies accepted to the Exchange and 141 companies currently in the application process, over 75 new jobs, a network of over 45 mentors in various industries and over $137 million in capital investment.
Winnipeg has formed partnerships linking employers like Canadian Tire to the University of Winnipeg, an ICT association and other public-private groups to improve the supply of skilled employees. The Composite Innovation Centre (CIC), a public-private R&D organization, has developed technologies and supply chains for high-performance composites based on agricultural materials such as hemp and flax, which reduces costs for employers like Boeing and Magellan Aerospace. CIC’s success has led to the creation of a national consortium, Canadian Composites Manufacturing R&D, to conduct pre-competitive R&D for multiple companies. CIC also has a training program that gives Winnipeg students on-the-job experience and supports skills development in companies.
Closing the Digital Divide
Winnipeg has leveraged its public library system as a way to close the digital divide among citizens. The library provides free access to 350 public computers with Internet access and a variety of MS Office software for public use. Library staff have created online resource guides on topics including employment, health, Indigenous resources, learning languages and consumer information to help patrons access its 40+ online learning databases. The library also provides free computer workshops on topics from basic email and Internet search training to more advanced courses on MS Office software usage. The library’s free WiFi network has seen nearly 500,000 wireless connections made per year since its establishment.
To make its many resources more easily available to the public, the Winnipeg library system has added self-checkout technology and an online information service that tracks questions and answers for future reference by staff. The West End Library branch in Winnipeg became the first in Canada to introduce smart lockers, allowing patrons to pick up and check out requested items outside of library hours. The Winnipeg Public Library has also developed a mobile app, WPL to Go, that allows users to search the catalogue, place holds, browse library programs, find their nearest branch and link to other library functions. In 2020 alone, the library website had over 10 million visits with roughly 1.3 million digital library checkouts of e-books, audiobooks, magazines, movies and music.
The Digital Voices Project originated at Winnipeg’s largest secondary school. Oral storytelling is a vital part of aboriginal culture in Manitoba, and the Project provides students with digital skills training and supports them in building personal, familial and cultural stories across multiple media. The University has established a drop-in facility for inner-city residents, the Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, where visitors benefit from free computer access as well as academic, traditional language and homework help programs. This supplements the free Internet access and ICT workshops available throughout the Winnipeg library system. Among Winnipeg’s most innovative developments for its First Nations residents is the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the first national aboriginal TV network, for which more than 80% of programming originates in Canada. A social media offshoot, APTN Digital Drum, allows aboriginal youth to express their cultural identity and connect with each other.
Home to North America’s oldest ballet company, Winnipeg also has a thriving arts and culture scene. An independent film from two Winnipegers, Indie Game: The Movie, won awards at the Sundance Festival and was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. Funded on Kickstarter, it tells the inside story of the creation of a video game. In its funding, development and ultimate success, the film is a symbol of Winnipeg’s ambitions and achievement.
21 Reasons Winnipeg is One of the World’s Smartest Communities in 2021
For the ninth time in the past 11 years, Winnipeg is on the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 list. The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) is a think tank with a global network of cities and regions. Its mission is to help communities in the digital age find a new path to economic development and community growth – one that creates inclusive prosperity, tackles social challenges, and enriches quality of life. Every year it chooses 21 communities across the globe that excel in six areas that embrace these ideas. Read the full story at economicdevelopmentwinnipeg.com to see all 21 reasons!
Smart21 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021
Top7 2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2021
Your town is a one-industry town and your industry goes belly up. What do you do?
That was the situation faced by the City of Windsor and the County of Essex when both General Motors and Chrysler were forced into bankruptcy in 2009 as part of a rescue effort by the United States government. For decades, the region had enjoyed the benefits of a symbiotic relationship with Detroit, America's Motor City. The automotive industry very nearly was the economy of Windsor-Essex. When the financial crisis struck, the impact was immediate and shocking. Over 7,000 jobs vanished as the percentage of the workforce employed in manufacturing fell from 30% to 20%.Windsor-Essex climbed to the top of a chart where no community wants to be: in 2009, it had Canada's highest unemployment rate at nearly 15%.
People respond to a crisis in different ways. Some freeze, some despair. Others rally. The people of Windsor and Essex discovered themselves to be the rallying kind.
