A Win for Racine is a Win for Small Towns Everywhere

On August 7, 2018, several hundred people gathered in an auditorium at the University of Wisconsin Parkside (UW-P), for the Wisconsin Idea Smart Future Summit. It was there that I got to know the incredible heart, soul and determination of the residents of Racine, WI. From Mayor Cory Mason, to UW-P Chancellor Debbie Ford, and so many local leaders, these residents are deeply committed to ensuring their small town of 79,000 residents is prepared for the digital future.

Racine has a big opportunity with tech giant, Foxconn, locating its Generation 6 manufacturing facility there, which promises to be operational by 2020. But city leaders are not content to rest of the laurels of a big job-creation win. They will be bolstered by, appreciative of, but not defined by Foxconn activities. Instead they are building on their legacy as the “Invention City” where, at one time, there more patents held per capita than any other U.S. city. After all, Racine is where the blender, the garbage disposal and even malted milk were invented.

The modern version of this is Racine as “America’s Smart Cities Laboratory” for small-and-mid-sized cities. Their focus is to use technology and data-informed decisions to better deliver City services and create a more equitable community. Racine wants to take what they are building and improve the quality of life for millions around the globe.

For example, my early conversations with Mayor Mason were about how to enable the city with 5G. I was used to skepticism and hesitancy from other U.S. city leaders. But Mayor Mason quickly realized the opportunity that next-generation broadband brings and so his questions were not “if” but “how”. I knew right away that they would be one of the first smaller municipalities poised for tremendous growth, and in the right kind of way.

Understanding all of this, I was not surprised to see that a little more than a year after my initial introduction, Racine was chosen from than 100 cities as one of the five winners of the 3rd annual Smart Cities Readiness Challenge. It simply reinforces their steadfast and focused dedication and willingness to optimize their community and to do so by working collaboratively.

Mayor Cory Mason states, “(This) is the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work in which the City has brought together amazing community partners… I have always said we get things done in Racine through collaboration. I want to thank Gateway Technical College, UW-Parkside, RCEDC, Racine County, and Foxconn their continued partnership, vision, and leadership.”

The focus areas for Racine are similar to the challenges facing thousands of U.S. cities:

  • Access: Community-wide connectivity to address the digital divide. Access to high speed internet is essential to ensure that we level the playing field for everyone — from students doing their homework to adults who need to access to online education and training.
  • Mobility: Providing multimodal methods of transit to provide better access to jobs and address the needs of employers. Creating intelligent intersections that prioritize public safety, emergency services, and public transit.
  • Energy: Launching a comprehensive municipal energy audit in cooperation with the Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation as part of the City’s efforts to lower its carbon footprint and meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accords.

“We know the City faces a number of very serious challenges. We have housing, workforce, and educational attainment needs that we must address. There is no one solution to solve the inequities of our community, but if we are intentional about our planning, making sure the community is engaged, and the benefits of smart cities initiative are broadly shared, investing in smart city solutions will be an important component of creating a more equitable Racine,” said Mayor Cory Mason.

I try not to play favorites when it comes to cities, but I have to admit that Racine has a very special place in my heart. I will always pay very close attention to what and how they build, jump in and help where I can, and root for more big wins for this small community. And I invite all of you to do the same. This latest award is just more proof that there is something very special happening in this town.