Browse ICF Rankings - By Population:
0-50,000 | 50,000-100,000 | 100,000-250,000 | 250,000-500,000 | 500,000-1,000,000 | 1,000,000 and over
1. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
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.
2. Aurora, Illinois, USA
The second largest city in the US state of Illinois, Aurora lies on the western edge of the Chicago metropolitan area. That location has determined much of the city’s past. Railroads and manufacturing brought it great success in the Industrial Age, but the sharp contraction of industrial employment in the 70s and 80s boosted unemployment to near-Depression levels. Brownfields, a downtown full of vacant storefronts, poverty and crime looked set to dominate its future.
But the leadership and people of Aurora chose a different path. A Business Roundtable organized by the Mayor focused on downtown redevelopment and created a Riverfront Vision that attracted $20 million in state support for environmental clean-up and rebuilding of the Fox River shoreline. The work of a technology advisory group led, in 2012, to the formation of OnLight Aurora, a nonprofit company that has built a 60-mile, 10 Gbps fiber network to serve community anchor institutions and businesses. It strengthens the city’s ability to compete with nearby tech corridors for companies and high-wage employment, and has been crucial to Aurora’s success in attracting and retaining three data centers.
3. Ipswich, Queensland, Australia
In 2011, the city of Ipswich published a 20-year economic development plan for its population of 195,000. It forecast the addition of 292,000 new residents, who will require an additional 120,000 jobs, and will live in a network of distinct communities interwoven with centers of employment, recreational facilities and green space. The plan responded to future challenges but also to past ones. Because Ipswich offered affordable housing and an attractive lifestyle, its population has grown rapidly in the booming economy of 21st Century Australia. Yet the decline of industrial employment in the 70s and 80s had left the city with legacy of long-term unemployment and bred unacceptable levels of crime and social dislocation.
Ipswich has been quick to seize multiple opportunities to carry out the plan. The Australian government’s National Broadband Network (NBN), announced in 2009, opened the possibility of attracting significant investment into the region. Ipswich City Council partnered with surrounding city and regional councils to build a case for NBN rollout of what it termed the Western Corridor National Broadband Network. The governments mapped current and proposed broadband infrastructure, developed joint policies and solicited support from business and industry groups. Their work was rewarded in 2010, when NBN announced that two locations in the region would receive the first deployments of fiber to the premise. Work has progressed rapidly since then with over 39,000 premises now able to connect to the NBN fixed-line high-speed broadband network as of September 2017. Another nearly 34,000 premises are currently in build-commencement for FttN, FttDP, HFC, and Fixed Wireless connections. Ipswich is projected to have 100% city-wide connection by 2019.
4. Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Kingston is one of Canada’s oldest cities, founded at a strategic intersection of lakes and rivers, with an historic waterfront and an employer base of Federal and Provincial agencies that attracts more government grants per capita than any other city in the nation. It has been ranked Canada’s third best place to live and smartest city, thanks to deployment of an open-access community broadband network supplemented with investment in the Eastern Ontario Regional Network bringing 10 Mbps service to rural neighborhoods. More than 90% of Kingstonians now subscribe to broadband. But the economy’s heavy dependence on public sector spending makes Kingston vulnerable to decisions made far away, and local government has developed a multi-faceted strategy to diversify its economy while maintaining the culture and quality of life that residents treasure.
It is aided in this undertaking by the presence of Queen’s University, a top 10 research institution and St. Lawrence College, a 2-year institution with schools of business, computer and engineering technology, health sciences and skilled trades. Queen’s University founded an office in 1987, called PARTEQ Innovations, to identify intellectual property and support its commercialization. PARTEQ went on to build Innovation Park, where academic, business and government researchers work to pioneer new technologies and bring them to market.
