March 19, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
"Technology provides a service, and if it's effective, it's a right fit for your organization and it changes the way you do business, obviously, for the better," said Roy Mentkow, director of technology for Roanoke, Va.
With this outlook, Roanoke has been shaped into a technology leader, earning the title of Top Digital City six out of the last eight years for the 75,000 to 124,999 population category in the Center for Digital Government's Digital Cities survey.
Mentkow has been in the IT industry since 1981 and before that worked in every industry imaginable, he said. His first job with Roanoke was in public safety as a team lead, when Mentkow discovered he enjoyed providing a service more than making a profit.
Mentkow looks for creative and cost-effective IT solutions. When high gas prices in 2008 prompted more commuters to use the city bus system, the technology department added free Wi-Fi to two buses for around $100. He saw this as a moment of inspiration to aid the public.
"I always have the same goal -- and it's never-ending -- and that is to transform our environment with the effective use of technology," he said.
Other initiatives include a community Web portal, which contains a real estate and neighborhood search function. And it extends as a mobile portal, letting citizens access information from smartphones or laptops.
"The most important thing we believe here as a technology department, is that we're not in the technology business," Mentkow said. "We honestly, as a unit, accept that we are in the customer-service business. Our expertise is in technology, but we are here to service customers. We're problem-solvers."
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.