Mayor Swearengin: IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Team Recommendations Provide Solid Roadmap for Fresno

FRESNO – Mayor Ashley Swearengin today said a series of recommendations by a six-member team of IBM experts funded by an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant provides a solid roadmap for the City in its economic development and neighborhood revitalization efforts.

The City of Fresno was one of 34 cities worldwide selected to receive an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant in 2013, as part of IBM’s citizenship efforts to build a Smarter Planet.

During three weeks in April and May, a team of six IBM experts worked to deliver recommendations on key challenges identified by Mayor Ashley Swearengin and her senior leadership team, namely, 1) revitalization of the Downtown Fulton Mall area; 2) leveraging broadband to expand economic growth downtown and 3) better use of data.

“I appreciate the incredible work on the IBM team over the past three weeks as they engaged a wide range of individuals, groups and organizations that are committed to improving the City of Fresno,” Mayor Swearengin said. “Their recommendations in many ways support the work that the city has already started, and the team’s emphasis on engaging young professionals to embrace their future is an ideal fit for our revitalization efforts.”

IBM Recommendations/Findings

The City has unique existing assets that could enable it to revitalize the downtown area and the City’s economy. These assets include workforce and crop diversity; an innovation platform for food and water; proximity to fields, farmers and crops; strong community relationships; and the affordability for Millennials or families to set up homes.

The IBM team analyzed the City’s assets together with the compelling reasons to act, resulting in five major recommendations associated within the three findings themes: economic, infrastructure and culture. The recommendations are to implement 1) quick wins; 2) develop a CitiStat model; 3) adopt city branding campaign; 4) drive increased broadband adoption; and 5) nurture the Ag Tech sector.

Quick wins – initial projects that can be easily implemented -- in the Fulton Mall can promote a new civic “belief system” and illustrate visible vitality in the downtown area. This includes measuring existing economic vitality so that progress can be easily demonstrated as revitalization occurs. Additionally, the recruitment of small entertainment cluster to complement opening a small public food market, while adding additional cultural events such as wine walks, can enhance downtown foot traffic. Use of social media by local businesses will increase their potential audience.

CitiStat is a management model of regular meetings, sharing and tracking data, for data driven decision-making. The development of a CitiStat model will help City agencies to communicate more effectively in delivering cross-function tasks. This would yield quantifiable outcomes to facilitate citizen engagement in supporting the downtown and community revitalization efforts.

The adoption of a city branding campaign will focus on identifying branding messages for Fresno. Partnering with the Fresno State University business program can help develop the messages targeting Fresnans, Ag Tech firms and Millennials first, before expanding to a more global audience. Collaborating with a creative agency to come up with systematic deployment of the branding and marketing plan support the City’s efforts in celebrating its assets and begin to change the mindset of Fresnans.
In terms of broadband, with the current availability of high speed broadband, it is important to focus on adoption of its use to deploy Internet marketing technologies for downtown businesses while continuing to collaborate with organizations supporting digital literacy for the underserved. Greater broadband adoption is important to the quick wins, as is the branding campaign in gaining momentum for downtown revitalization and overall economic development.

The City could also capture economic development opportunities by leveraging its unique regional agricultural assets to nurture growth and support the Ag Tech cluster. A start is forming an advisory council with regional stakeholders to quantify the Ag Tech market characteristics and develop market insights. A formalized partnership with the USDA to identify, analyze, and categorize existing government data sources relevant to the emerging Ag Tech sector market, will assist the City in these efforts.

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