From Rivers and Railroads to Fiber Optics: Fueling Economic Growth in Kansas City and Beyond
Shortly after the end of World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower had an ambitious dream: spiderweb the whole of the United States with highways. We take it for granted now, but in the early 1950s, the U.S. was not well connected.
The impetus for Ike’s dream wasn’t economic growth; it was America’s security. Ike was first and foremost a general; he led the U.S. through World War II—the most destructive and tragic armed conflict Western Europe has ever seen. Logistically, he saw flaws in America’s lack of infrastructure, so he built it. Roads replaced rivers as a means of connecting people with the raw materials they needed to produce and deliver products.
While roads created the backdrop for commerce in the 1900s, something else is poised to drive the economy of the future: bandwidth.
And, if the dreams of Kansas City leaders and their technology partners reach fruition, we’re going to be well positioned to leverage bandwidth to boost the local economy and fuel entrepreneurialism.
Last month, Kansas City officials announced that Cisco Systems Inc. is planning to make Kansas City its latest smart city, fueled with fiber optics and supported by a public/private partnership that includes local government, Cisco and Google.
Fiber optics will serve as the foundation through which a wide range of services will be improved and/or created, running the gamut from smart lighting–street lights equipped with multi-sensor nodes–to sensors determining when a garbage can is full and needs a pickup versus fixed route schedules.
This “Living Lab,” as it’s being called, positions Kansas City for economic development and the attraction of entrepreneurs—locally and potentially around the globe—to take advantage of the significant technological benefits that fiber can provide. It’s a partnership between Cisco and Think Big Partners, LLC, a Kansas City-based startup incubator.
We attended a session at Think Big’s incubator on June 8, and we can’t help but see the potential, primarily because our vantage point is already in the cloud—our cloud-based business phone system solutions have been fueling entrepreneurial growth and empowering virtual organizations since 1997.
“Kansas City’s entrepreneurial spirit makes this an ideal location,” says Blake Miller, partner and director of accelerator & technology with Think Big Partners. “Everything about Kansas City is booming,” he says. According to Miller, Google Fiber “is really helping to throw some gasoline on the growing fire of the entrepreneur community here in Kansas City. The infrastructure of the future is the Internet, and broadband and being connected.”
The public/private partnership is both unique and necessary. “The private part of the partnership is figuring out the business model and innovating new technology; the public side of it is investing in these new ideas because it’s going to save them money, save them time or give them new revenue streams. That’s what we’re trying to do,” says Miller.
It becomes a great domino effect, he notes. “The city is spending about $3.7 million on this initiative. I fully expect it to grow exponentially.” The Living Lab leverages the Internet of Things (IoT)—the ability to transfer data over a network without human interaction—to “bring a bunch of data points and applications together to provide better services,” says Miller.
“To be able to actually make an impact, you have to have a city that’s able to deploy these innovative technologies in an innovative, and fast, fashion. In order to make that happen, you also have to have a business model behind it and be able to prove out your return on investment.”
And that’s exactly what Kansas City, Think Big and Cisco intend to do.
“When we were building roads and highways to help grow the nation, that was very linear,” Miller says. “As soon as we got smartphones in 2007, we became far more exponential in growth; we’re exploding. If you don’t grow with the times, you’re going to be left in the dust.”
AccessDirect is excited to be growing with the times, along with Kansas City and Think Big’s Living Lab.