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Growth Prompts Smart Cities Talk in Texas

The fast-growing city of Frisco is looking to the future and how smart city technologies can improve daily life.

(TNS) — FRISCO, Texas — For one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, discussions about responsible growth are an ongoing conversation.

The latest iteration of those talks brought top leaders from government, education and business together on Thursday. The topic? Smart cities and all of the associated buzzwords: innovation, technology, efficiency, competitiveness, sustainability, partnerships.

But among these bright minds corralled by the Frisco Chamber of Commerce came some interesting food for thought. While a lot of places are doing a lot of good things, no one has all the tools in place yet to be a smart city.

"I don't think there's one out there," said Joe Quinlan, chief market strategist for the Bank of America Corp., whose new partnership with the Frisco chamber focuses on — you guessed it — smart cities.

'Whoa, slow down'

Smart cities are all about moving people, goods, services and data efficiently, Quinlan said. He described creating an environment where companies want to do business and people with talent want to live. It's also a place where lower-income folks are taken care of, he added.

At the center of a smart city is big data, said Russell Laughlin, executive vice president of Hillwood Properties. "How do you utilize it, how do you organize it and how do you begin to understand to use it for quality of life?" he asked.

Hillwood is the company behind Frisco Station, a new kind of mixed-use development that will also be one of the world's first hubs for the Uber Elevate air taxi service.

Laughlin said the goal is to cater not only to today's workforce but those in the future. The younger generation has grown up with technology, prefers a non-traditional workplace and is more willing to accept change, he said.

"They embrace the disruptive technologies where we sometimes go, 'Whoa, slow down. You're really going to have a flying helicopter taxi?'" Laughlin said. "Yes."

'Those seconds matter'

Thursday's discussion turned to examples that already make Frisco a smarter city.

The public library uses an automated system rather than a human being to sort the more than 2.5 million items that circulate among users each year.

Dispatchers recently started using new software to send the nearest first-responders to emergencies rather than route calls by districts. It also classifies calls to improve efficiency. Already, the city has seen response times drop by as much as 30 seconds.

"Those seconds matter," deputy city manager Henry Hill said.

A lot of the efforts around smart cities start in the schools. Frisco ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip talked about relevant offerings that students will need whether they go on to college or head straight into the workforce. Partnerships with business are key, he said.

And Collin College has done a lot to ensure that its course offerings align with what businesses need from their employees.

"We want to give them the confidence that our programs are preparing graduates with the competencies that they desire," said Jennifer Blalock, the college's vice president of workforce and economic development.

Just the beginning

Tony Felker, president and CEO of the Frisco chamber, said that Thursday's roundtable discussion is just the beginning.

He used the opportunity to announce the chamber's newest initiative, a Smart Cities Leadership Exchange. The plan is to recruit community and business leaders along with elected officials to share ideas with other high-growth cities. The chamber is planning to take a delegation of about 50 people from Frisco to Scottsdale, Ariz., for three days in October to learn some of that area's best practices for growth.

Registration for the inaugural trip along with details about the initiative are available on the chamber's website.

Frisco needs to "challenge ourselves not just to be content with where we are," Felker said.

And that means constantly finding new ways to serve the needs of businesses and the larger community as a whole, he said.

"As soon as you take your foot off the gas pedal, you're coasting," he said. "We don't coast in Frisco."

©2018 The Dallas Morning News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.