Closing the Gap – Public-Private Collaboration and the Future of Connected Cities

December 7, 2015

Takeaways

The most competitive cities are those that capitalize on the growth of data and connectivity.

These remarks were first presented on Nov. 12 at the Global Cities Team Challenge Conference hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

All cities possess features that impact and influence their economic and business potential. A city’s history, culture, geography and a range of other elements contribute to what makes each city unique and attractive. Today, however, urban leaders increasingly recognize that in addition to these qualities, the most competitive cities are those that capitalize on the growth of data and connectivity and seek out the businesses that can help advance public efforts.

Consider Boston, which Mayor Martin Walsh seeks to build into a 21st century data-driven city. Boston has been working with Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, to empower citizens to take part in the growth and maintenance of their community. My hometown of Pittsburgh is also embracing connectivity and data. The city’s Department of Innovation and Performance has created three digital tools to modernize how the city manages its contracts and purchasing. Meanwhile, New York City has won wide and appropriate acclaim for its embrace of Open Data, and San Antonio and other cities have created 311 applications that allow citizens to submit requests for maintenance, report potholes and graffiti, and take part in the advancement and improvement of all city functions.

There are untold examples across the country and the globe of how conversations, collaborations and partnerships between the private sector and the cities in which they operate can enhance competitiveness, economic performance, efficiency, and indeed, all the critical ingredients of a thriving, 21st century connected city.

And yet, as most of us have learned at one point or another, whenever one challenges the status quo, there is someone else who seeks to protect it. Those who say, “we don’t do it that way.” When advancing technology and the benefits it brings, city innovators are throwing down the gauntlet of change, and for that, they need a partner. When it comes to building urban connectivity and enhancing services and opportunity, there is a natural partnership that could accelerate all of our efforts—and help navigate some of the pitfalls and naysayers along the way, too.

When advancing technology and the benefits it brings, city innovators are throwing down the gauntlet of change, and for that, they need a partner.

This partner and advocate is the local chamber of commerce in every community across the nation. Chambers of commerce are home to welcome mats, open doors and round tables where all of the business community and their civic partners can meet, discuss and explore possibilities and opportunities. Indeed, one of the core functions of a chamber is to forge connections, to invite a range of stakeholders to the same table to seek new synergies that could lead to greater success.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with 1776, produced a report called, “Innovation that Matters.” It explores how cities across the United States are creating startup ecosystems where new ideas and opportunities are born.  For as unique and diverse as each of the cities we visited was, we found that the ultimate “secret sauce” is creating networks of stakeholders that promote collaboration and facilitate the exchange of ideas. When you embrace a culture of public-private cooperation, it unleashes your innovative capacity and creates connections that yield new potential. 

When you embrace a culture of public-private cooperation, it unleashes your innovative capacity and creates connections that yield new potential.

And it’s not just about partnering with infrastructure owners and operators. Because urban infrastructure is more than just hardware. It is also a well-educated and trained workforce; universities and educational institutions that can keep producing that talent; attractive business climates; and a great quality of life. Connecting and growing this infrastructure takes teamwork, and local Chambers are where great relationships are formed.

Now, some might think, chambers of commerce are where “the establishment” hangs out, the long-standing businesses that do not, on the face of it, seem to be the daring innovators, the risk-takers, the game-changing entrepreneurs. But many of today’s chamber members were once just as cutting edge, as hungry and as anxious to change the world as any of today’s new innovative entrepreneurs.  Every one of those enterprises, be they large or small, have lessons to share and support to offer.

To be sure, there can be a language barrier, as many today’s innovators can be found speaking in code, algorithms and other technical tongues while local chambers speak in the language of balance sheets, rules and regulations, zoning laws, and economic development. But for all of the ways these two distinct communities are different, they all have a shared vision for a better community to work in, play in and do business.

In this period of dynamic technological and innovative change, local chambers can be powerful allies and partners. They can be there to support the effort and vision of public sector innovators; to help ask the right questions; to contribute to the imaginative journey of innovation;  and if need be, to take on some of the fights they encounter when the old guard tries to halt the new idea that will make a community a better place.

Increasingly, all of us are finding America’s City Halls looking to encourage and embrace data-driven innovation, rather than chase it away. As that progress happens, local chambers can be fertile ground for the conversations and partnerships to take root and help define our connected futures.

Increasingly, all of us are finding America’s City Halls looking to encourage and embrace data-driven innovation, rather than chase it away. As that progress happens, local chambers can be fertile ground for the conversations and partnerships to take root and help define our connected futures.

Closing this gap in relationship and partnership building is a tremendous opportunity. The sooner we do, the sooner we can realize the jobs, the innovation and the progress we all seek, and that’s the future we are all united to build.