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1. Grey County, Ontario, Canada
The County of Grey is a rich cultural center of Ontario with a long history of agriculture and bustling water trade. Located in "cottage country" with a population of 92,0000, the county is home to the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival and the Festival of Northern Lights, and the county seat of Owen Sound was even named the 2004 Cultural Capital of Canada. Like many rural areas, however, Grey County now struggles to hold onto its agricultural heritage and strength in an increasingly digital world.
In a rural county with some community densities as low as four people per km2, broadband access is always a challenge. Grey County is one of the 15 counties in southwestern Ontario that make up the Western Ontario Wardens' Caucus, which has developed the SWIFT Initiative to address major gaps in broadband coverage and lack of fiber-optic connectivity. The SWIFT Initiative began in May 2011 as a discussion about the importance of broadband to the Southwestern Ontario economy and about what regional leaders could do to address the lack of modern Internet infrastructure throughout rural Ontario. The initiative is intended to direct funding from municipal, provincial and federal governments to address gaps in broadband infrastructure and to support increased market participation of local industries and businesses in the digital economy. Five years later, the governments of Canada and Ontario announced $180 million in combined funding for the initiative. This funding will also trigger more private investments from ISPs.
2. Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
For most of the 20th Century, the city of Moncton was the transportation hub of Atlantic Canada, a region made up of the four provinces bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The Canadian National (CN) railroad had its repair shops in the city, and a cluster of transport-dependent employers, such as the Catalog Center for the nationwide Eaton's department store chain, formed to take advantage of fast, convenient access to the national rail network. CN employed 5% of the workforce and its purchasing generated thousands more jobs.
In the 1980s, however, Moncton experienced the perfect economic storm. CN announced in 1985 that it was closing down the Moncton Shops facilities in a drive to boost productivity. The Eaton's Catalog Center also closed as the department store business model fell under attack, and several local factories fell prey to the period's rapid de-industrialization. A once-proud transportation cluster found itself facing not only economic upheaval in the short term but serious worries for the future. Because rail and transportation had dominated its economy for so long, Moncton's workforce was educated for an era of manual work, not the emerging knowledge economy. The city's downtown had a high vacancy rate and, due to lack of investment, the community's physical infrastructure was in decay.
3. Issy-les-Moulineax, France
Issy-les-Moulineaux, a city just across the Seine from Paris, has an employment rate close to 96%. More than 75% of its companies are in information and communications technologies. Issy’s employers today field a workforce that is slightly larger than the city’s population, because so many companies have moved out of central Paris to take advantage of its infrastructure, business-friendly climate, lower local taxes and innovative services. It was not ever thus.
Prior to World War II, Issy-les-Moulineaux (which translates into English as Issy of the Windmills) was the factory zone of the Paris metro area. It was also home to an army base that, in 1908, saw the historic first 1-kilometer circuit flight of aviator Henri Farman. After the War, Issy resumed its role as the industrial engine of the region – but then watched its economy erode in the de-industrialization of the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the world’s great cities have industrial sub-cities like Issy, and many remain decimated by the collapse of manufacturing employment.
But the fate of Issy-les-Moulineaux was to be different, and to a greater extent than in most places, the difference was made by a single individual. In 1984, the people of Issy elected André Santini as their Mayor. Over the next nearly 40 years, his administration provided leadership that was by turns visionary, daring and enormously persistent.
4. Pickering, Ontario, Canada
A suburb of Toronto, this city of 94,000 on the shore of Lake Ontario is not your standard bedroom community. It is home to Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, an eight-reactor facility with a capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts. Around the plant has grown a cluster of energy technology firms, as well as companies specializing in audio and electrical equipment, pharmaceuticals and water purification and chemical recovery. The northern half of the municipality is largely rural and agricultural with a scattering of residential developments.
Although most of Pickering has high broadband availability, 17% of residents still do not have access to any Internet services or cannot afford the few options available to them. To combat this problem, the city has adopted a series of policies and initiatives as part of the Connected Pickering brand. Pickering adopted at “Dig Once” policy in 2016 to mandate that all future road construction projects will including conduit building and a plan for connecting roads. In 2017, the city partnered with Distributel, a Toronto-based ISP, to fund the “Connect to Innovate” project, which will provide Pickering with a resilient broadband network that includes connecting 5 underserved rural hamlets. The project will also provide Pickering with 12 strands of fiber, allowing for ultra-highspeed Internet access in the city’s Innovation Corridor.
5. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Few communities can boast of having a globally recognized scenic wonder on their border. The city of Niagara Falls can. The Niagara River divides Canada and the US and, at the Falls, more than 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of it plunge 60 meters (190 ft) down into the Lower Niagara.
Such a massive source of hydroelectric power attracted electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries in the first half of the 20th Century. But the rise of global competition in the Seventies and Eighties eroded their competitiveness, and tourism became the city’s most important business. The Canadian side of the Falls offers superb views, but promoting tourism was not left to nature. The province of Ontario has a legal drinking age of 19 compared to 21 in the US, which tends to draw young consumers across the border. The province also legalized gambling in the mid-1990s, and by 2004, Niagara Falls boasted two major casinos and numerous luxury hotels.
6. Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Lethbridge takes its name from the owner of a 19th Century coal and transportation company, and coal-mining was the foundation of its early prosperity. As coal lost its dominance to oil and natural gas, Lethbridge developed further as a transport and commercial hub for southern Alberta, with agriculture as another mainstay. By the late 20th Century, half the workforce was employed in healthcare, education, retail and hospitality sectors and the top five employers were government-based. The only university in Alberta south of Calgary is in Lethbridge, and two of the three colleges in southern Alberta have campuses in the city.
Despite these advantages, educational attainment in the city is not particularly high because students have traditionally left town after graduation to seek their fortunes elsewhere. City leadership has responded to this challenge by laying the foundations of a knowledge economy in this city of 95,000, and doing so in close collaboration with business, institutions and citizens. In 2015, it opened a Trade & Technologies Renewal Center, which brings together students, faculty and industry to equip workers with the trade skills needed to satisfy local and regional business. With global oil prices near historic lows, Lethbridge wants to ensure that workers have the skills needed to prosper in the next boom, whatever its source.
7. Jönköping, Sweden
The Municipality of Jönköping lies midway between Stockholm and the southern coastal city of Malmo. It is made up of 16 smaller cities, of which the city of Jönköping, with 84,000 people, is by far the largest. The remaining 48,000 citizens are spread across more than 500 square kilometers (190 square miles) of countryside. Its economic legacy is in forest products – the Jönköping exhibition center is home to the world’s largest forestry fair – but that same facility also hosts the world’s largest LAN party as well as the DreamHack events.
Bridging urban and rural, Jönköping faces the broadband infrastructure challenges common to such places. DSL is accessible to all, but speeds and quality of service vary widely. Jönköping is investing alongside national government to push high-speed networks beyond the urban clusters and provide 90% of companies and households with access by 2020.
8. Dubuque, Iowa, USA
Dubuque is a city of middle America, surrounded by farmland, with a central business district beside the Mississippi River. And in recent decades, it has received the brunt of the brutal economic changes brought by automation and ICT productivity gains. In the 80s, its largest employer laid off half of its workforce in Dubuque. This, together with the decline of family farming, drove unemployment to 23%, the highest in the nation, in succeeding years.
In response, the Mayor and City Council led a broad-based effort to forge a new vision for the city’s future. The result was Sustainable Dubuque, a commitment to create a prosperous, livable and equitable community. The vision spawned multiple efforts. One is a set of smart city projects covering water use, electricity use and public transit. Working with IBM, the city installed sensors, connectivity and software to analyze performance and provide data to users. Starting with 300 homes, the smart water system is now available citywide and is credited with a 7% reduction in water use and an eightfold gain in the detection and fixing of leaks. It has also reduced water treatment costs by $65,000 and increased water revenues by nearly $185,000. The smart travel program tracks 1,500 riders and uses the data to set policies that have produced a 28% increase in ridership over 4 years.
9. St. Albert, Alberta, Canada
Founded in 1861 by Father Albert Lacome, the city of St. Albert is a striking blend of culture, history and community. St. Albert began as a small town around the Father Lacombe Chapel—which stills stands today on Mission Hill—in the Sturgeon River valley northwest of Edmonton and grew into the second-largest city in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
In addition to the Father Lacombe Chapel, the city is home to the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park, which houses two historic grain elevators. But for a city rich in historical sites, St. Albert is most defined by its community of residents constantly striving to improve life and embrace new innovation. St. Albert Place, located at the heart of the city, is a classic example of this attitude. It was designed by a world-renowned architect as a “people place” from the start and currently houses the St. Albert Public Library where residents can gather to learn about new technologies and opportunities in the modern world. This gathering of residents from local government positions, local businesses, academia and the general public has produced St. Albert’s Smart City Master Plan.
10. Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia
Located on Australia's eastern seaboard, Coffs Harbour is a tapestry of mountains, national parks, sandy beaches, quaint villages and marine reserves. Its natural bounty and busy regional airport have made it a highly desirable tourist and retirement destination. They have also granted Coffs Harbour less desirable gifts: a population that skews older than the Australian average and an economy dominated by healthcare, social assistance and seasonal accommodation, food services and retailing. As a result, the city has a markedly smaller proportion of high-income households and higher proportion of low-income households than the Australian average.
In 2009, the Council established a 2030 Strategic Plan, based on yearlong community consultation, to create a more vibrant future for this city on the sea. More than a decade earlier Nineties, Council made the decision to invest in a fiber-optic network to connect all governmental facilities. This proved persuasive to the national government, which named Coffs Harbour as one of 19 second-wave deployment zones for the National Broadband Network. Service to the first 2,600 homes was switched on in February of 2013.
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