What You Can Learn from Dublin

In June 2020, ICF will hold its annual Summit in the city of Dublin.  No, not the one in Ireland – nor the ones in the US states of California or Georgia, for that matter. I’m talking about Dublin in the midwestern state of Ohio

Why is ICF bringing the world to Dublin in June?  Because we all need to learn what Dublin can teach us about growing an economy, society and culture in a time when those things are under siege around the world.  About being, in other words, a model Intelligent Community.


A Suburban City and Economic Leader

Dublin is a small city of 41,000 located about 15 miles from the center of Columbus, the capital of the state of Ohio.  You would not be wrong to assume it is a bedroom community for the larger city – yet it has a working population of 70,000 people.  That means its employers attract nearly as many people to work there as actually live there. 

There is nothing accidental about it. 

For decades, Dublin has made a steady series of investments in infrastructure and support systems, while ensuring that its historic downtown and other local charms remain intact.  This combination has attracted business investment that creates high-quality employment with companies from Cardinal Health and Wendy’s to a thriving entrepreneurial community of 3,000 firms with an average of 7 employees each.  There’s the Emerald Parkway, the Innovation Park, the Recreation Center and its latest project, Bridge Park.  There is also the digital infrastructure of Dublink, a fiber-optic network.

Turning Digital Infrastructure into Dollars

One of the most impressive things about Dublink may not impress you at all, at least at first glance: this network was born with limited ambitions.  It did not set out to be a gigabit fiber to the home network.  (When it got its start in 1996, nobody had even heard of a gigabit.). It did not seek to compete with private phone companies.  Instead, it was a public-private venture with a utility construction company that built a conduit network and ran fiber through it, funded in part by bonds issued against future increases in income tax revenue. 

The city lit fibers on Dublink to support its own operations, which produced an immediate savings.  It began doing capacity-sharing deals with other governments and public-private entities, and each deal gave Dublin entrée to much bigger networks: Columbus Fibernet, the fiber backbone of the Ohio Supercomputer Center, Central Ohio Broadband, and two carrier hotels where major telcos connect.  It is this aggressive sharing that distinguishes Dublin from most Intelligent Communities.  Its leaders saw clearly that being connected at high speed to more places increased Dublin’s value year by year.  While the thinking of most communities stops at the municipal border, Dublin thinks regionally, nationally and internationally, and uses connectivity to translate intentions into dollars.

Your Own Top7 Site Visit

If you want to see an intriguing approach to connectivity, Dublin is a must-see. But as we say at ICF, connectivity is only the first step.  There is so much more to see and learn there: about entrepreneurship and digital inclusion, innovation and workforce development for the digital age. These are the kind of things that I and my fellow co-founders see every year on our site visits to the Top7 Intelligent Communities. 

Well, at the 2020 Summit, it’s your turn.  We invite you to step into our shoes and see how a two-time Top7 community – small in size but big in ambition – has built a dynamic economy in the shadow of a state capital city (and former Intelligent Community of the Year) 20 times its size.  



Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research, analysis and content development activities.
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