The Virtual City-State Of All Ohio?

Last week, I attended the conference that launched the new Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community, based in Dublin, Ohio.

In the annual evaluation by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), Dublin has been among the most intelligent communities in the world for the last few years. Nearby Columbus, Ohio was designated the most intelligent community this past June.

The institute will share innovations and best practices to help make communities more prosperous, livable, resilient and intelligent. Although using broadband and technology is a part of the story, the institute is part of the ICF movement which has distinguished itself by its emphasis as well on all the other factors that make a community intelligent. As such, the effort to become an intelligent community involves all elements of a community, not just technologists. Much of the discussion encouraged leaders from Dublin, Columbus and other places in Ohio to think about what a successful intelligent community means and how to measure it.

Dana McDaniel, who had been in charge of Dublin’s economic development strategy and is now its city manager, organized and led the conference. In the moments when people had a chance to outline their longer term vision, he had an intriguing thought. He wants to unify and treat Ohio as the first intelligent community that encompasses a whole state.

This reminded me of my work on technology-based economic development in Massachusetts a few years ago. Massachusetts’ problem was that the Boston/Cambridge area of the state was its primary economic engine, but that the rest of the state, especially the central region, had suffered economically.

Several states have a similar situation with only one truly prosperous region. New York, Illinois, Colorado and Washington are reasonably good examples of the problem.

So we came up with a plan that would use broadband connectivity to link the rest of Massachusetts to the Boston area. We knew this might be fraught with political objections from other parts of the state not wanting to lose their identity by being considered virtual suburbs of Boston.

Instead, we were trying to find a way to link together the whole state. This would not only provide resources and potential financing from Boston for those elsewhere, but just as important it could provide people in Boston with new entrepreneurial ideas that could only flourish in areas with a different business atmosphere.

While it certainly has pockets of relative affluence and poverty, Ohio is actually not one of those states with a single economic engine. Despite that — or maybe because of that — the idea of weaving together all the communities in a state is germinating there.

By contrast, some states that do have the problem of a concentration of prosperity seem to be going in the opposite direction — splitting themselves into non-cooperating regions, thus diminishing the state’s overall impact and putting every region in a weaker competitive position.

I’ve noted before that communications technology today makes possible a virtual metropolis created through the linked combination of rural areas.

Ohio’s variation on the theme is also an interesting development to watch. It may well position Ohio as the forerunner for economic growth for the rest of the USA — a 21st century virtual version of the economically dominant city-states of the European Renaissance.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved