Apparently, Vancouver has been listed as one of the world's top 21 “smart” cities. The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a nonprofit think tank that focuses on job creation and economic development in the broadband economy, decided that B.C.'s largest city belonged on the list because its technology industry is heavily weighted to small businesses.
“With its record low unemployment and a rapid rate of growth, this city of 587,891 (apparently, they didn't include the greater Vancouver area) is enjoying good fortune all around. Its technology industry, especially small businesses, are outpacing the number of workers available,” the New-York-based group said. “A new private-sector based broadband wireless initiative will a support a comprehensive technology plan and its website won a "Best e-Government" award from the UN which will help the community absorb the activity surrounding its hosting of the 2010 Olympic Games.” The ICF creates a long list of 21 smart cities every year, then comprises a short list, and eventually names one location as smart city of the year. Last year it was Waterloo, Ont., home of the Blackberry juggernaut, Research In Motion, which has become one of Canada’s largest companies. And that's the part I found interesting. Many of the other cities listed – which came from 14 countries in all – were dependent on a few large companies. For example, Eindhoven The Netherlands, the home of electronics giant Phillips, is known as “Brainport” and boasts 70,000 jobs in high technology and related industries. I don’t even want to guess how many of them depend on or grew out of Phillips. But here in Vancouver, we don't really have one big star company like RIM or Phillips that generates so much gravity a solar system of smaller companies has formed around it. Instead we seem to have built an effervescent technology community around small, early stage businesses. This has long been a lament in the local technology industry, which would like to see a Silicon Valley style tech sector that’s more sustainable than a collection of innovative but precarious startups. The BC Technology Industry Association has been working with government to try to generate this sector through various initiatives like increased venture capital funding, and partnerships. But so far, it continues to be afflicted with the BC economic disease – a few large (usually resource-based) companies at the top of the business pyramid, and a lot of ferment among small businesses at the bottom. As soon as these businesses grow to a level where they need financing to leap to a large size, they’re usually bought up by someone outside. According to ICF chairman John G. Jung, "Gaining a place among the Smart 21 is the first step toward greater recognition as a community or region that is either positioning itself to prosper, or already is prospering in the Digital Age.” Well, we may be one of the world’s “smart” cities that’s positioning itself to prosper. But, except for a few rare exceptions, I’m not so sure if we’re there yet. And, until we figure out how to grow companies to a world class size, we won’t be. Read Tony's previous entry here Read Tony's next blog here. Do you have any feedback for Tony? Use the comment form below and let us know what you think!