April 17, 2006

Digital Corridor revered as best practice community

Sheila Watson

The Charleston Digital Corridor, the city's creative effort to attract, nurture and grow knowledge-based companies and industry professionals in the Charleston region, has been recognized as a city agency ahead of its peers. It was recently invited to participate at the Intelligent Community Forum's "Building the Broadband Economy 2006" to be held June 8-9, 2006, at Polytechnic University in New York City.

The Intelligent Community Forum, a partner of the Innovations Group, is a nonprofit think tank that focuses on job creation and economic development in the broadband economy. "The value of going to this forum is that it's an open environment where we'll be talking about what we do and why we do it and forming a community where we can go when we need advice," said Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Digital Corridor.

The invitation to the forum came after an August 2005 presentation on the Charleston Digital Corridor given at the eCommunity Government Summit at Virginia Tech's campus in Blacksburg, Va. The goal of that summit, which was hosted by the Innovations Group, was to guide communities across the United States through the next phase of technology advancement. Based on the digital corridor's presentation in Blacksburg, the Innovation Group requested that the city of Charleston be featured as a Best Practice Community.

The city of Charleston will be one of three Best Practice Communities represented at the international conference, along with Bellevue, Wash., and Virginia Beach, Va. The three will be part of the "e Government and Intelligent Community" panel, a roundtable discussion of their municipalities' successes in pioneering efforts to create innovative opportunities for building a broadband economy in their communities.

What are intelligent communities?

A study funded by the Province of Ontario, Canada, defined five critical success factors for the creation of intelligent communities.
* Broadband infrastructure - the ability to connect to the Internet at broadband speed.
* Knowledge workforce - a determination to develop a workforce qualified to perform knowledge work.
* Innovation - attracting and fostering innovative companies that will grow in terms of employment and contribution to the tax base.
* Digital democracy - enlightened policies and effective programs created by governments at the local, regional and national levels.
* Marketing - effective messaging based on the knowledge of competitive offerings of other regions.

Louis Zacharilla, director of development at the Intelligent Community Forum, said "these indicators provide communities with a useful framework for assessment, planning and development as they work to build prosperous local economies."

Forum attendees are expected from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Conference planners said they are drawn to the conference by the shared challenge of how to adapt to the broadband economy in light of today's economic realities.

What's best about Charleston?

The city of Charleston, via the Charleston Digital Corridor, works to attract knowledge-based businesses through a combination of initiatives and business incentives, private business support and member-driven programs. Andrade's team has "a relentless focus on business needs. We're almost exclusively focused on implementation. We're in the trenches, figuring out what the specific needs are. Our job is to make it happen for the companies," he said.

"Helping the small business is critical," he said. "We put the little guy first. There are a lot of entrepreneurs that are doing really important work, no less than the huge companies, and they have needs as well. At the end of the day, there's value in what everyone does."

One of the initiatives Andrade will almost certainly share at the conference is the recent endeavor to install Wi-Fi over the peninsula. "There's a lot we're learning about this process," he said. "You have to remember that we're trailblazing to some extent here. There's no rear-view mirror on Wi-Fi, especially one like this, one that will cover the whole area and will not cost the taxpayer a cent."

Andrade is open to sharing Charleston's best practices with other communities. "That's a bit different from the traditional model of economic development in which you compete with other communities for large corporations" he said.