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Smart Cities Connect Conference Will Move from Austin, Texas, to Kansas City, Mo., Officials Say

An extension of the Smart Cities Innovation Challenge, the event's first two editions have been held in Austin, but it was always intended to circulate among technologically progressive cities.

by / June 26, 2017

After two years in Austin where it continues through Wednesday, June 28, the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo and the co-located but separate U.S. Ignite Application Summit nonprofit will both relocate in 2018 from the Texas state capital to Kansas City, Mo., whose CIO has said it will be the nation’s smartest city within five years.

Famous for its jazz scene and barbecue prowess, the city in western Missouri has forged a pioneering relationship with Google Fiber in recent years and created a smart city zone downtown centered on a 2.2-mile line of smart streetcars that collect data for public websites.

Austin, like municipalities from Los Angeles to New York City, is also on its way to becoming a smart city, releasing a public-facing dashboard last year to track sustainability goals. In December, City Council members directed the city manager to form a Smart Cities Strategic Roadmap to inventory initiatives and set priorities. The city released a draft of the plan on Friday, June 23.

But Matthew Laudon, CEO of TechConnect, which spearheads private- and public-sector technology prospecting programs including the Smart Cities conference, said that despite the event’s freshman and sophomore editions happening in Austin, it was never designed to have a permanent home — but instead would rotate among progressive cities.

The 2018 Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo, will be March 26-29, 2018, Laudon told Government Technology via email, noting that the event’s move was to be announced on Monday, June 26 in Austin.

An extension of the Smart Cities Innovation Challenge that has been embedded in other TechConnect events over the past five years, Laudon said the conference repeated in Austin because the city was in the process of developing “quite a few” smart city initiatives and demonstrated a high level of involvement.

He told Government Technology that periodically changing venues helps showcase bleeding-edge municipal-level technology and solutions.

“I think whoever is the host city, it allows for visiting cities to really have an insight into their platforms and their best practices. As we’re looking at future cities and future locations, that’s a key component as well, figuring out who can tell good stories and present good solutions to these folks,” said Laudon, who noted that TechConnect will launch a Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference and Expo in Tampa, Fla., this October. 

Kansas City CIO Bob Bennett praised Austin’s work in bringing smart technology to bear on transportation and said it’s one of the jurisdictions that Kansas City strives to emulate on the issue. The conference, Bennett told Government Technology, combines “the best of the private-sector world along with the best of cities.”

“I think it’s probably the collisions both intentional and unintentional that occur in that environment. This is where because it’s by Smart Cities Connect, it’s all of the partners that participate in the ecosystem all in one place,” Bennett said.

Kate Garman, innovation policy advisor for the Kansas City Office of Innovation, told Government Technology that she’s excited to see at the Austin conference how the city has applied solutions and creativity to its challenges — and expects a similar reaction from visitors to next year’s Kansas City conference.

“After we host it, I think people will understand what we’re doing here more and focus on Kansas City a little bit more than they have,” Garman said, highlighting the city’s Crossroads Arts District, a nexus for startups, as one area visitors may find interesting.

Like Bennett, Chelsea Collier, editor-at-large for Smart Cities Connect, which creates content around this and other smart city events, said bringing the event to Kansas City will likely engage local start-ups that may not have been able to travel to Austin.

“Going to a different city, it exposes everyone to a new way that a city works. There’s all sorts of people that will attend and will gain exposure and people will have exposure to them,” Collier said.

Ted Lehr, IT data architect in business application services for the city of Austin, told Government Technology that hosting the event helped Austin bring “enough focused attention on what a lot of the community wanted to do” with technology, as well as to “build excitement and a sense that we have something real in Austin.”

“It’s made us smarter, but it’s made us ask better questions and has made us look for how we can be — one of the words that a city councilman used — more ‘efficient,’” Lehr added. “I think what it does is, it gave a platform for our policymakers, our politicians, one of several to start learning about this,” he continued, adding that it assisted “in terms of making things less abstract to policymakers.”

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.