Ideas and creative exchange are the payload in the new century. Economic development pros understand that successful communities in the future will have an infrastructure capable of streaming gobs of information from user to user as quickly as possible.
The bigger the pipeline, the greater the potential and, thanks to LUS’ fiber build-out and Cox’s response with its own advanced fiber product, Lafayette will soon sit on the mother lode of broadband capacity. Once we build it, will they come? Perhaps. But leaders in other cities across America recognize the new paradigm of progress and are investing in their own information superhighways. Lafayette may be online first with the biggest portal, but to make sure there’s daylight between us and the rest of the pack, we need to get busy on the product development phase.
Appropriately, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce is taking a leadership role to seed the field. It begins at the annual Business Over Breakfast event June 23, when Graham Richard, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., will offer the keynote address. In two terms, Richard helped lead Fort Wayne to national recognition in delivering exemplary city services by using SixSigma management techniques (data-driven results management) and fiber-to-the-home technology (in Fort Wayne, the fiber network was installed by Verizon). His belief is that well-run cities are important to economic viability and that broadband connectivity is the key. During his tenure, touting Fort Wayne as ‘wired and inspired,’ Graham formed iTeams to maximize the city’s broadband capabilities in education, city government, the private sector, non-profit services and more. He chose not to seek re-election in 2007 and has spent the past two years traveling around the country to advocate his High Performance Government Network as a model for the 21st century city. (Event details are on the chamber Web site, www.lafchamber.org
A few weeks after the breakfast, the chamber will begin a monthly forum series to explore broadband-based economic development opportunities in three target sectors: health care, retail and education. “Lafayette has garnered national attention on many of the ‘good’ lists as a ‘creative class’ haven,” says chamber President/CEO Rob Guidry. “However, what has gotten us to this point will not be sufficient to propel it to even greater success. The chamber is convening interested parties to draw a picture of what that winning community of the future would look like.” Bizzuka’s John Munsell and Copy & Camera’s Howard Chaney are working with the chamber to develop these programs. This is great news. In last month’s column, I wrote about a local entrepreneur with international connections named Ethan Jordan, who seeks investment for a pilot program in three Lafayette Parish public schools for his high-tech model for the 21st century classroom. Since then, I’ve learned about the work of Dr. Robert Slater at UL, whose high-tech immersion learning environment is based on a modest $25,000-per-classroom investment into computers, color printers, a projector and speakers. Both versions encourage learning through student collaboration in research teams that report their results in classroom presentations. Both also deserve a broader audience.
It’s just the first step for the chamber, whose leaders envision developing Lafayette as a center for innovation with enhanced broadband connectivity at its core. Subsequent efforts will bring in other stakeholders from across the community to work together to maximize the return on this unique community resource — one so unique that, to some degree, we’ll be figuring it out as we go along. It’s not quite the leap of faith required by pioneers in oil and gas exploration, but the wildcatter attitude that served them so well at the dawn of the last century will have residual value for broadband explorers in the new one.
Contact Cherry Fisher May at