Austin, Texas, and Riverside, Calif., were two of the 2012 Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year just named by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) along with three Canadian cities, one Finnish area and one Chinese location.

According to ICF, the Top Seven “are communities that provide a model of economic and social development in the 21st Century using information and communications technology to power growth, address social challenges and preserve and promote culture.”

The following are short descriptions of the winners:

>> Austin, Texas: In the late Eighties, fourteen semiconductor manufacturers and the U.S. government created a partnership called SEMATCH to solve common manufacturing problems. The selection of Austin as its headquarters sparked a technology boom. Growth was so robust for so long that the Austin economy began to look recession-proof—until the dot-com collapse of 2001 tripled the unemployment rate. In response, city government partnered with the Chamber of Commerce on a long-term economic development strategy that led to a nearly $6 billion increase in regional payrolls over five years. A second five-year plan launched in 2010 seeks to add another $11 billion.
 
>> Riverside, Calif.:  Located 60 miles from Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Riverside is a bedroom community and university town, home to four colleges and universities. It is also an agricultural community and a warehousing and transportation hub. But none of these industries has provided Riverside with sustainable growth. Today, the city is building a tech-based economy that seizes the opportunities of the broadband revolution. A nonprofit, Smart Riverside, focuses on technology initiatives, and a CEO Forum of local tech companies has produced a plan for tech-based transformation. Carriers have deployed fiber and wireless networks reaching 80 percent of the city.

>> Oulu, Finland:  When heavy industry went into steep decline, the Nokia Research Center and small-to-midsize enterprises (SMEs) became Oulu’s biggest employers. But city leaders remained alert to "the Nokia threat"—employment concentrated in a single large company—and founded the Oulu Technology Park to incubate more SMEs. Despite the financial crisis that hit in 2007, Oulu has managed to create 18,000 jobs in high technology. The government of Oulu has also created an intensive culture of use for information and communications technologies.

>> Quebec City, Quebec, Canada:  Regional GDP has grown 30 percent in the past 10 years, driven largely by R&D and high-tech businesses. A decision by local government to interconnect the city’s universities and business community transformed a political capital into a technology capital. Quebec Metro High Tech Park is now home to nearly 100 companies employing 5,000 people.
 
>> Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada: While it had Canada’s largest per capita decline in manufacturing from 1989 to 2003, Saint John saw 8-percent growth in services, double the Canadian average. To accelerate that positive trend, the city created a partnership with education, health care, provincial government, cultural institutions and business, targeting ICT, life sciences, tourism, energy and advanced manufacturing for growth. In a strategy called True Growth, the city engaged with local employers and educators to identify and recruit skilled young people emerging from secondary school and university.  

>> Stratford, Ontario, Canada:  Stratford has had to take major steps to create a 21st Century economy. A city-owned company has laid 60 kilometers of optical fiber, using it as the backbone of a public Wi-Fi network. The University of Waterloo has opened a Stratford campus offering a Masters of Business Entrepreneurship and Technology program, giving rise to the Stratford Institute think tank focused on digital media. Eighty percent of Stratford’s family physicians are on a broadband e-health portal for health records, administration and after-hours care, which has helped ease the region’s shortage of family practitioners.
 
>> Taichung City, Taiwan: The city has, over time, invested in tandem with Taiwan’s telecom carriers; as a result, Taichung now has 80-percent coverage for both WiMAX wireless and fiber broadband, with 100 percent expected within 5 years. Using this network, Taichung’s Industrial Technology Research Institute has introduced 47 precision manufacturers to a new shared, cloud-based Engineering Data Bank it says reduces purchasing costs and time to market.

The seven winners now are in the running for ICF’s annual “Intelligent Community of the Year” awards (click here for more information).    

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