With the crisis upon them, they realized that, over the years of relatively stability, they had developed bad habits. Windsor and the seven much smaller municipalities in the county operated in their own small silos, as did the county's major employers. Institutions of higher education were of fine quality but punched far below their weight in the region's economy. The Detroit River separating Windsor from its US counterpart might well have been an ocean for all of the effort the two governments made to cooperate.
In a remarkably short time, all that went out the window. Collaboration among government, business and academia – and across the international border – was transformed from empty words into concerted action. From a one-industry economy, Windsor-Essex soon developed more moving parts than can easily be accounted for.
Ivory Tower No More
The University of Windsor is responsible for a considerable number of those moving parts. Serving nearly 16,000 students, the University has long conducted research for auto manufacturers and hosted a multi-school R&D program called Auto21. But under President Alan Wildeman, appointed in 2008, UWindsor has sharply raised its game as a generator of economic value.
An Institute for Diagnostic Imaging Research (IDIR) does pioneering work in the uses of ultrasound for testing. The Institute has developed a way to use ultrasound for fingerprint recognition that detects tissue patterns beneath the skin as well as the conventional fingertip whorls. It is now ready for commercial development and the University, which allows inventors to retain the rights to intellectual property they create, is helping to find the right commercial partners. In another lab, scientists have solved the problem of testing spot-welds made between two pieces of flat metal. Because the welds themselves are hidden by the metal, they have traditionally been tested by pulling a random sample off the assembly line and tearing them apart. The new system is already on the line at a Chrysler assembly plant in Windsor and has given a significant boost to quality and productivity.
The university is now in the midst of the largest capital expansion in its history. The centerpiece is a C$112 million Center for Engineering Innovation. In addition to labs and classrooms, it provides collocation facilities where companies can install industrial equipment and trouble-shoot problems and pioneer new techniques. It will house the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation and the university's Center for Smart Community Innovation, a group that has played an essential role in coordinating Intelligent Community initiatives among 54 participating organizations. President Wildeman envisions the new building as an innovation destination in eastern Canada for academia and industry.
UWindsor is not the only academic institution seeking to build a stronger future. St. Clair College is a 2-year institution that serves over 7,000 students in Windsor. Among its recent innovations is the MediaPlex. Opening in 2010, the building is one of only three places in the world that teach "convergence journalism." Graduates of the MediaPlex program learn not just conventional journalism but also how to record, edit and produce finished TV and radio news, write blogs and use social media for reporting. Despite the shrinking job market for journalists, students with this "backpack journalism" training find themselves in high demand. Overall, 82% of St. Clair graduates find employment within six months.
Advances in engineering, medicine, media and communications require a robust broadband foundation. To supplement commercial networks, the Center for Smart Community Innovation's WEDnet program coordinated a network build beginning in 1996 funded by its public-sector participants. The fiber network, built and operated under contract by Cogeco Cable, delivers 1 Gbps-capable links to 200 sites including schools, libraries and government buildings throughout Essex. A second project, the Broadband Rural Community Connector, was launched in 2009 to create an optical backbone for the county's rural areas. Funded by Cogeco, the County and the Province, it has connected over 8,000 underserved residences to date and aims to pass 96% of Essex households.
The industrial legacy of Windsor-Essex had created a population in which 22% of adults had failed to graduate from secondary school and another 30% had only a high school diploma. Schools and local volunteers have stepped forward to change that dynamic. Local school boards throughout the county cooperate in annual programs designed to teach online skills St. Clair College offers a program to secondary school students called Career Innovation Program that uses hands-on multimedia to explore careers in technologies and trades – simultaneously recruiting future students while serving the community.
Computers for Kids is a volunteer-led program founded in 2004, which refurbishes computers and donates them to low-income families. The program has donated more than 1,000 computers and opened over 40 computer labs throughout Windsor-Essex. It has also recycled over 2 million pounds (900,700 kg) of e-waste that would otherwise have wound up in landfills.
Leadership in Government and Business
If the educational institutions of Windsor-Essex have provided the "brains" for transformation, the elected leadership has provided the will. The region's leading political official is Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who was elected to office in 2003 on a promise to revitalize the city. His administration has overseen the expansion of St. Clair College, the opening of the Caesars Windsor convention center, hotel and casino, and the creation of a Windsor International Transit Terminal. In the process, Mayor Francis managed to slash the city's long term debt by 27% while keeping city taxes low.
