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Balancing Needs of Urban, Rural Residents Key in Establishing Washington's First Smart County

Snohomish County, Wash., is trying to figure out how best to use smart tech to serve very different populations.

by / May 31, 2017
Snohomish County campus, Washington Snohomish County, Wash.

Trying to balance the needs of rural and urban residents is no easy task. Different demographics have inherently different needs and resources available to them. And although the conversation surrounding smart tech largely centers on cities, Snohomish County is working to establish itself as the state of Washington's first smart county.

Snohomish's recently released RFI is looking for input from anyone and everyone about how to improve services delivered by the county that, according to the document, may include, “integrated information and communications technology, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and data, publicly deployed infrastructure, rural broadband capacity, urban informatics and data analytics, mobile/civic applications, sensor-based networks, and/or urban wireless networks (including 5g).“

Part of the impetus came from a regional trade mission to Guadalajara and Mexico City, organized and led by the Trade Development Alliance and Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which opened the eyes of some county officials as to what is possible in the smart technology field.

“We are wide open to ideas,” said county CIO Trever Esko. “There is nothing we have a predisposition for or against, and we are excited about any opportunities people want to put on the table and talk to us about.”

While it may be easier for cities to go after more targeted regions where residents have more uniform needs and obstacles, counties vary widely in terms of who needs what. Counties, he said, “need more broad strategic perspective about how they are going to serve a region."

Snohomish, just north of King County, home of Seattle, has a unique mix of rural, urban and tribal governments that all need to be served by any smart technology that is introduced. Overall, Esko said he is hoping that RFI responses will help drive an improved quality of life for county residents regardless of what part of the region they are from. “My vision is that balance between improving quality of life for both urban and rural communities,” he said.

The county is in a period of transition. Ten to 15 years ago, said Esko, the county primarily relied on agriculture and farming, but technology and advanced manufacturing have overhauled the local economy.

Residents in the more urban areas of the county are looking for such things as “connectivity, equity and access to government services,” he said. “In rural areas, we are more focused on quality of life and quality of mobility issues.”

Because the county has such a diverse population, county officials have gotten inspiration from some more unique places. One example that caught Esko's attention was the Baltic nation of Estonia. “They have to deal with regional issues more than just an urban center...” he said, adding that overall, the city hopes that forthcoming initiatives or programs act “as a way of both driving quality of life issues to residents and spurring economic development for local businesses to provide services to residents as well.”

One asset available to the county is the already-built infrastructure and public utilities. These roads, highways and thoroughfares “can be leveraged for next-generation technology infrastructure," such as IoT-enabled sensors or fiber-optic cable, which ultimately will lead to a more connected population.

Although the RFI has only been out for a limited time, the county is already receiving great responses. A lot of them have been from nontraditional companies, said Esko, adding that no matter how crazy some of the submissions are, it is “making us think creatively about ways we can serve our residents.”

Submissions are due by July 12, 2017.

Ryan McCauley Former Staff Writer

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.

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