Are Smart Cities a Way to Attract a Smart Workforce

Are Smart Cities a Way to Attract a Smart Workforce?

When GE (IW 500/7) was asked why they chose Jacksonville, Fla. as one of two test cities for a pilot program that will use connected LED lighting to provide data to the city, they pointed to the fact that Jacksonville is a tech city.  And tech cities attract a tech workforce.

In fact in a recent ranking by New Geography, the city landed in the top 10 markets for attracting Millennials. And the city is ranked second for tech job growth by Forbes.

A tech workforce is essential as Jacksonville becomes a “smart city.” Smart cities are wired with sensors, harnessing the power of the Industrial Internet (Iot), to collect and analyze data that improves a variety of city services.

“There is a convergence of things that makes the concept of a smart city possible,“ explains Rick Freeman, global product manager for intelligent devices for GE. “The lower cost of electronics combines with the availability of wireless networks making it possible to manufacture a light fixture and have it contain sensors. In addition information is now stored in a cloud so a city wouldn’t have expensive hardware costs.  At the same time communities are comfortable with using the data to analyze and improve services.”

By repurposing street lights with LEDs containing sensors, controls, wireless transmitters and microprocessors, Jacksonville, the largest city in terms of area for the continental U.S., will use the pilot program to focus on increasing efficiency through energy savings and better asset management of streetlights. It will also look at issues such as traffic congestion and emergency response time.

Jacksonville’s pilot program will use GE’s Predix, a software platform that connects machines, data and people to help improve asset performance management, that when applied to lighting will provide a platform for the future development of intelligent city applications that will deliver efficiency for the city.

The lighting application has great appeal to cities as it’s a cost savings that can be quickly seen. For example in San Diego, another pilot city of GE, the 3,000 LEDs installed last year generated a savings of $250,000.

The opportunities are endless as the sensors provide access to real-time data that never existed. Other applications for Jacksonville, or any smart city, could include safety-related systems where sensors give warning on weather systems or sensors could provide information to emergency responders. 

A good example of a quick payoff of this technology is Barcelona. The city’s irrigation system has sensors in the ground that offer live data on humidity, temperature, wind velocity, sunlight, and atmospheric pressure. The city invested $382,000 in building the first phase of the system, which began operations in March of 2014. By the summer of that same year, the city estimated that the system would cut water usage by about one-quarter for a saving of $555,000 a year, a smart investment for a city that not too long ago had to import drinking water by ship.

The savings that will result from smart cities programs are large, especially in the area of energy. A report released by Juniper in February of this year estimates that smart grid initiatives will achieve $10.7 billion savings annually by 2019 through a combination of reduced energy consumption and emissions reductions. 

Technology Creating Workforce Opportunities

But perhaps the most profitable use will be finding ways to better manage the city from a variety of perspectives to create value-added services for residents, making cities even more livable and workable.

“The technology of smart cities will lead to open application programming interfaces (API) systems which will need apps so cities can monetize the data. For this you need a labor pool that can create these apps,” says Freeman.

A smart city full of high tech Millennials is just what Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is envisioning for his city.  With 93 career academies in Northeast Florida that are tied to the region’s targeted industries, there is a lot of talent in this area. And the Mayor wants to use this talent to bolster economic growth especially in the downtown area which is very attractive to this age group.

When the city was chosen as one of 33 cities selected to receive a Smarter Cities Challenge grant from IBM in 2012, Mayor Brown  felt this was an ideal opportunity to promote downtown as an employment center.  

And this goal has panned out. Over the past four years an additional 3,000 people work downtown, with more to come. To that end the Mayor wants to make sure the city has the amenities that will continue to attract Millennials. The city is investing in housing, restaurants and other projects that will need to be managed in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

One project, that last year attracted 200,000 visitors, is One Spark, The annual festival, created in 2013 and held downtown, consists of  "creators" display projects in five categories (art, innovation, music, science, social good, and technology). Attendees vote to award $300,000 in crowdfunded prize money. The event also offers opportunities for private investment in projects as well as speakers, music and entertainment.

On the entertainment side, in February, the city opened  Southbank Riverwalk, a river-hugging pathway featuring 4,000 feet of lighted concrete pavers for walking, biking and community gatherings. The entertainment complex is viewed as yet another draw for residents, especially Millennials.  

All of this success takes careful planning.Under legislation by the Mayor, the city created the Downtown Investment Authority with development powers. With City approval, it oversees a Downtown Action Plan that gives life to the framework for revitalizing downtown.

As tech talent attracted to downtown, it also bolsters the advanced manufacturing sector. One of the biggest wins was GE Oil& Gas which built a plant in Jacksonville in November of this year to manufacture control valves for use in the oil and gas industry. By 2016 the plant will employ 500.

Winning this project, the city created strong ties with the company that helped when GE was deciding where to put its pilot LED program.  “The collaborative effort between the city, GE and our publicly –owned utility, JEA, was a winning combination to get the smart city project, “explains Jerry Mallot, executive director of JAX USA, an economic development organization.

“We are one of the most partner-oriented cities in the country,” says Mallot. “It’s in our DNA. As far back as 50 years ago the city and the county were one government and that began a process that lasted for a long period of time. That level of co-operation is extended to the business community as well. We expect everyone to work together and they do.”

GE would agree with that assessment of how to get things done in Jacksonville. “We are big advocates of private public partnerships as it is much faster way for city to gain value,” says Freeman.

Value to Jacksonville is for growth to continue. And growth is based on the ability of the city’s workforce. And thus the circle is complete. A “smart” city, full of potential for expanding the applications of technology, will inevitably attract a smart workforce.   

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