He has not worked alone. He is one of eight Mayors in a county-wide Council led by Tom Bain, Mayor of the community of Lakeshore. Close cooperation among the Mayors has led to shared service contracts that reduce costs. It also helps individual projects to achieve multiple goals benefiting the county as a whole.
Despite the blows it has absorbed, the auto industry remains important. Ford has chosen to centralize worldwide engine research in Windsor to take advantage of its concentration of talent, and the Windsor's Chrysler assembly plant remains the company's largest. Tool, die and precision manufacturing companies continue to serve these giants but have also diversified into fields as diverse as aerospace and dentistry.
Quantum Technologies is a private company that has adapted CAD/CAM technology from the automotive sector to revolutionize the way dental implants are manufactured. Traditionally, crowns, bridges and other implants are hand-crafted and colored by skilled technicians. Quantum Technologies equips dentists with handheld scanners and software, which produce data for the company's digital design and manufacturing systems. The resulting product is a better fit, a better color match and can be produced in a small fraction of the time required for manual work. The company now ships thousands of implants per week from Windsor.
Windsor-Essex is also home to start-ups that focus on the weightless cargo of information. For an international roster of clients, Red Piston builds apps that run on the iPhone, iPod and iPad. The firm's apps were downloaded more than 275,000 times in 2010, its start-up year. 52 Stairs Studio has produced Web applications including Scribble Maps, which is used on large news Web sites, and the Fox-X game, which has received over a million plays.
Innovation Under Glass
Perhaps no company better represents the sheer ingenuity at work in Windsor-Essex than Nature Fresh Farms. Founded in 2000 by Peter Quiring, the company now operates 67 acres (217,000 km2) of glass greenhouses that produce over 7 million kilograms (2.2m pounds) each of bell peppers and tomatoes, which are sold throughout North America.
Agriculture contributes 14% of the region's GDP, but Nature Fresh is no traditional farm. Every aspect of production is monitored and managed. In thousands of rows, vines grow vertically on ropes. Water with a precisely controlled mix of nutrients is fed to each plant, and a daily sample of the run-off is conducted to determine the right nutrient mix for the following day. Workers use data cards to swipe in to their shift and to the individual rows they are responsible for. This system supports their compensation – they are paid based on acceptable produce shipped, with wages well above the averages for the industry. It also enhances food security. If any contamination incident should occur, NatureFresh could track it to the greenhouse, row and employee.
The nonprofit healthcare sector of Windsor-Essex has been equally quick to seize the benefits of ICT. Windsor's public hospitals share electronic medical record systems that connect wirelessly to diagnostic equipment, so that patient readings are automatically captured and images are instantly available to caregivers. When EMS crews wheel a new patient into the emergency room, portable monitors begin downloading the readings taken during the ride even before a triage nurse can speak to the patient. Such efficiency extends across the international border. Detroit's hospitals have extensive acute care facilities unavailable in Windsor. When Windsor's facilities are full, a process called Table-to-Table can move a patient from the emergency room in Windsor to an emergency room in Detroit, including immigration clearance, in 10 minutes.
Green Shield Canada is a not-for-profit insurer whose business model depends on its ability to do more with information than its competitors. The company administers drug and dental benefits for over 1.4 million participants. Barred by statute from negotiating down the prices it pays for drugs, the company's competitive advantage is efficiency. It operates a point-of-sale network that provides automatic claims processing for pharmacists nationwide. It mines data to create value-added programs for employers. One example is a narcotics management program that tracks prescriptions to guard against the same patient ordering from multiple pharmacies, flags physicians if patients are not filling prescriptions and evaluates the prescribing habits of physicians compared with guidelines.
Windsor-Essex is second to none among Intelligent Communities in advocating for its vision inside the county and marketing it outside. Political leaders stay "on message" in speaking about issues and projects. In a campaign coordinated by the Center for Smart Community Innovation, Web sites, billboards, online videos, newspaper articles and local news features all convey a unified message of local transformation. A recent engaging advertisement noted the resemblance between a map of the county and the human brain viewed from the side. It asked the question, "Coincidence?"
