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Local public infrastructure driving economic development and employment growth

by Mark P. McDonald  |  December 12, 2012  |  1 Comment

Last month I had the opportunity to catch up with Todd Jackson the CIO at the City of Westerville Ohio and received an update on Westerville Ohio’s Community Data Center.  If you recall from a prior post,  the City of Westerville, located outside Columbus Ohio, decided to build a community data center providing services for both the city and local community.  The idea was the first of its kind in the U.S. and a model for future innovation.

The Community Data Center, known as WēConnect®, is a 16,000 square foot facility completed in December 2011 when the first business moved into the space.  It was officially opened in March 2012 and is a unique public/private partnership; the City owns the data center infrastructure, a regional provider of data center design and services, manages operations including:

  • Access to city-wide fiber-optic network
  • Cloud computing
  • Managed services
  • Co-location
  • Disaster recovery services
  • Business continuity

Since opening, WēConnect has six telecommunications carriers offering services via the data center.  Carrier participation is expanding the service providers and services offered to the community. “At first the carriers thought we were competing with them,” mentioned Todd Jackson Westerville’s CIO, “but quickly they realized that the community data center complimented their offerings by providing the local loop.”

Expanding services is leading to keeping and growing companies and jobs in the local community.   Jackson pointed out in our discussion that small and medium sized businesses are the ‘bread and butter’ of a local community.  These businesses need advanced connectivity and technology to compete but they often lack the resources to do it for him or her or the buying power to get competitive pricing.  WēConnect addresses both issues and that has supported job growth and retention.

The City believes that the community data center will create or retain more than 900 jobs, a significant figure in a community of 36,000.  “WēConnect is an incentive tool for economic development and businesses recognize the value in being able to provide them services that will save them time and money.  From the City’s perspective, the data center gives us an additional tool to attract business rather than relying solely on tax incentives.”

The reason why I am blogging about this is the fact that WēConnect represents a unique form of public/private/development partnership.  One that combines the strengths and interests of all parties in a way that leads to creating value for all.

The City needed a new data center and had the vision to recognize technology as a potential ‘utility’ factor in companies deciding to locate their business.  The City strives to maintain and create business relationships that support healthy economic development, as well as introduce service provides to businesses seeking cost-savings and value. While this helps generate additional revenue for WēConnect®, real value lies in the brand WēConnect®, or “Westerville Connects.”  The focus is connecting people to people and business to business utilizing technology as a tool and a utility to support these connections.

Building a community data center reflects the City’s ability to raise and engage in capital improvement projects.  Opening of the data center to private companies leverages the City’s capital investment, supports local businesses and expands the services available to the community.

Municipal operating budgets are tight given economic conditions and the service revenues going to the City enables it to channel operating resources elsewhere. WēConnect was established as a utility and is managed as the City’s forth utility (Water, Electric, Sewer and now Data Center and Fiber) which allows WēConnect to operate from an enterprise fund.  This enables the revenue from fees collected from services to be used for operating and maintaining the data center and fiber network and NOT use income tax dollars.

Local businesses get market competitive services in their hometown, a real benefit and differentiator to the local economy.  The data center and fiber network together create a technology commons where managed service providers and telecommunication carriers can sell,  supplement and resell each other’s services to businesses located within as well as outside Westerville enabling businesses in Westerville to thrive locally and compete globally.

According to Jackson, “people move servers out of the closet in their office or from under their desk into the data center.”

Having a local data center has unique advantages over virtual the ‘cloud’.

Jackson told of how local business owners drove past the data center after a storm that knocked out power just to know that their data was protected and their businesses stayed online.  It seems that being in the cloud is fine but there is extra confidence in being able to see your part of the cloud.

WēConnect and the community data center idea is building momentum.  The data center is gaining new customers, retaining and growing local jobs and providing information services.  Other communities have taken notice of the unique combination of public/private and development impact.  WēConnect has also been recognized locally and nationally for its innovative approach.

WēConnect and the City of Westerville provide a great example of the innovation; creativity and responsiveness local communities deliver in response to technology and economic challenges.  It illustrates a type of collaboration between government and business that is mutually re-enforcing rather than mutually exploitive.  I personally believe, no Gartner opinion, that this type of technology-business innovation is exactly what we all need to move into the digital age and move our local economy and communities forward.

Category: economy  innovation  leadership  technology  

Tags: technology  technology-leadership  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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