What is a SMART Community? A SMART Community is one that leverages internet broadband in how it communicates within and outside the community, in how it provides products and services for sale, in how its businesses reduce costs and increase profits while broadening their offerings, in how medical and social services are made available to the public, in how government services are made available to citizens, and in how government/municipal costs are reduced.
Communities that have undertaken a SMART strategy have benefited significantly from economic growth and better social wellbeing. These communities are attracting investment and people faster and more effectively than other communities. Also, they are retaining their youth and talent in their communities. It is about a achieving a high quality of live, work, and play.
The REDAC SMART Community Committee is currently implementing its SMART Community strategy and developing a business plan to determine the most viable approach for pursuing the WPS SMART Community Strategy.
The SMART Community Committee is a subcommittee of the Regional Economic Development Advisory Committee (REDAC). REDAC was formed in order to provide boundary-free economic development to the entire region. Municipalities that participate in REDAC believe that economic development in any one of the municipalities is beneficial to all. REDAC consists of five participating municipalities (Carling, McDougall, McKellar, Parry Sound, and Seguin), private sector business members and resource staff and focuses on initiatives that pertain to all participating municipalities and make the Parry Sound Area Development Community a better place to live, work, and play. For the purpose of the SMART Community initiative, both the Archipelago and Whitestone have opted in to participate.
As chair of the SMART Committee, I believe this is a very exciting and critical initiative for the area. This is more than about technology, it is about how we use internet broadband to ensure long-term economic sustainability for our area. Businesses, public sector, residents, cottagers, and visitors are more and more depending on, and demanding reliable internet access at higher speeds and capacity. Industry forecasts support this demand and indicate that there will be a significant increase in mobile traffic in the next five years (projected to be an 18-fold increase), and that machine to machine connectivity will become more prominent. According to these forecasters, traditional appliances and devices such as home appliances, vehicles, energy meters, and vending machines, which have not been connected directly to cellular networks, are now entering the network. This is creating high bandwidth scenarios in many areas such as business and consumer security and surveillance (security cameras, nanny cams, pet cams), healthcare, and telematics (trip assistance, navigation, and vehicle management).
The goal of the business plan is to determine how we best acquire the ultra high speed broadband that will be a requirement (and some say a basic right) in the near future, how we can ensure that it is affordable, and most importantly, how do we leverage this to develop and provide SMART solutions in the WPS area.
We will be looking to develop SMART solutions in the area of healthcare, education, tourism, e-government, social services and business/entrepreneurship. Key stakeholders will help identify best practices and corresponding SMART solutions in these sectors. The committee will choose which of these would be the most viable SMART Solutions in the WPS area in the short and longer term. The goal is then to build the selected SMART Solutions and roll them out.
It is interesting to note that in many countries globally such as Finland, broadband is considered a human right. The world is advancing very quickly in how people, public sector and businesses interact, communicate, and share and seek information. A good analogy is to compare the building out of ultra high speed broadband capacity with building the great Canadian railway. Think about what happened to the towns and villages that were not connected by the railway….most did not survive. Ultra high speed broadband is today’s railway. Without it we will be very limited in our ability to communicate and interact with others on a personal and business level. Broadband services in most of the WPS area fall well behind the standard required, from an access, capacity and cost perspective. This fact itself will have a detrimental impact on our region’s ability to ensure long-term economic and social sustainability. Most importantly, we need to be looking to establish an environment that gives our youth the ability to stay in or return to our community and be assured of well paying jobs and quality of life.
To date, the REDAC SMART Community Committee has engaged area stakeholders and representatives to participate in the process. The Committee has conducted an online survey to complete a preliminary “Current State” assessment. The assessment is intended to provide us with a summary of WPS strengths and weaknesses in all aspects of a SMART Community. The survey looks at where we are in areas such as infrastructure, e-solutions, collaboration (marketing, entrepreneurship, workforce), life (safety/health, learning, live/work/play), and place (governance, environment). The results from this preliminary survey were quite interesting and an eye-opener.
In addition, the REDAC SMART Community Committee conducted a SMART Community visioning exercise with participation by over 65 area stakeholders that represented many segments of our community.
The goal was to develop a vision for the WPS SMART Community. The teams came up with a vision that identified a desired state that included statements such as: the desire to bring my computer/life with me where ever I go (cottage, road, camping, etc); have quick and easy access to business applications (i.e. banks, retail, government); the ability to access health care services from the home; and to have access to labour force, investors and developers…. enhanced and improved tools to reach family.
Desired outcomes included statements such as: increasing average income levels to provincial averages through knowledge based positions/year round employment by 2022; enabling 100 per cent of all residents have access to education to utilize the new technology to its full extent/benefit; increasing the permanent population by retaining youth and skilled workers by 30 per cent; increasing access to fast and convenient quality of health care through reliable access to the internet and cloud; and extending our destination and leisure seasons to attract more and retain these funds in our community.
In developing the business plan, the Committee will be seeking community input to further understand our current state. If you represent one of the following (Business/Tourism entrepreneurs, Youth (under 20), Residents (full & part time), Recreation/Sports, Arts/Culture, Service Clubs/Churches, and Public Sector), and can spare a couple of hours to participate in an on-line survey, please contact Kirsten Ledrew or Ashley Gardner at email@example.com.
(Lis McWalter is the chair of the SMART committee, chair the Parry Sound Downtown Business Association, and a member of REDAC.)