September 25, 2013 By Tony Morelli
For cities, counties and states across the country, today’s budgets leave little room to do much beyond deliver the most basic citizen services. However, despite a tough economic environment, it is more important than ever that our state and local governments invest in technology as it is the very thing that will drive economic growth.
Intelligent networking capabilities allow us to think differently about how communities are designed, built, managed and renewed to achieve social, economic and environmental sustainability. Recognizing the potential of the network can unlock business benefits and create new possibilities for a community.
For example, in Raleigh, N.C., CIO Gail Roper took a risk by spending money to update antiquated IT systems, while most were pushing to reduce spending. Focused on establishing a standard network topology and evolving the network to align with the city’s business objectives, IT staff first began designing a telecommunications network that would support Raleigh’s new, Silver LEED-certified convention center. This opportunity was the impetus to developing a technology infrastructure focused on supporting economic development and, today, downtown Raleigh provides free Wi-Fi for outdoor venues in City Plaza to thousands of visitors and patrons.
Raleigh has used its new wireless network at its convention center as an incentive for international conferences, which bring thousands of people into the city annually — driving new customers to local businesses.
The success of the wireless network led Raleigh to deploy a fiber network spanning 125 miles. Completed in partnership with the Public Works Department’s traffic signal network, the network runs along major thoroughfares in the city. Further leveraging technology to grow economic opportunities, Raleigh enlisted a consultant to develop a business plan and best practice strategy for taking full advantage of the fiber network.
Raleigh also recognized the value of digitally educated youth, and therefore began offering One Economy’s nationally renowned Digital Connectors program. The program provides technology and leadership training to young people ages 14 through 21, an important age group for Raleigh as a national leader in high-tech innovation. Each Digital Connector commits to 56 hours of community service and receives 150 hours of classroom instruction.
Raleigh has 59 Digital Connector alumni, and 16 more students are enrolled in the 2013 class. The students in the program serve as ambassadors, teaching and encouraging their families, friends and neighbors to take advantage of the digital economy. Through the Digital Connectors program, Raleigh is equipping the future workforce with vital skill sets for any number of industries and preparing them for the 21st-century workplace.
Almost half of Raleigh's residents over the age of 25 hold a bachelor's degree or higher, making the city one of the most well educated in the world. Having a large pool of talented individuals is a major incentive for corporations around the world that are looking for new office locations.
With the advancements that Raleigh has made in developing a broadband infrastructure strategy, local collaborative efforts, digital inclusion and open access, the city has been asked to participate in the release of an RFP to build the ultra high-speed North Carolina Next Generation Network. The technology-driven initiative will continue to propel economic development, creating more jobs in Raleigh, driving innovation, bringing new people into the city and creating new business opportunities.
In 2013, Forbes ranked Raleigh No. 3 on its list of best places for business and careers, No. 4 on the list of fastest-growing cities in America, and No. 29 for job growth. These impressive recognitions speak to the value of investing in technology to drive economic growth – even in times of fiscal austerity.
Tony Morelli is the vice president of U.S. State and Local Government and Education for Cisco.