A National League of Cities panel discussion focused on mayors' key issues, and while usual suspects like economic development and public safety made the short list, technology was a lesser priority than in years past, according to an NLC report.
The issues facing U.S. mayors are as numerous as they are challenging, and include things like addressing homelessness and fending off efforts to pre-empt their local authority. But in an increasingly connected and technological society, where does technology fall on the long list of priorities?
If you were judging the importance of technology at the local level based solely on the May 24 National League of Cities State of the Cities panel, you might have gone away with the idea that it doesn’t factor in at all.
But that certainly isn’t the case.
Reading between the lines when listening to panelists like Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Tampa, Fla., Mayor Bob Buckhorn during the roughly hour-long discussion, it's revealed that technology is an ever-present force in the success of cities — whether in the form of tools they rely on to govern or the businesses they bring to their jurisdictions.
From a more analytical perspective, technology seems to have fallen on the list of mayoral priorities over the course of the last two years, though it still holds a top 10 spot. According to the latest NLC analysis of state of cities speeches across the U.S., key issues like economic development and public safety continue to hold the top-three rankings; while data and technology, however, have declined since 2015.
The same analysis of the 120 speeches found that only 16 percent of cities included significant coverage of data and technology issues. Within the larger topic of technology, the study identified several subcategories such as data governance, public safety data, technology companies, open data and social media.
Though most of these issues were not addressed directly during the Wednesday panel, Buckhorn did cite the importance of drawing in what he called “value-added jobs,” which include skilled, high-paying technology jobs, to the Tampa region.
“In our case, we only subsidize those industries that we have identified Tampa has a competitive advantage in, and that is going to create the value-added jobs we want,” he said. “We’re not interested in call center jobs. We’re not interested in funding jobs for folks that work at McDonald's, with all due respect. It’s going to be the value-added jobs, the high-tech jobs. Those are the ones we are going to be willing to engage in that discussion.”
Another tech-adjacent item touched on by the panelists related to the body-worn cameras as a tool for policing, though the topic was not discussed in significant depth.
Within the NLC larger study, the lowest priority technology and data subcategories (below 10 percent) mentioned by mayors were related to open data (8 percent); social media (8 percent); access to Internet and technology (7 percent); autonomous vehicles (6 percent); smart cities (3 percent); innovation districts (3 percent); and drones (2 percent).