Improving the Border
On a trip to Germany, Windsor Mayor Francis met an entrepreneur who has made Frankfurt Airport the European Union's security clearance point for cargo. Every bit of cargo entering the Union is processed through his immense facility to ensure its safety. The Mayor left Frankfurt determined to bring this concept to Windsor-Essex, which is the busiest crossing point on the Canada-US border.
At the Mayor's urging, the City Council commissioned a report that recommended creation of a new intermodal transportation system and additional international bridge crossing, which are now being constructed at a projected cost of C$1.2 billion. Mayor Francis has spent the time since in consultation with the Canadian and Provincial governments as well as US Federal agencies about creating a central security clearance facility at Windsor's existing airport. Canada is in favour and the US agencies see the project as a means to help meet a Congressional mandate to inspect 100% of cargo entering the US. Lufthansa has already been engaged as a systems integrator to adapt its implementation in Frankfurt. If the plan goes through, the impact on the economy of Windsor-Essex should be vast.
Meanwhile, the community has rallied again to deal with an unintended consequence of progress. The new border crossing and highway system require the demolition of more than 1,000 homes and businesses. Rather than seeing the debris go to landfills, a project called W.E. Pay It Forward has organized a vast salvage operation entirely online. The Province agreed to support 30 temporary jobs to assist with deconstruction of the buildings. Community groups, local businesses and individuals have contributed their time and effort. Within a week of the project start, the local Habitat for Humanity facility was filled to overflowing with recovered building material as well as plumbing, heating and electrical supplies. They go to the facilities of local charities in need of renovation or expansion.
That mix of ambition and compassion is typical of this community, which has seen hard times but is determined not to repeat them. It is still early in the transformation of Windsor-Essex. Goals set and programs established two years ago will take many more years to come to fruition. But rarely has a community made a faster turnaround in its vision or more quickly assembled the building blocks of future prosperity.
In the News
Read the latest updates about Windsor-Essex.
Want to know more about Windsor-Essex?
Windsor-Essex was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Seizing Our Destiny.
Population: 216,500 (city of Windsor), 393,400 (county of Essex)
Labor Force: 108,200 (city of Windsor), 203,700 (county of Essex)
Smart21 2010 | 2011
The Western Valley of Nova Scotia, Canada is a rural region of some 5600 km2 facing the challenges common to rural areas in the industrialized world: declining population, job losses in its primary industries, low average educational achievement and a high unemployment rate. Yet when polled, residents had strong positive feelings about their community and believed that it would become a substantially better place to live and work over the next several years. Believing that this attitude was a resource not to be wasted, the Western Valley government began a series of initiatives to help the community recover and grow in the modern economy.
A Community Fiber Network
The Western Valley had little hope of attracting private-sector telcos to deploy a network for its small, dispersed population. To combat this problem, the local government created its own Valley Community Fibre Network in 2008. Since its establishment, the Valley Community Fibre Network has laid 186km of fiber connecting multiple towns, municipalities and universities in the region. Western Valley also has dark fiber services available for businesses, public-sector enterprises and local and national carriers as of 2017. The new fiber infrastructure provides connectivity for roughly one-third of the region that previously had no reliable Internet infrastructure.
Digital Skills Training for All
Beginning in the late 1990s, Western Valley has worked to educate all its citizens, from youth to seniors, in digital skills. The Nova Scotia Community Access Program (NSCAP) offers free digital training programs at over 200 sites throughout the province. NSCAP provides programs on a wide variety of topics, including training and support for mobile devices, 3D printing labs, workshops and competitions and small-business technology training. It also features robotics clubs for youth and digital skills internships.
In addition to the NSCAP-provided programs, Western Valley has established the Student Summer Skills Initiative (SKILL). The program connects students with local non-profit organizations to help them gain work experience and provide them opportunities to work within their local communities. Non-profits receive wage-assistance incentives to hire SKILL students, ensuring that as many organizations and students as possible can participate in the program.
Producing Renewable Energy through Waste Cleanup
In 2012, the Western Valley government partnered with local businesses in the mink industry to introduce an anaerobic digester. The digester converts mink industry waste as well as municipal bio waste into methane gas and manure. The gas is burned onsite to generate electricity, which is then returned to the grid to help supplement Western Valley’s electrical costs. Use of the anaerobic digester also helps capture and contain greenhouse gases produced by local industry.
