Economic development is a challenge facing every state and local government, as they need to attract and retain companies and their workforces. Economic development agencies have become parts of many state and local governments and concentrate on these issues. Often these groups provide fiscal incentives such as tax breaks or facilitate regulatory issues to achieve their goals.
The City of Westerville is using IT as a means of economic development. Located in the central U.S., the City of Westerville, Ohio, has a population of 39,000, which makes it the largest suburb of Columbus, the state capital. In 2009, Money Magazine named the city one of the top 100 places to live. The City was also a featured case study in the 2010 Gartner Executive Programs CIO Agenda Report.
Todd Jackson the CIO at the City of Westerville explains the program:
“We recognize that infrastructure attracts businesses and provides employment opportunities. People already choose to live here for the quality of life. Together, the network, community data center and incubator will give businesses, too, a reason to choose our community.”
This technology initiative, a partnership with Otterbein College in Westerville, the Westerville City School district and the business community, is designed to provide a technology core for economic growth and social development. Branded as “We- Connect,” the details of this public-private effort include the following:
- A fiber optic network extends to businesses, schools and homes, providing high-speed access throughout the city. For high-speed access across the region, the network connects to the Columbus fiber network.
- A community data center will house the city’s data center in addition to providing carrier-neutral facilities for current and new businesses. A self-sustaining, for-profit enterprise sponsored by the city, the data center offers companies a catalogue of managed services.
- A proposed business incubator is being built in cooperation with Otterbein College to create win-win opportunities for both students in Otterbein’s M.B.A. and adult education programs, and businesses that reside in the incubator. The incubator seeks to create an environment attractive to startups and high-growth companies by providing business and data services.
“Rather than build our own data center or contract for data center services, we decided to create a community asset,” says Jackson. “The data center will support development—just like building new roads or other types of infrastructure would. And as with a road, we do not limit access. We need open access to create a ‘technology commons’ for citizens and businesses alike. We are using technology
To build an ecosystem to attract and retain companies and grow jobs, as well as strengthen the knowledge workforce in the community.”
Todd sent me an email this morning with an update:
“Yesterday March 9th, 2010, the City council considered the WeConnect Business & Education Innovation Center and gave it the green light to move forward with the Community Data Center. Interest in the community was strong approximately 30 businesses in attendance including two retail carriers in favor of the carrier neutral aspect of the network/DC. The link below will take you to the press release.
Link to the press release: http://www.westerville.org/FullNews/tabid/314/ArticleID/837/CBModuleId/1059/Default.aspx
City Council is excited about the many benefits the Center will ring to the community. “
The importance and interest in IT and technology infrastructure as a way of attracting and retaining businesses offers a unique approach to economic development and one that shows that IT is part of the fabric that companies consider when locating or expanding their business.