Colorado Springs civic, political and business leaders want to join a network of U.S. cities that are part of Smart Gigabit Communities, led and designed by US Ignite, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit.
The national group is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and already has 20 cities that bear the “smart city” designation. Leaders in the Springs believe the city could be the next place with ultra-fast internet connections and creative use and design of apps to solve local problems.
As the internet grows more pervasive — with faster connections and more information available — machines talking to each other outnumber people on the internet, said Ignite co-founder Glenn Ricart. That means it’s time for local governments to take advantage of high-speed connections brought by fiber optics, broadband services or wireless services to create efficient use of government resources, he said..
Locally, the effort — it took roughly 18 months to get to Tuesday night’s announcement — is spearheaded by a trio of women: Susan Spradley, a former tech executive who is chairwoman of the local Ignite board; Ingrid Richter, executive director of Catalyst Campus; and Lola Woloch, CEO of the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s about economic development,” Woloch said at the Tuesday night kick-off event. “Having this capability will make the city more attractive to businesses globally — and make it easier for local companies to grow. As a chamber, that’s what we want to see.”
But the announcement that the Springs is on the path to becoming a US Ignite city is just the first step, said Ryan Trujillo, the city’s contract compliance and sustainability manager who is responsible for spearheading the city’s involvement in Ignite. To get started the local group must raise $20,000 to receive US Ignite’s assistance and access to other smart cities. The city is paying $5,000 toward the effort.
“Will we be an Ignite City once we reach the $20,000 they ask for?” he asked. “In their eyes yes, but after that — it’s really up to us to figure out what we want to do and how we want to do it.”
The city of Chattanooga, Tenn. took the fiber optics lines laid by the local utility company to create ultra-fast internet for residents as well. They then built an innovation zone and created a STEM school for students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers. Students there can work directly with professors and students at the University of Southern California.
In Lafayette, La., Ignite’s Smart City project is a Business Emergency Response Operations Center that allows information exchange between private-sector businesses and the state’s regional emergency operations management center. It helps coordinate efforts during floods and other emergencies. It’s a use that resonates with Spradley.
“I first moved here and bought a house in Black Forest,” she said. “That was four years ago. We don’t have that house, we lost in the Black Forest fire. Since wildfires have affected so many people here, maybe that would be a good use of the Smart City applications.”
At Fort Bragg, an Army post outside of Fayetteville, N.C., the smart Cities initiative created a driverless car to help wounded soldiers get around post. It’s also used by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
While US Ignite can provide connections to other smart cities, education, advocacy and grant opportunities by the state and federal government, much of the heavy lifting is done locally.
“We have to raise the money,” Trujillo said. “Then we have to come together as a community and decide what we want to do. You’re going to see community panels very, very soon.”
Ignite doesn’t tell cities what problems need to be solved, Spradley said. But it does provide much of the background work necessary so that city’s can develop their own efforts.
Sectors chosen by other cities include education, workforce development, energy efficiency, public health, public safety and utilities/wastewater, Ricart said.
The overall goal is to allow cities to implement a plan to scale-up applications that can lead to more efficient use of government resources. The big step is community buy-in for selected projects.
The Springs is well prepared for the effort, Ricart said.
“You are as ready as any city I’ve seen,” he said. “You have the city on board, leadership on board, you have a great start with Catalyst Campus and the National Cybersecurity Center and the support of the women’ chamber. I believe you can be successful.”
To get there, organizers acknowledge the biggest hurdle will be developing the infrastructure. They hope state and federal grants will provide the funding for that part of the effort.
“That’s the big thing,” Spradley said. “But I’m confident we can do this. It just takes everyone being on the same page. And I believe that next year at this time, we’ll be celebrating the roll-out of our first app.”