5. Mülheim an der Ruhr
The city’s name tells you something about its history. Located on the Ruhr River in the Ruhr Valley, Mülheim took part in the economic success of one of Europe’s great industrial centers, famed for steel manufacture and coal-mining. Its transformation began in 1964 during what the Germans called the coal and steel crisis – an abrupt loss of competitiveness as lower-cost suppliers of those commodities entered an increasingly global market. In that year, Mülheim reluctantly became the Ruhr Valley’s first city free of steel-making when major blast furnaces closed. Two years later, the city’s last coal mine was shuttered. The economic impact was severe.
The city’s response was to return to its its traditional role as a trading center. Europe’s largest indoor shopping center opened there in 1973. Over succeeding decades, brownfield sites were reclaimed to serve as office and light industrial space. A 245,000-square-meter industrial wasteland was transformed in 2000 as the Siemens Technopark, and a start-up center opened in 2005 to support new entrepreneurship. Other major employers came to include the trading company Tengelmann and the technology firm Thyssen.
6. Arlington County, Virginia, USA
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.
7. Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
At the northeast end of Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe lies Oshawa, the former Automotive Capital of Canada that is finding a new future as an education and life-sciences hub. The Golden Horseshoe bends around the western end of Lake Ontario and includes the 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year, Toronto. For decades, the economy of Oshawa was tied to General Motors, which employed 20,000 people in a city of 160,000 and was the engine of the local economy. In the Eighties and Nineties, however, rounds of downsizing gradually reduced GM’s employment in the city to 4,000, wreaking havoc on the community. By 1997, the city’s downtown commercial vacancy rate reached 29% and the brownfield sites of vacant factories blighted the cityscape.
City leaders, along with stakeholders from businesses and institutions, took joint action. The city was blessed with major institutions of higher learning including Durham College and Trent University Durham, as well as Lakeridge Health, one of the province’s largest community hospitals. Together, the partners plotted redevelopment of the downtown core and the replacement of automotive employment with economic development in sectors including health, sustainable energy, agriculture and transportation. Growth would be based, not on “chasing smokestacks” to bring in outside companies, but on building on the existing foundations of research and education, and using that expertise to kickstart business innovation.
8. Sarnia-Lambton County, Ontario, Canada
Sarnia is the largest city in Lambton County, which extends from the shores of Lake Huron in the north to the Lake St. Clair in the south. Nearly 60% of the county’s population is concentrated there, with the remaining 40% distributed across 2,800 square kilometers (695 sq mi) of the rest of the county. The sparsely populated county was, however, the site of North America’s first commercially drilled oil well. Petrochemical and refining industries are still its largest manufacturing and employment sector, and Sarnia-Lambton considers itself the center of the Great Lakes Industrial Corridor. The other mainstays of the economy are agriculture and tourism.
With this successful industrial base, Sarnia-Lambton focuses its development efforts on connecting the excluded to economic opportunity and spurring the innovation that can keep its industry strong.
9. Rochester, New York, USA
The third-largest city in New York State, Rochester was one of America’s original boomtowns, first in the milling of flour and then as a major hub of manufacturing. The Rochester area has given birth to such famed companies as Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Xerox and Western Union. Of the four, however, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012, from which it emerged a year later a much smaller company, while the others relocated their headquarters to other US cities. As the city suffered from corporate downsizing and restructuring, the population fell by one-third from a 1950 high of 330,000 to 210,500 by 2010.
The local economy, however, retains pillars of strength. It is the home of the University of Rochester and Cornell University, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Monroe Community College. As large companies downsized, Rochester and the surrounding Monroe County have seen growth in small, high-tech firms, many of them leveraging the expertise in imaging and photographic technology that is the legacy of Kodak. This progress has not come by accident, but through growing collaboration among local government, educators and business, with support from state and national government.
10. Burlington, Ontario, Canada
A successful technology cluster with ample broadband assets, Burlington seeks to remain a competitive place for businesses to grow. In consultation with citizens and businesses, local government is developing new clusters, creating education and training projects, e-government platforms, and subsidized broadband access programs.
Continue to the Top10 By Population: 250,000-500,000 >>>
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