In a traditional rural economy, the Western Valley government has planted the seeds for major change in how local cultures and economies interconnect with the rest of Canada and the world, to their mutual benefit.
Waterloo is the smallest, geographically speaking, of seven cities that make up Canada's Technology Triangle. Small in size it may be, but this second-time Top Seven honoree casts a big shadow in terms of technology-based growth. The Triangle itself is home to 334 technology companies and another 404 providing related services that employ about 10% of the labor force, but account for 45% of job growth.
Among the seven communities, Waterloo is home to 40% of the high-tech firms. Its recent history illustrates the power of getting a few critical things right and then working together to nurture and manage the resulting success over time.
The community's first and perhaps most important "right thing" took place at the University of Waterloo. The University was founded in 1957 by two businessmen, Gerald Hagey and Ira Needles, who saw an opportunity to create a high-level technical institution to train local business leaders. In the 1970s, the University established an intellectual property policy that was unheard of in its day. The policy allowed students and faculty members to own rights in intellectual property they developed at the University.
The University's timing was excellent. When the introduction of the personal computer began a decades-long wave of ICT growth, Waterloo was positioned to benefit. Like Stanford University in Silicon Valley, it spurred spin-outs of technology-based businesses, and local entrepreneurs began to build clusters of companies working on the most exciting technologies of the day. Fast-forward a few decades and the Waterloo region is a place where investors have poured C$1.8 billion (US$1.5bn) over the past 10 years into acquiring privately-held technology companies. It is also the home of companies that, over the past eight years, made up 10% of successful IPOs on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Publicly-held technology companies in the Waterloo region have generated a 26% internal rate of return since 1994, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and the original investors in firms that were acquired or went public have received more than a seven-fold return on their investments. Waterloo's leading technology companies today include Research in Motion (RIM, creator of the BlackBerry), Sybase, Open Text, DALSA and Descartes Systems Group.
Today, the University offers the world's largest post-secondary co-op program serving over 11,000 students. It operates more than 50 research institutes, 12 Federal and Provincial Centers of Excellence, is a partner with the city, region and nonprofits in developing a Research & Technology Park. But it does not stand alone. Wilfrid Laurier University is home to one of Canada's largest business schools as well as the Schlegel Center for Entrepreneurship, while the Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning has earned a #1 ranking from the Province of Ontario for eight straight years.
Engaging Business, Citizens and Government
The community's second "right thing" was a local government that has engaged actively with business and citizens in planning for a prosperous future. A Strategic Resource Information Plan developed in 1990 set the pattern for data-sharing and integration among agencies and pointed the way toward the 1998 introduction of the award-winning, Internet-based Waterloo Information Network. Today, Waterloo offers a wide range of online services, from the minutes of council meetings and city program registration to tax assessment tools, interactive GIS maps and marriage license registration.
In 2000, the city undertook a year-long project called Imagine!Waterloo. This city-wide public consultation aimed to determine the best possible future for the city. Its recommendations ranged from environmental protection to transportation, culture to city communications. An Intelligent Waterloo Steering Committee formed in 2006 - led by Jim Balsilie, co-founder of RIM, Waterloo's Mayor and University of Waterloo President David Johnston - stages events to educate business leaders, academics and citizens about the challenges Waterloo faces and engage them in setting goals for educational achievement, access to services, investment in infrastructure and social inclusion.
Collaboration and Reinvestment
The third "right thing" in Waterloo is a culture of collaboration and reinvestment. Perhaps because cooperation among business, academia and government has been so successful, folks in Waterloo make partnership a priority and are eager to give back to the community. Waterloo-based Tech Capital Partners manages C$95 million in venture capital for early-stage companies, while a group of business leaders has recently launched Infusion Angels to find and fund ideas from University of Waterloo students and alumni. UW and Wilfrid Laurier jointly run a Launchpad $50K Venture Creation Competition for students, researchers and community members who develop business plans and start successful businesses. Successful entrepreneurs have also reached into their pockets to fund or contributed their time to the founding of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Institute for Quantum Computing, Center for Wireless Communications, the Waterloo Technology StartUp Network, and Communitech, a capacity-building association focusing on technology in the region. Each fall, the Waterloo region celebrates Entrepreneur Week, North America's largest innovation festival.
