Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit – Minnesota learns and shares with Top 7 Smart Communities

The Blandin Foundation led a contingency of broadband community people to the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit in New York. ICF is a strategy that creates and recognizes communities that do well with the framework. In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation has adopted (and adapted) the framework and employed it with dozens of rural communities. Each year, ICF names 21 Smart Communities, whittles that down to the Top 7 and then – we got to see the unveiling of the Most Intelligent Community. (Yay – Taoyuan, Taiwan!)

The conference highlights the Top 7 communities and the various aspect and outcomes of the ICF framework. Our contingency learned a lot and I think it was very inspiring. But we didn’t come empty-handed. We brought our own stories of success and we brought the rural perspective. It was fun to show off the hard work of so many Minnesota communities and we certainly raised the Minnesota Broadband Profile.

My aha moment came when we met with John Jung, co-founder of ICF and keynote speaker at the MN Fall Broadband Conference. He mirrored the focus on people that many presenters had also mentioned. It’s about how people can use technology but also about making sure they are resilient and flexible. He talked about how the goal of ICF is prosperity. So where ICF succeeds it can change policy. It allows a community to make decisions based on abundance, not scarcity.

Bernadine Joselyn and Bill Coleman each participated in a session:

You can read more complete notes…

Introduction to Seven Communities:

Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada
Abbotsford is the largest city, outside Vancouver, in the province of British Columbia and is among the most diverse in Canada. More than a quarter of its population of 150,000 hails from south Asia, mostly from the Indian state of Punjab. The city borders the United States to the south and is part of the Vancouver metroplex, which has gifted it with both an independent economy and participation in the economic sphere of western Canada’s gateway city. (from the ICF)

Here are a few of the comments they made:

  • “We have a sense of adventure, but feet on the ground. We have energy to transform. The framework has helped us grow.”
  • “We are finding that kids need help with soft skills. We are working on robotics and STEM and soft skills. The full package for knowledge workers.”
  • “Valley Food + Farm – young entrepreneurs invested in the community and collaborating to create the community in which they want to live. Rather than moving to the big city nearby.”
  • “We want accessories and services for everyone. Not just the people who know people. We need transparency and abundance to equity.”
  • “$80 million investment from Telus (provider) to get broadband (FTTH) to 90 percent. Much of that to agriculture area – they are getting into vertical farming. The infrastructure is designed to get results.”
  • “The difference between running a biz and gov? Biz can make decisions quickly. But with constant communication and communities that aligned, change and improvement can happen.”

Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a global city of 2.7 million. It is the center of America’s third largest metro economy, which produces more than US$690 billion in gross regional product. Almost one-quarter of households had earnings exceeding US$100,000 in 2016, according to the US Census. Chicago companies employ over four million people, many of them at the more than 400 major corporations that have their headquarters there. In March 2018, its unemployment rate was an enviable 5.3 percent, nearly the lowest since the government started tracking it. All big cities have big challenges. What distinguishes the successful ones is how they rise to those challenges. To build a better tomorrow for all its citizens, Chicago is focused on enlisting technology, education, engagement and demand for a better quality of life to open the doors of opportunity. Read more

Here are a few of the comments they made:

  • “We use IoT sensors to collect data around town. We make that open and invite people to come up with questions and answers. We work on equity and engagement.”
  • “Connect Chicago connects 250 spots that provide digital inclusion training incl . Helps lots of people get jobs. Also you can check out a hotspot.”
  • One big lesson from attending : Inspiration is critical for sustained leadership. Seeing how other cities are applying framework helps see and believe in what’s possible in our MN towns.
  • “Retention is all about livability – public safety, affordable and developing our kids who will want to stay. We introduce kids to tech and tech opportunities. You can’t be what you don’t see!”

Hudson, Ohio, USA
The 22,000 people of Hudson live in a green stretch of the state of Ohio midway between the cities of Cleveland and Akron. Despite the major industrial disruptions of the last 40 years, the region is relatively prosperous. Its economy rests on a mix of manufacturing (polymers, automotive, fabricated metals, electrical and electronic parts and aerospace) and services (transportation, health, insurance, banking, finance and retail). Its population is highly educated, with 68% of residents over age 25 holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, and relatively young, with a median age of 39. Median household income is in the six figures. Its downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. But like Intelligent Communities everywhere, it is a place in transition from one economy to the next. Hudson seeks to secure its future at a time when smaller communities without a distinct competitive advantage are seeing their human, economic and cultural assets drained away by bigger places. Read more

Here are a few of the comments they made:

  • “Hudson went from reactionary to little engine that could to Express train. Our goal – become a bullet train. The first step is a goal!”
  • “We’re working with to find a way to “network/wire” historical buildings.”
  • “Our maker space for youth is a gym for entrepreneurs & innovators of all genders. And they are making money with kids’ projects. ”
  • The sandbox for co-creation allows us to strand out the triple helix to reach new and diverse communities and modify plans to meet broader needs.
  • “Smaller communities are more than the triple helix (Education, Gov, Community) because everyone is so entwined. They meet in the grocery store, playground… which impacts collaboration and debate.”

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. Read more

Here are a few of the comments they made:

  • “Broadband and need for better broadband started when local govs started building and then the providers came along. Now they’re talking fiber to the farm!”
  • “International students (PhDs) work/study at the . Then they want to stay. They stay for the job but they also stay for the quality of life.”
  • “Back to broadband – farmers are no longer guys on tractors. They are running large businesses!”
  • “The program has helped us asses our needs and strengths and provided and opportunity for collaboration
  • Q: What did you get for your efforts? A: Some awards. Learned a lot. Also launched an e-sports program. Kids love the program but are worried about jobs. We’re working on creating jobs.
  • Q: What did you get for your efforts? A: Some awards. Learned a lot. Also launched an e-sports program. Kids love the program but are worried about jobs. We’re working on creating jobs.
  • Lesson from “It’s not where you live – it’s why you live there”

Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
The Sunshine Coast is located 100km north of Brisbane, and features commercial, residential and industrial precincts, as well as diverse landscapes from open coastline to green belts and pristine hinterland communities covering 2,291 square kilometers. The region continues to evolve into a modern, smart economy based on sound growth across numerous high value and knowledge-based industries including professional business services, innovative manufacturing and numerous high-tech start-ups. The Sunshine Coast is one of the largest local government areas in Australia and has averaged 2.5% annual growth over the last decade, making it one of the fastest growing areas in the country; with the population expected to grow to more than 500,000 people by 2041.  Read more

Here are a few of the comments they made:

Taoyuan, Taiwan
Since December 2014, Taoyuan has been officially upgraded to a municipality and has become one of the six capitals in Taiwan. Due to its proximity to the Taipei Metropolitan Area, a number of major public utilities(metro, airport, etc.) and investments are located here. Taoyuan City has the largest international airport in Taiwan, and the 2017 Taoyuan MRT Airport Line is open to traffic, speeding up the convenience between the Taoyuan High Speed Rail Station and the airport. The unique geographical and traffic environment makes Taoyuan City develop rapidly in recent years, attracting a large number of people from other counties and cities to move in.

Taoyuan is the largest industrial science and technology city in Taiwan. More than one-third of Taiwan’s top 500 manufacturing industries have set up factories in Taoyuan. The industrial output value is about 2.87 trillion, ranking the top in Taiwan for 14 consecutive years. The population is a fusion of many ethnic groups such as Minnan, Hakka and Aboriginal people. Because of the industrial development, Taoyuan is also the municipality with the largest number of foreign workers from Southeast Asia and the largest number of Vietnamese new residents. Read more

Here are a few of the comments they made:

  • “We have built more than 3000 digital classrooms and many makerspaces. Tech has changed education in urban and rural places.”
  • “Teachers can be slow to change what they do. But our schools know: There’s only make. Just do it. There is no failure. Smart Education Alliance fosters change (at the bilingual school.) And now they are working on devices for kids who need them.
  • Q: Why STEAM (sci, tech, engineering, art and math) not STEM? A: Because Art is the most important for life.

Westerville, Ohio, USA
Westerville is a northeastern suburb of Columbus, capital of the state of Ohio, and home to nearly 40,000 people. It takes its name from the Dutch family that founded it in the 1800s. It was a small place that eventually became known as the “Dry Capital of the World,” based on an 1859 law that forbid the sale of alcohol in the city and the decision of the Anti-Saloon League – which played a leading role in Prohibition – to move its national headquarters there in 1909. It was only in the 1990s, when Westerville annexed land that included alcohol-selling businesses, that local prohibition began to change. Since then, Westerville has made a career of embracing change. In 2007, the city began planning expansion of an existing government fiber network to support smart-grid applications. (Like many smaller US cities, it owns its own electric utility.) The planning process revealed a lack of affordable choices for broadband and data center services. That ultimately led City Council to found WeConnect: an underground fiber network connected to a community-owned data center and delivering 100 Gbps connectivity to municipal service providers, businesses, schools, the local university and research institutes. Read more

Here are a few of the comments they made:

  • “From starter of prohibition and smallest town in US to have a post office to home of municipal data center and local engineering program at the college.
  • “When you own the data center, you control access to the data. That info can be used to meet more needs in the community.”
  • Q: Wasterwille OH is unusual in that taking on the technology and the change, it wasn’t done after a crisis. What spurred you? A: We have some crisis but we try to think of the future. And we partner with a lot of people.

