As we prepare to celebrate the conclusion of the most popular national sports tournament in this country, the Intelligent Community Forum has picked my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, as one of seven cities in the world that will vie for the title of Intelligent Community of the Year in 2013.  It seems to me that just being named one of the seven finalists out of 400-odd cities considered is an honor worth discussing.

The Intelligent Community Forum is a New York-based think tank that promotes, examines and rates the use of information and communications technology to create 21st Century communities.  It was formed in 1985 out of the World Teleport Association by Guy Tozzoli, president and founder of the World Trade Centers Association and John Jung, CEO of Canada’s Technology Triangle.  “Thought leaders” affiliated with the ICF include the former president of Taiwan, the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, the governor- general of Canada, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Navy who is currently president of the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and the director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The first city to win the designation of Intelligent Community of the Year was Singapore in 1999.  The ICF released its first list of seven final contestants in 2002, and the selection of the winning community has become a well-publicized feature of the annual June summit. The contenders are not necessarily big cities or famous technology hubs. It is the nexus of collaboration among government, academia and business that is the main criterion.

The ICF says:

Intelligent Communities are those which have – whether through crisis or foresight – come to understand the enormous challenges of the broadband economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it.

The key element to be examined this year by the ICF is the relationship between innovation and employment in communities around the world.  A massive body of evidence indicates that innovation creates prosperity. But prosperity is not always the same as employment.  Over the past 50 years, job recovery has been significantly slower for each successive recession than for the previous recession, and the current recovery is the slowest yet.

Innovation creates jobs in the development, manufacturing and marketing of new products and services.  But innovation also destroys jobs by making familiar products obsolete, by replacing human beings with software to gather information and by automating many right-brain services and mechanical tasks.  With innovation as the focus of their efforts to build the economy, Intelligent Communities can balance positive and negative impacts to generate both employment and economic growth in a jurisdiction.

Columbus, with a population of about 787,000, is the only American city of seven finalists this year. The city lags the U.S. average in terms of per capita income, but has America’s highest concentration of Fortune 1,000 companies per capita.  It has the third-highest number of fashion designers in residence, fewer than only New York and Los Angeles. The Columbus metro region is one of few legacy industrial regions of the United States to show net in-migration, having added 15,000 net new jobs in the last decade.

As Columbus is the seat of government and also the biggest city in the state, there’s been successful collaboration among city government, academic institutions, businesses and nonprofits, but that success is never assured.  Government has reduced spending in the recession but also raised taxes to fund development.  Business and institutional leaders have created and supported serial nonprofits that engage in downtown development, education, health care and cultural projects.

Ohio State University has a supercomputer, and has re-energized its technology transfer office. OSU and Ohio University hold monthly forums for entrepreneurs, and have created a venture capital fund.  Columbus is also home to Battelle Laboratories, Chemical Abstracts, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the public-private TechColumbus, which works to leverage the region’s research and technology assets into start-up companies.  All these and the Columbus Metropolitan Library have been visited by the judges as the committee seeks the most intelligent community

If you are wondering, the other cities which are finalists in 2013 are:

Oulu, Finland

Stratford, Ontario, Canada

Taichung City, Taiwan

Tallinn, Estonia

Taoyuan County, Taiwan

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Even though the basketball Buckeyes lost to those bracket-busters from Wichita State, we still have a shot in one of the most meaningful competitions for the future.

Congratulations Columbus!  You made it to the Elite Eight and the Significant Seven in 2013.

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