Sharing the wealth extends as well to people for whom technology is more a challenge than opportunity. Like other Canadian communities, Waterloo participates in the Federal Community Access Program that places Internet workstations in public access locations. Waterloo's public libraries have become ICT learning centers that, thanks to company donations, lend laptops as well as books. Through Wilfred Laurier's Center for Community Service-Learning, nearly 1,000 students a year engage with 200 local partner organizations in programs that connect community service to classroom learning. Business and nonprofit organizations have joined forces to create the Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment network to help match recent immigrants to job opportunities, while the Waterloo Public Library has developed an online portal, ProjectNOW, to provide settlement and labor information to newcomers.
With 76% of businesses and 47% of households on broadband, and 75% of adults using the Internet, Waterloo is already a broadband economy success story. The challenge the community has set itself is to sustain and accelerate its success in a global economy that competes harder for investment, talent and ideas with each passing year.
In the News
Read the latest updates about Waterloo.
Want to know more about Waterloo?
Waterloo was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Labor Force: 55,551
Intelligent Community of the Year 2007
Smart21 2006 | 2007
Top7 2006 | 2007
Toronto has both the assets and the liabilities that come with being Canada’s largest city. On the asset side is its diverse economy, with key clusters in finance, media, ICT and film production, and success as a magnet for immigrants that have made it one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Major carriers offer high-quality broadband to 100% of residents, and its five major universities and multiple colleges have attracted 400,000 students and helped ensure that Toronto has more residents with undergraduate degrees that London.
Improving the Urban Experience
On the liability side are the highest cost of living in Canada and transportation gridlock that gives residents of the Greater Toronto Area the world’s longest average commute times. These factors have contributed to the success of suburbs in attracting new and existing businesses, making once-sleepy cities like Mississauga into business hubs in their own right. To reverse this trend, Toronto is doubling down on the value of a dense, superbly equipped and culturally rich urban experience. The centerpiece is Waterfront Toronto, North America’s largest urban renewal project, which is revitalizing 800 hectares of brownfield shoreline with 40,000 residential units, parks and one million square meters of commercial space designed to the highest environmental standards. Offering 1 Gbps fiber-based broadband– provided at no cost to the 10% of housing set aside for low-income residents – the Waterfront is expected to offer a home to 40,000 new jobs focused on knowledge industries. Early commercial tenants include the Corus Entertainment and the George Brown College Health Sciences campus.
Future on the Waterfront
Though impressive in size and scale, the Waterfront is only the most visible of many public-private collaborations through which the city is pursuing an ICT-powered future. The MaRS Discovery District supplies housing, incubation, acceleration and investment services to hundreds of early stage portfolio companies downtown, while the Ryerson University Digital Media Zone gives entrepreneurs space and services to move great ideas to initial commercial success. The Centre for Social Innovation does the same for social innovators and its successful model has led to operations across four locations in two countries. Toronto’s libraries offer computers and training to tens of thousands, while outreach programs equip families with inexpensive IT, connectivity and training. With C$2 billion planned for transportation investment over the next 25 years, Toronto is preparing the physical, human and digital infrastructure for continued success.
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Toronto was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Labor Force: 1,423,270
Intelligent Community of the Year 2014
Smart21 2013 | 2014
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Surrey is a city in transition from a suburban past to a sustainable urban future. On this road, it seeks to leave behind a reputation for sprawl, crime and limited economic potential. Home to some of the richest and poorest neighborhoods in the region, Surrey is building an innovation-based knowledge economy offering a much broader range of local opportunity.
There is no lack of potential in Surrey: it is Canada’s third fastest-growing city, which welcomes 1,000 new residents each month and where residential construction is a major industry. It is part of the growing metropolitan area of Vancouver, from which it derives most of its economic energy today. To gain greater control over its destiny, Surrey has developed a diversification strategy calling for deepening the partnership between its institutions of higher learning and local business. Development is focused on an Innovation Boulevard project, where the city, universities and business are building clusters in health technology, clean tech and advanced manufacturing. Overseeing the project is the Mayor’s Health Technology Working Group, comprised of 50 representatives from universities, a health authority, nonprofits, business associations, government and developers. Ten new health technology firms have already moved in, attracted in part by the availability of five new advanced laboratory spaces. It is one component of a master plan to create several dense and walkable city centers supporting a mix of residential and commercial space linked by light rail.