There were also several topical sessions as well:

FAANGS Rocking Your World

The technology innovation wave led by Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google have changed the economy, work and ways of life in major ways.  They bring enormous benefit and opportunity, while accelerating disruptive change in the place called home.  In every community, that wave is challenging leaders and citizens to redefine their value, adapt and build a different future.  In this panel, we look for insights to help us better understand a world in flux.

Data control is a big issue with the big players. It’s important to know how your community feels about privacy and security.

Intelligent Ohio

The Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community was formed in Dublin, Ohio, USA in 2015 with a vision of creating “An Intelligent Ohio”. Since this time, the Institute has grown its membership and reach to nearly 600 people representing more than 200 cities, villages, universities, hospitals, libraries and companies throughout Ohio. The Institute’s outreach and engagement efforts have resulted in strong ICF interest among Ohio communities and two 2019 Top7 designees. Dana McDaniel will give a brief presentation explaining how the success of this movement happened and what’s next for the Institute and Ohio.

Fun to hear from the host of next year’s ICF Summit. And impressive to see a town of 48,000 lead a state to ICF activity. In fact these guys could be a model the BBCs and other small rural communities that have been working on broadband. Maybe we could get a statewide effort in ICF.

A Tale of Two Economies

The explosive growth of digital technology has had an unintended impact: the splitting of “the economy” into two economies.  In one, workers find good jobs in growth industries, because they add big value for their employers.  They live in prosperous neighbor that offer attractive retail, strong schools and rewarding social and cultural institutions.  In the other economy, workers are stuck in menial jobs that generate only small value for their employers, which keeps their wages low.  They live paycheck-to-paycheck in places with poor housing, limited and costly retail and little in the way of culture. What are cities, counties and towns doing to face this challenge?  What policies can help reduce the divide and re-unify the place called home?

Doug McCollough pointed out that no one intentionally leaves people behind. The problem is that we often define community by geography when there are many people who define their community differently. We need to find ways to make sure that those people do not fall through the cracks. And for some of those communities there’s a need to address technology and soft skills.

City of Lifelong Learning

The Drucker Institute is working to design, prototype and implement a holistic, integrated system that will help transform South Bend, Indiana, in to a City of Lifelong Learning. The project is undertaken with the government of South Bend, its library system, school corporation and other key stakeholders in business, labor and education. Part digital and part physical, the system will take what is currently a highly fragmented set of learning resources, identify those that have proven to be most effective, integrate them more efficiently and make them accessible and inviting for the entire South Bend community.

Great discussion on the difference between training and education. Training made more sense when people kept the same career, if not job, for many years, often a lifetime. Now most people will have many careers. It’s important to teach them how to learn – and that’s education.

When Tech Giants Come to Town

In the past two years, tech giants have gone shopping for locations for their operations and communities that can serve as test beds for development of software-driven solutions to challenges from energy efficiency to mobility. They bring jobs, economic growth, expertise and scale to communities eager for economic development. They can also create controversy over everything from gentrification and housing costs to data privacy and financial incentives. A panel of experts weighs the pros and cons of having the tech giants come to town, the issues it creates, and how their communities seek to resolve those issues.

It sounds as if one key to getting large tech companies to your community is making sure that the local community wants it to happen. There are many benefits to having a large company in town (jobs, infrastructure, name recognition) but there are some down sides too (decreased affordable housing). One key issue is community engagement and the possibility of jobs for the locals.

Smart City 3.0: Taiwan’s Journey to Bridge Technology and People

Maggie Chao talked about the success has had bridging technology and people. I think the following slide says it all:

Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge

Join Infrastructure Canada’s Director General of the Smart Cities Challenge, Jenny Tremblay, in conversation about Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, which offers up to $75 million in prizes to communities proposing programs that improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology. From 130 eligible applications, the Challenge Jury selected 20 as finalists, including nine of ICF’s Smart21, Top7 and Intelligent Communities of the Year. Winners will be announced on May 14. Gain insights into the programs, the winning communities and the strategy of a world-leading nation in the Intelligent Community movement and home to ICF Canada.

I love this idea – funding for exceptional ideas. In Minnesota, we have the Minnesota infrastructure model. We have the State grants, some great local providers (and cooperatives), statutory speed goals and communities that are willing to invest. Adding something like this Smart Cities Challenge, combined with Blandin Foundation’s community support for building a base of users and we could really be world class leaders.

The conference ended with a harbor tour around the Statue of Liberty. This post is long enough – but you can see some of the fun on my personal blog. The week was a fun chance to let some broadband players know that we’re doing cool things in Minnesota and a great opportunity to get inspired.

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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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