Depending upon who you talk to, Spokane is either very close to or very far from connecting with the main stream tech economy. No matter your position on the topic, there are several tech-related economic development projects either in the works or simple enough to start that we can actively advance, as follows:
Become the Smartest City Around
Here’s where the nay-sayers are wrong, because this ain’t no pipe-dream. Avista, Itron, and Urbanova are all very real innovators within the nascent smart-city sector. Itron just dropped $830 million to purchase a San Jose based smart-city competitor. When Spokane corporations start cobbling up Silicon Valley tech firms, it’s cause for hope. Spokane has an opportunity to lead the world in smart-city innovations if, and this is a hell of a big if, we don’t Spokane it. And by “Spokane it,” I mean let’s not allow our dysfunctional consensus-building process to choke the life out of good ideas only to leave them on the respirator of mediocrity.
When you’re living life on the ragged edge there are no maps, there are no comparables, there’s no leadership to be led by. Either our civic culture dives in head first, or we don’t. Alas, voyages into the unknown are risky ventures. Embrace it with eyes wide open and enjoy the ride. Spokane has an opportunity to define what smart cities are. Let’s take it. Let’s make Spokane the comparable for everyone else.
Get Spokane on the Map
And here’s where the nay-sayers are right. Sadly, the bulk of the tech industry doesn’t even know where Spokane is, which is a sad state of affairs considering we’re only about 300 miles away from two major tech hubs (not to mention in the same time zone as all of them). Here’s the good news, however: it’s affordable and simple to get Spokane on the map. Even better, local civic leaders are already floating proposals to do just that. The question is, who’s listening? GSI, DSP, the Condon Administration – anybody home? Opportunities are knocking.
Engage with the tech industry. It’s not hard.
Beyond a sustained coordinated strategy to engage the cultural hearth of the tech industry, individual corporations and jurisdictions are already on Spokane’s leading edge of building Silicon Valley relationships. Spokane is, therefore, already flirting with a spot on the map. We’re almost there. Spokane is almost a thing. We just need more institutional effort.
Establish Municipal Internet Service
Back in 2004, Mayor Jim West and his fellow city boosters flipped the switch on downtown Spokane’s first “Hot Zone.” With nearly 100 square blocks of downtown blanketed with free wifi access, the Associated Press and CNN picked up the story. For a few brief moments, Spokane was on the nation’s leading edge of tech.
The “Hot Zone” project was abandoned about 10 years later due to malnourishment and neglect. These days, public internet service is a hot topic. It’s not all that expensive to build a municipal internet service network. The city’s utilities department is the cash cow of our nearly $1 billion annual budget. Adding internet service to the utility mix is as easy as the city picking up my trash every Friday.
Building a solid backbone that residents, businesses, tourists, traffic signals, street lights, street cleaners, snow plows, garbage cans, parking meters, irrigation systems, the police, and whatever else can connect to is a fundamental building block toward creating a smart-city. Do the residents of the city of Spokane want to control their digital future by providing their own internet service (and owning it), or do we want to leave it to Comcast or Century Link or Verizon to make those decisions for us?