Smart and Sustainable Plans
Surrey’s past was enabled by the automobile. A new Sustainability Compact, developed with substantial public consultation, aims to change that dynamic by focusing on emissions reduction and thoughtful adaptation to climate change. The city has achieved a 70% waste diversion target ahead of schedule and completed a district energy system for city buildings and future high-rise residential towers. A range of smart-city systems, from a central traffic management center to the MySurrey App, are improving livability and better engaging with citizens. And for those on the wrong side of the digital divide, the library system is training thousands of residents in digital skills as part of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. Surrey’s goal is to boost local employment by nearly 50%, which will keep more wealth in the community and better balance the tax burden between residents and business.
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Smart21 2015 | 2016
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At the turn of the new century, Stratford had a reputation for being quaint, cultured and out of the way, home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and a 90-minute drive from Toronto, the business capital of eastern Canada. The Festival is a home-grown success story in cultural tourism. Founded in 1953, it became the largest employer in the city and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in local economic activity in ticket sales, restaurants, lodging and culture.
This economic center complemented Stratford's industrial base, which supplied the North American automotive and aerospace sectors. But in the last Nineties, the city's forward-looking leadership saw that the growth opportunities of the future would depend on information and communications technology.
A Network for the Shakespeare Festival
Since then, a team led by Mayor Dan Mathieson has executed on an Intelligent Community strategy with great intensity. The city-owned utility has built out a 70-km open access fiber network with a WiFi overlay, and signed sales agreements with commercial carriers to deliver triple-play and mobile services. The network enabled the Festival to significantly expand its online marketing, and plays a key role in the city’s tourism strategy, which builds on the Festival’s reputation to attract “foodies,” cyclists and other target groups throughout the year. At the same time, the city has used the network to slash its own telecom costs and power a smart meter program.
Digital Media Campus
After nearly a decade of planning and development, Stratford succeeded in establishing a satellite campus of the University of Waterloo that leverages the presence of an outstanding source of content: the Shakespeare Festival.
The school launched with a Masters program in digital media, which is structured to end with internships that lead to employment. It attracts students from arts, engineering and business, deliberately mixing them on interdisciplinary teams that forces them to understand other points of view and to collaborate on projects. They have access to production facilities, digital editing suites and a large number of project rooms for highly experiential programs.
The school followed with an undergraduate program, which admitted 93 students from 400 applications in its first year. The program mixes art, business and technology instruction, with the goal of taking students passionate about and art and teaching them business and technology, while exposing business students to the art and technology of digital media. Bundled into the program is project management instruction, so that students emerge with a professional certification in project management.
Creating a Home for Innovation
Having established an institution to produce digital media professionals, Stratford went on to create a home for innovators. Housed in an historic building downtown, the Stratford Accelerator opened its doors in 2012 with seven clients. It offers housing and advisory services to early-stage tech companies from concept through commercialization. It is an outgrowth of the Waterloo Accelerator Center, which has served 100 companies, of which 50 have graduated and half have stayed in the region, generating an estimated C$80m in revenue. Supporting the companies are five in-house mentors and an entrepreneur-in-residence, who advise on finance, marketing, product development, manufacturing and other fields, as well as helping companies set milestones and execute against them. In addition to long-term relationships with start-ups, the accelerator offers a 3-month program called Pathfinder, that is designed for people with an idea they want to explore but who are not yet ready to devote full time to it.
With each addition to Stratford’s ecosystem, the city’s attractiveness to innovators has increased. The economic development team has successfully sold Stratford as a test bed for technology projects – a city large enough to give new technologies a meaningful test but easy to operate in due to its small size. Toshiba, Cisco, BlackBerry, Inter-Op and Clemson University all have pilots running in Stratford. These international brand names lend validation to a strategy that has proven its value to the city.
The near-death of the North American auto industry pushed unemployment in Stratford to 7.9% as the city lost 1,600 mostly low-skilled jobs in manufacturing. But the city also gained hundreds of new jobs requiring ICT skills, and has recently seen the revival of automotive create a labor shortage for the higher-skilled manufacturing jobs it retains. For an economy in transition, these trends are a serious validation that it is on the right track.
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Smart21 2011 | 2012 | 2013
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