'Raleigh Connected' Promotes Workforce Training
Nov. 1, 2012
Sarah Rich, Government Technology
Officials in Raleigh, N.C., are grooming the city to become a leader in the global economy.
A series of initiatives known as Raleigh Connected is strengthening broadband access and improving the technology skills of residents.
Raleigh already has a significant tech presence as part of North Carolina's Research Triangle (which also includes the cities of Durham and Chapel Hill). Although the triangle is a hotbed of technology companies and research universities, other parts of Raleigh suffer from a significant digital divide. Raleigh Connected is intended to promote digital inclusion and attract even more high-tech employers to the region.
"The overall objective would be to have a city that is capable of housing any company has the most skilled workforce has plans and strategies for making sure all communities are connected so we have individuals who are workforce ready," said Raleigh CIO Gail Roper.
Raleigh is already home to open source solutions company Red Hat as well as a branch office for Cisco Systems and an IBM data center. But to attract additional businesses to the city, Raleigh's fiber plan needs to be in full swing.
Through Raleigh Connected, the city is adding 125 miles of new fiber to its existing downtown fiber ring. The network is expected to be completed next year.
Along with strengthening its fiber infrastructure, Raleigh is providing broadband access to 2,000 low-income homes in the city, and it offers free outdoor Wi-Fi in the downtown area and convention center. In addition, Raleigh's Digital Connectors program trains local teens how to use technologies like social media and video. Those who complete the program serve as community "ambassadors" who teach friends and family members the skills they've learned.
Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said that this year, city officials have been discussing the possibility of laying excess unused fiber (called dark fiber) that can be used in the future, giving Raleigh the additional capacity to support big data initiatives for local companies and others.
"We have folks like hospitals, the universities, we have companies like SAS and Red Hat, and there are a number [of companies] that could take advantage of a fiber network that would expand the availability of the big data movement," Schmitt said.
For many cities across the U.S., a broadband facelift may not be simple to achieve, given slashed budgets and limited grant funding available for broadband infrastructure. Even with the National Broadband Plan -- a road map created by the FCC to help spread affordable, high-speed broadband access nationwide -- such access is still very much a fantasy for cities struggling to get basic fiber laid down.
Raleigh couldn't work alone to carry out its vision. To move forward with Raleigh Connected, the city needed reliable partnerships, Roper said.
Roper said the key to winning executive support for tech-based initiatives is to connect those programs to economic development. Raleigh worked with One Economy, a global technology nonprofit, and harnessed $1.4 million in federal stimulus funding for Raleigh Connected projects. Companies like IBM and Cisco Systems also extended resources to the city.
"[The value] has to be around promoting a cultural value of innovation. It has to be around entrepreneurship," she said. "It has to be around closing that gap of individuals who are really not ready to compete in a 21st-century technology culture. It has to be around those things because everybody gains from that."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Source: (c) 2012 Government Technology