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San Joaquin County, Calif., Joins Google Government Innovation Lab

The county, which is adjacent to Silicon Valley, is hoping to leverage the lab work to boost economic development, as well as figure out more flexible ways to deliver services.

Google’s Government Innovation Lab has added San Joaquin County, Calif., as the latest jurisdiction to take part in its inaugural civic innovation program.

The county announced the partnership in an interview with Government Technology this month and has goals to innovate in the areas of public safety, economic development, human services, human resources and county IT services.

“What Google has essentially provided us is some of their best thought leaders in their organization, but also outside their organization,” said San Joaquin’s County Administrator Monica Nino. “I’m hopeful that this melding effect will help us to have those broader, out-of-the-box perspectives.”

Since its April launch, the Google Government Innovation Lab has added California’s Alameda and Kern counties to its lineup. However, with the addition of San Joaquin, that leaves three slots, out of an estimated six, available for the lab’s inaugural year. In San Joaquin, as with the other jurisdictions, the six-week lab will involve about 50 officials, equip them with Chromebooks and mentorship experts, and then supply Google developers to engineer solutions 90-days later.

The Government Innovation Lab has adopted Google’s hallmark “moonshot” thinking, a concept that aims for significant results: 10 times is better than 10 percent. Achievable or not, such benchmarks are meant to ignite disruptive problem-solving skills that deliver results. James Waterman, the lab’s director, has said solutions are likely to manifest themselves through a number of technologies. Data analytics, visualization tools, search functionality, mapping and open data are just a few examples.

San Joaquin is a bedroom community to the Silicon Valley, and county officials have long envisioned an eventual merger as the valley’s tech sector grows beyond its initial boundaries, Nino said. Google’s support and mentorship could pave the way for innovative practices and policies to lure such interests.

“We’re very much promoting from an economic development perspective that our adjacency, our affordability and our living costs are very much what enable us to be a bedroom community to Silicon Valley,” Nino said. “We’re always asking how can we become more pleasing and enticing to those kinds of economics.”

While the county’s board of supervisors formally approved participation, officials won’t begin until a first meeting in the middle of August. One outcome Nino wants to see is a significant decrease in San Joaquin’s unemployment rate. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the last four years, county unemployment has steadily plummeted from a high of 15.5 percent in 2012 to 8 percent today. With Google’s help, Nino believes there’s a viable chance to reduce the rate down to 4 or 5 percent. 

Other county objectives include a major website redesign and to find expert advice about accessing state and federal dollars. The county has a budget of nearly $1.4 billion, and roughly 75 percent of it is tied to some level of state or federal mandates. Nino said she hopes government experts associated with Google might consult on ways to channel the funding toward more impactful county projects. 

“We might not need more money. We might just need more flexibility in how we can deliver our services locally and how we utilize those dollars,” Nino said.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.