State and Local Leaders Unite in Arizona

January 30, 2017 There is a lot of talk around the country about governance rights on the local, state and federal level. In many communities, this is a contentious debate, but in the greater Phoenix area, there is an inspiring alignment about how best to benefit each community, region and the state as a whole.

On January 25, more than one hundred and sixty people gathered at the Arizona Commerce Authority’s beautiful new offices for Digi.City Connects: Next Generation Cities, featuring Governor Doug Ducey and followed by an esteemed panel including Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Mesa Mayor John GilesScottsdale Mayor Jim LaneArizona Commerce Authority President Sandra Watson and Arizona Chamber President Glen Hamer. Digi.City Founder Chelsea Collier moderated the panel.

The discussion focused on the region’s approach to smart cities and explored multiple policy perspectives. Arizona is the perfect place to host this critical conversation.  And while there were definitely varying perspectives, each leader demonstrated a commitment to creating a 21st century digital ecosystem that will better serve all Arizonians. 

Governor Ducey began by emphasizing the collaborative spirit between Arizona’s elected officials and the technology and business communities. He expressed a commitment to roll out the “welcome mat” for innovative ideas, while streamlining governmental processes to encourage companies to invest in the state. He enthusiastically declared, “Arizona is open for business.” As former CEO of Coldstone Creamery, Gov. Ducey brings to government the same principles that helped build a successful business.

Next generation technology is dramatically improving the way we solve problems. Related to underserved populations, especially in rural and native areas, Ducey expressed the hope that access to technology, and more specifically enhanced connectivity, holds the promise to lift all students across the state.

Phoenix Mayor Stanton speaks to the panel of smart city leaders (l-r Glenn Hamer, Sandra Watson, Chelsea Collier, Mesa Mayor John Giles, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane)

Phoenix Mayor Stanton speaks to the panel of smart city leaders (l-r Glenn Hamer, Sandra Watson, Chelsea Collier, Mesa Mayor John Giles, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane)

From a local perspective, Phoenix Mayor Stanton wisely stated that being a smart city means a change of mindset with mayors and leaders working together to build a strong economy. He emphasized that open data and collaboration with entrepreneurs is the key to innovation. He went on to talk about the major investments in infrastructure, transportation, technology and water conversation that the city is making to ensure that Phoenix is positioned to thrive in the new economy.

Mesa, a town of nearly 500,000 and in close proximity to Phoenix, is gladly part of the Internet of Things transition and creating a more connected world. Mayor Giles expressed the importance of mobilizing thoughtful regulations and that the government must act in a way that does not interfere with the development of technologies that citizens are eager to support.

Mesa recently put a dark fiber and conduit system in place, creating the infrastructure that led to a major revitalization project and attracted new businesses to the area. Mayor Giles said, “It is impossible to overstate the importance of the build-out of technology infrastructure. It needs to be on the top of everyone’s agenda.”

Scottsdale Mayor Lane talked about how the community he serves has a strong demand for government to stay in tune with technology that will enhance their access to city services. With the help of the Governor, Scottsdale has been able to update statutes and ordinances to attract, update and assist technology companies. Mayor Lane emphasized his understanding that telecom is a dynamic industry, and that it is important for us to provide a platform but leave it to industry to execute, noting that infrastructure is a major piece of this. Mayor Lane showed a willingness to keep Scottsdale’s right-of-way rules and local ordinances up to date to make sure we don’t inhibit infrastructure that can move us forward.

Sandra Watson, President of Arizona Commerce Authority, has a unique purview as a connector of multiple communities across the state. “What we have seen over the past few years is the accelerated speed of technology. Many governments have a kneejerk reaction is to overregulate, but here in Arizona, our leaders have looked at it as an opportunity to boost our economy.”  She discussed how investing in infrastructure has always been a hallmark of thriving communities and how that definition has broadened to include digital infrastructure. Watson further stated that if this infrastructure investment is something local communities don’t do, they will fall behind. It is critical that Arizona mobilize all assets and work together in all sectors of our economy to be successful in the future of technology in our state.

Glenn Hamer, President of the Arizona Chamber, pointed to the example of autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy and the Internet of Things which all require cities and the state modernize laws to keep pace with technology. “Right now, we’re at a point where these policies are making a big difference […] There are willing partners dedicated to the build-out of 5G in this state,” whether that’s on a municipal, state or federal level.

We are in an era of accelerated change. There is no question that the challenges that face cities, regions, states and communities of all kinds are massive and intensifying. Technologies associated with the Internet of Things, mobility and an always-connected economy show great promise for positive impact. However, these innovations do not happen by accident and they do not happen overnight. Leaders like those at the Digi.City Connects event in Phoenix, AZ are wisely guiding their communities in the right direction. They are collaborating with each other and across stakeholder groups while creating and stating a vision that encourages investment in innovation.  Communities across the US and around the world have a strong model to reference when it comes to aligning forces to welcome the digital future. Cities of all sizes can learn a lot from the example that the Phoenix region is setting. Yes, there are still challenges and always progress to make, but a solid foundation is definitely set.