Small cities, smart technology, big opportunities

Young entrepreneurs across the globe see additional opportunities for local governments to play a pivotal role by fostering and encouraging their efforts on a large scale.
Written by Andy Monshaw,, Contributor
Commentary - With the world population now at 7 billion and counting, urbanization trends suggest that cities of all sizes will be impacted by fast paced, staggering growth. As large cities are being pushed beyond their limits, this trend can represent a great challenge and -- at the same time -- a great opportunity for small and midsize cities worldwide, as they absorb the overflow populations.

Many question whether smaller metropolitan areas will be able to cope with the stresses and strains that urbanization will bring unless real changes are made. Yet, mayors of small to medium cities firmly believe that their efforts to create public and private partnerships will solve issues such as increasing public safety, building affordable housing, investing in children and schools, and strengthening bridges, highways and public transportation. And they believe their efforts can serve as a model to create similar solutions to nationwide problems.

The Role of Small City Government: An Entrepreneur's Perspective While government programs already do play an important role in supporting entrepreneurship, young entrepreneurs across the globe see additional opportunities for local governments to play a pivotal role by fostering and encouraging their efforts on a large scale.

The path to successful growth of these smaller cities, as well as an efficient and technologically advanced future, must involve a collaborative approach. Combined actions by both private companies and government are critical to improving technology and fostering innovation.

Furthermore, fostering a community supportive of young entrepreneurs is the lifeblood of any business community. Older entrepreneurs and large corporations alike can not only mentor but also nurture startups by doing business with them, anticipate future skills needs, collaborate with government to develop closer linkages to address skill shortages and requirements, and tackle obstacles that impede improvement of technology adoption and innovation performance.

When small cities talk
Because of their scale, governments of smaller cities have a greater and more natural ability to more personally interact and communicate with their citizens and local entrepreneurs. Collecting, managing and analyzing data can allow city governments to target a specific problem in a small municipality, and manage and adjust more quickly as needs change.

As one example, the City of Dubuque, IA is collecting and analyzing information to provide insight on water consumption trends and patterns that will enable both the volunteers and city management to conserve water and lower costs. Recently, the city implemented a city-wide water meter upgrade project working with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to integrate a device designed to more effectively manage the city's water consumption.

The system allows consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures for better water utilization and energy savings. Reduction in water use will reduce use of both energy and chlorine, resulting in significant savings and environmental benefit. By providing citizens and city officials with an integrated view of water consumption, the project will encourage behavioral changes by encouraging citizens to take a look at their water consumption habits, resulting in cost reduction and conservation.

Investing more than $1.2 million in capital improvement projects affecting community facilities, the City of Chesapeake, VA is using technology to enhance services delivered to the public ranging from maintenance and operations of traffic signals and water systems to the management of the City’s Fire and Police departments.

By analyzing data and sharing the findings across departments, the city is providing the various departments with a transparent view of what’s going on across the city at any given time to detect and react to potential problems more quickly. As a result of these efforts, the City of Chesapeake is consistently improving the quality of life for its citizens.

The City of Cambridge, ON is fostering greater collaboration by improving the quality of its information across all key municipal departments. Like all cities, Cambridge has a network of complex systems which are managed by multiple departments. These departments perform several types of activities ranging from capital improvement planning and project execution to the management of day-to-day city operations.

They must also prepare for unplanned events such as snow storms and traffic accidents. Budget restraints, coupled with growing demands due to rapid urbanization and aging infrastructure add further complexity. As one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, the City of Cambridge is progressively tackling these urban challenges before they become major impediments.

These are three examples of small cities designing solutions that can carry broad implications for the health and vitality of their entire communities, ensuring their survival and even prosperity as they continue to grow. Effectively managing and analyzing data to supply targeted public-private solutions to local problems improve the likelihood smaller cities will be better prepared to meet the challenges of population growth and urbanization. Templates created by these smaller cities not only help meet the needs of its citizens, but to weather inevitable economic crises, continue to create jobs and encourage growth to achieve not only its own local but national strategic productivity and innovation targets as well.

Andy Monshaw is General Manager, IBM Midmarket Business.

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