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Smart City Gets Smarter

by Angela Orr | Nov 22, 2017
The below excerpt and images are from the 2016-2017 issue of KC Options. Read on Issuu.

Smart City Gets Smarter

So how did this traditional cowtown quietly become the new hotspot for technology and entrepreneurship?

While places like San Francisco and New York might still get top-of-mind billing, Kansas City has skyrocketed to the top of the list of up-and-coming tech hubs—a legitimate innovation center in what's known as the "Silicon Prairie." Kansas City was also recently recognized by Entrepreneur magazine as one of 9 Hot Startup Cities and named the No. 2 city for women in tech by SmartAsset.

Many believe Google played a big role in the region's transformation.

"We believe ultra high-speed bandwidth has pushed not only the web but also the Kansas City region to even greater heights," said Rachel Merlo, community impact manager with Google, based in Kansas City.

Google chose Kansas City in 2010 over more than 100 cities that applied to be the first in the nation to have Google Fiber, the company's ultra high-speed internet service. Merlo said the arrival of Fiber jump-started a tech boom that had already been building.

"Even before Google Fiber landed here, Kansas City was a hub for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, with a diverse population that represents the rest of the country," she said. "Google Fiber has played a role in furthering that growth in Kansas City."

Fiber has made a profound impact on the rise and strength of KC’s startup community, including Startup Village, an entrepreneur-led neighborhood that seeks to support Kansas City startups and increase opportunities for local business owners. The village is located in the first neighborhood hooked up to Fiber, and the community grew organically.

"Although the village wasn't started or created because of the arrival of Google Fiber, it's certainly been a catalyst in the traction and popularity of our growth," said Matthew Marcus, co-leader of Kansas City Startup Village. "We had a lot of eyeballs on our young community, and it resulted in many entrepreneurs and startups reaching out to us to find more information on basing their companies in the village."

Marcus said while the immediate benefits of Fiber were apparent, it also led to long-term growth that helped create the tech hub we know today.

"When Google chose KC, it set off a chain of events, which has not only strengthened our startup community overall but also inspired the creation of many other tech-focused organizations and projects," he said.

One of those projects is the deployment of a Cisco Smart+Connected city framework, a more than $15 million public-private partnership and one of the first economic development projects credited to the city's streetcar. The Cisco framework is intelligent networking with the capability to connect public services such as street lighting, transportation services, water management, public safety and more. The first phase follows the 2-mile streetcar corridor and includes public Wi-Fi and interactive digital kiosks along the route. Cisco partnered with Sprint to complete the deployment.

"Kansas City has become a global leader in the Smart+Connected cities initiative," said Kim Majerus, Cisco's vice president of its U.S. Public Sector. "Other cities are learning from Kansas City’s success, and because of this we feel that there will be an increasingly positive economic impact in the city for years to come, particularly with local tech startups."

And as the new streetcar draws more residents and visitors downtown, the new interactive kiosks are already having a positive impact. With 24/7 availability, up-to-date entertainment options, and location-based information and alerts, the kiosks also increase public safety by providing another access point to 911 emergency services.

"Not everyone has access to a smart phone or tablet," Majerus said, "and the kiosks are an excellent use of technology to help ensure all can have access to rich Kansas City tailored content. The kiosks also generate revenue and contribute to a vibrant city center."

As the Smart+Connected city framework evolves, the data produced by this new network is serving as a "living lab" for local entrepreneurs and tech startups, and the city hopes it will play a big role in future innovations, especially in the Internet of Things tech sector.

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