Browse ICF Rankings - By Population:
1. Whanganui, New Zealand
Bypassed by national rail lines in the 19th Century – which led to the closing of a railways workshop that was a major employer – it was bypassed again by broadband providers in the 20th. For Whanganui, on the southwest coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the best of times may lie ahead.
In recent years, Whanganui has secured a high-speed, open-access, fiber-to-the-premise network for the city, with sixteen retailers now providing services over fiber. Many neighboring towns and regions, however, continue to struggle with low quality broadband and dial-up speeds, and Whanganui still has its own rural broadband gaps to fill. To address this issue and help the region as a whole, representatives of the Whanganui Digital Leaders Forum, led by Mayor Annette Main, visited the New Zealand central government to advocate for a national investment in fiber networks. The representatives proposed at those meetings that the government should consult with communities across the country to discover the highest areas of need, as communities are know their own needs best. The Mayor of Whanganui also asked neighboring mayors to support a cross-regional approach to fiber expansion to help raise political understanding and support for these proposals.
2. Stratford, Ontario, Canada
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.
3. Walla Walla Valley, Washington, USA
Natural abundance created agricultural prosperity and a strategic location made Walla Walla a 19th Century shipping hub – until it was bypassed by the trans-continental railroad and its prominence was gradually eclipsed by the coastal city of Seattle. Today, Walla Walla grows wheat that is sought-after in Asian markets, produces fruit sold across the US, and has seen explosive growth of wine-making, with 160 registered vineyards. Tourists seeking fine wines and natural beauty have given birth to a thriving culinary and arts scene, providing residents and businesses with an outstanding quality of life.
Ringed by mountain ranges, however, Walla Walla is geographically isolated. It is not located on a major transport route, and has limited air service. The Chamber of Commerce is leading an effort to leverage Walla Walla’s existing strengths to create broadband-powered growth. In 2012, thanks to a broadband stimulus grant, the nonprofit Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) completed expansion of its fiber backbone into the Walla Walla Valley. The city is now working with carriers, institutions and businesses on ways to roll-out local connectivity to fill gaps and deliver significant bandwidth where needed.
4. Mitchell, South Dakota, USA
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.
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.
5. Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
The city of Nelson has a long history of booming growth, quick modernization, and community action. Founded on the discovery of silver in the nearby mountains, Nelson grew into a thriving transportation and distribution center for the region, expanding its economy into forestry and agriculture as well as mining.
The city of just over 10,000 is found in the Selkirk Mountains near the southern border of British Columbia and is the regional seat of the Central Kootenay Regional District, despite making up only about one fifth of the region’s population. Nelson has struck a rare balance of modernization and preservation, updating many of its buildings with modern conveniences over the past half century, beginning with aluminum siding in the 1960s, while maintaining its historic downtown as a window into the past.
6. Parkland County, Alberta, Canada
Parkland County is a county-sized municipality that has applied the open-access network model – pioneered by urban centers from Stockholm to Dublin, Ohio – specifically to meet the needs of a rural region. Located on the western border of Edmonton, capital of Alberta Province, and only hours from the province’s vast oil sands extraction industry, Parkland County is prosperous. Its primary industries include power generation, forestry, coal, oil and gas, advanced manufacturing, transportation, logistics and agriculture.
One of its three business parks is the largest in North America. Most of this economic activity is concentrated in the east, within Edmonton’s economic zone. The small cities, towns, villages and hamlets to the west, for all of their natural beauty, lack employment opportunities and see a steady exodus of youth. One factor in the west’s isolation is lack of access to broadband, with its potential to level the economic playing field.
7. Marlborough, Massachusetts, USA
Marlborough is the birthplace of Horatio Alger, Jr., the quintessentially American author whose 19th Century books described poor boys who rose from humble backgrounds to middle-class security through hard work, courage and honesty. The city of 38,000 achieved success in that century only to see its industrial base erode in the late 20th Century – before it was rescued by the construction of major highway networks including the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 495.
These made Marlborough an attractive location for the information technology industry that sprang up around Boston in the Eighties and Nineties. Both Digital Equipment and Hewlett Packard established large corporate campuses in the city, which continues to attract high-tech companies like SanDisk and Cavium, biotech leaders like GE Healthcare Life Sciences and Boston Scientific, and manufacturing giants like Raytheon and Dow Chemical. In 2015, the city had an unemployment rate of 3.7%, down sharply from 2012 and a full point lower than the state average. Over that three-year period, Marlborough gained 6,000 jobs, of which 5,000 resulted from inward investment.
8. Armidale, New South Wales, Australia
Armidale, with its population of 25,000, was the first mainland city in Australia to be connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) and experience the impact of fiber speeds to the premise. That was an impressive achievement for a small city 200 km inland from Australia’s east coast, home to the Intelligent Communities of the Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Getting to that point required substantial planning, lobbying and the creation of community-wide collaboration. In 2011, Armidale formed the Digital Economy Implementation Group with representatives from city, state and Federal governments, local technology firms, the local university and technical school, the chamber of commerce and community ambassadors. Through community education and facilitation, the group helped NBN achieve an 80% connection rate to commercial and residential properties.
NBN has allowed Armidale to build a business community that might be expected of a much larger and more central place. It includes WhiteHack, a network security company; RMTek, a cloud services provider to industrial and mining facilities; Quadrant Australia, developer of special interest group travel programs; and Enertek, which brokers green energy solutions. The local school system and university Smart Farm are enthusiast adopters as well, because of high-speed broadband’s ability to bring to Armidale the best of what the world has to offer.
9. Olds, Alberta, Canada
Founded in the late 1800s in rural Alberta, Olds has been a small farming community for most of its history. Over the past twenty years, however, it has developed into an educational and technology center capable of luring tech entrepreneurs from the nearby city of Calgary.
Olds has focused its efforts on its traditionally rural needs, bringing fiber-optic broadband access to even its most remote citizens as well as an expansive learning campus that includes both local high schools and Olds College.
10. Hudson, Ohio, USA
The 22,000 people of Hudson live in a green stretch of the state of Ohio midway between the cities of Cleveland and Akron. Despite the major industrial disruptions of the last 40 years, the region is relatively prosperous. Its economy rests on a mix of manufacturing (polymers, automotive, fabricated metals, electrical and electronic parts and aerospace) and services (transportation, health, insurance, banking, finance and retail). Such name-brand companies as Goodyear, Bridgestone, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, Allstate Insurance and JP Morgan Chase have headquarters or major facilities there.
Within the region, Hudson is a prosperous suburban city that provides talent to the region's many employers. Its population is highly educated, with 68% of residents over age 25 holding a bachelor's degree or higher, and relatively young, with a median age of 39. Median household income is in the six figures. Its downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. But like Intelligent Communities everywhere, it is a place in transition from one economy to the next. Hudson seeks to secure its future at a time when smaller communities without a distinct competitive advantage are seeing their human, economic and cultural assets drained away by bigger places.