Students from Whitman College in Walla Walla create gigantic prints as part of a Day of the Dead celebration. Walla Walla's vibrant cultural life was part of the reason it was selected as an example of place that is building a stronger community through broadband access and digital tools.

[imgcontainer] [img:wallawalla1.jpg] [source]Walla Walla Union Bulletin[/source] Students from Whitman College in Walla Walla create gigantic prints as part of a Day of the Dead celebration. Walla Walla’s vibrant cultural life was part of the reason it was selected as an example of place that is building a stronger community through broadband access and digital tools. [/imgcontainer]

Two small U.S. cities are among 21 localities around the globe that are being recognized for their investment in broadband connectivity and their innovative use of Internet applications.

Walla Walla, Washington (population 32,000), and Mitchell, South Dakota (population 15,000), are on an elite list of 21 cities and regions that are using broadband to improve their communities and create economic opportunity.

Other cities on the list of Smart 21 Communities for 2014 are megalopolises like Montreal, Canada; New Taipei, Taiwan; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – which with a population of over 6.3 million is more than 400 times the size of Mitchell. (Well, only about 325 times the size if you also include residents of Mitchell’s surrounding county of Davison).

Though Mitchell and Walla Walla may have smaller populations, the communities have big ideas about the role of broadband connectivity in raising the standard of living. And they’ve invested in infrastructure to help residents use digital tools to create jobs, improve education and reverse population loss.

The annual Smart21 Communities program is sponsored by the Intelligent Community Forum, a think tank that studies the intersection of digital technology and economic and social development. The Smart21 program highlights the way “smart communities” are inventing new ways to connect residents and businesses and to use the Internet for civic and economic progress.

Mitchell, South Dakota

Mitchell made the list of Smart21 Communities last year, as well. Robert Bell, a co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, said the city’s place on the Smart21 list was secured in part by its emphasis on “precision farming.” The farming method uses GPS, Internet connectivity and other digital tools to control the cost of farming while increasing yields.

The approach demonstrates how a community can take advantage of skills in older economic and cultural traditions by supplementing them with new tools, Bell said in information provided to the Daily Yonder by the Intelligent Community Forum. 

[imgcontainer right] [img:Mitchell_downtown.jpg] [source]Photo by Eric Fredericks[/source] The community of Mitchell, South Dakota, is an example of using technology to supplement already established industries, in this instance farming. [/imgcontainer]

Mitchell has built a fiber-to-the-premises network that can serve every home and business in town, according to Prairie Business Magazine. Each seventh through 12th grader in Mitchell’s public schools receives a smart pad or laptop. The region has a two-year vocational school that teaches business, communications and precision farming. It also has a four-year college, Dakota Wesleyan University. The Prairie Business Magazine reports that a third of Dakota Wesleyan’s graduates stay in the area.

The transition to a broadband economy for communities like Mitchell hasn’t been easy, Bell said. But after losing population for the past 30 years, the region is starting to reverse that trend.
“They take pride that they have now started to create jobs and that the community is in fact gaining population as it focuses on Internet connectivity and … a crucial coalition of private-sector and government people, the ‘innovation triangle’ of business, government and academic institutions.”

Walla Walla, Washington

Like Mitchell, Walla Walla was also losing population in recent decades, in part because of changes in agriculture. The community built a fiber-optic backbone for the area, improving the regions’ online connectivity. The network encourages new business development, and local leaders are currently working on ways to extend the network to more of the community.

Online tools are part of the region’s high-end wine industry, which now features 150 wineries and employs a few thousand workers, said Louis Zacharilla, also a co-founder of Intelligent Community Forum.

A local-foods movement has enticed young chefs to move the area, he said, once again building on the region’s agricultural traditions in new ways.

“This is cultural ‘mining’ to produce economic activity,” Zacharilla said in information provided by ICF. “And again it has helped push them up into the Smart21.”

An independent research firm will narrow the 2014 Smart21 list to seven in January. In June, one community from that list will be named Intelligent Community of the Year, replacing the current honoree, Taichung City, Taiwan.

Other communities on the Smart21 list are the following:

Arlington County, Virginia, USA (pop. 210,300).
Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia (pop. 70,900)
Columbus, Ohio, USA, (pop. 809,800)
Heraklion, Crete, Greece (pop. 150,000)
Hsinchu City, Taiwan (pop. 427,000)
Kingston, Ontario, Canada (pop. 159,500)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada (pop. 3,957,700)
Nairobi County, Kenya (pop. 4,000,000)
New Taipei City, Taiwan (pop. 3,949,800)
Parkland County, Alberta, Canada (pop. 30,500)
Prospect, South Australia, Australia (pop. 20,000)
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada (pop. 728,900)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (pop. 6,323,000)
Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia (pop. 322,600)
Taoyuan County, Taiwan (pop. 2,038,000)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada (pop. 2,791,000)
Walla Walla, Washington, USA (pop. 31,900)
Wanganui, New Zealand (pop. 43,000)
Whittlesea, Victoria, Australia (pop. 176,500)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (pop. 778,400)

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