I’ve been watching the growth in Charlotte’s technology and innovation sector since I moved here from San Francisco in 2003. In 2006, with the support of 13 local entrepreneurs, I founded the Business Innovation & Growth Council (BIG) with a mission to develop a robust high growth entrepreneurial community for our region. The payoff for the community is that as these high-growth entrepreneurs strive to grow businesses that will change the world, the successful ones will contribute a disproportionate number of jobs and growth to our economy and will ultimately have an exit creating wealth for the region.
This month, Google announced that it is considering bringing its Google Fiber high-speed network to nine cities across the country, including Charlotte. These cities were selected following Google’s initial test markets in Kansas City and Provo, which began implementing in 2012, and Austin, Texas, which will begin service in late 2014. Google will apply what it has learned in those markets and if preliminary research on Charlotte is favorable, it could be laying fiber cables across neighborhoods here by 2015. This is good news.
Former Federal Communications Commission chief of staff Blair Levin has used the term “Gangnam Bandwidth” in writing about the benefits of ultra high-speed broadband networks on local economic growth and there are countless examples of its revolutionary impact, from the economic rejuvenation of the once struggling Chattanooga, Tenn., to the growing start-up hub of Kansas City.
After Kansas City became the first city to obtain Google Fiber in 2012 – offering broadband speeds up to 100 times faster than before – the city experienced a local tech boom and a rush of related economic development. Indeed, Kansas City is now one of several cities that make up the “Silicon Prairie,” home to a growing hub of innovative entrepreneurs building and growing businesses thanks in large part to the region’s investment in its broadband infrastructure.
Here in Charlotte we are amidst an awakening that economic health is much more than recruiting large corporate headquarters. We’ve learned over the last few years that the large corporations suffer in greater proportion in severe economic downturns.
Now there is a growing understanding and cooperation within the city government, higher ed, and the service providers working with high-growth entrepreneurial organizations that Charlotte needs to invest in those activities and infrastructure improvements that will make this market more attractive to technology driven and innovation companies.
We have the opportunity to take advantage of the economic development and educational opportunities that world-leading broadband networks can provide. It’s an opportunity we should embrace wholeheartedly.
But first, we will have to get past the naysayers who may soon attack this announcement. In other cities, cable and phone companies have sought to block Google.
Building a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem will involve a team effort, especially when it comes to upgrading our local broadband network. If Charlotte wants to take a leap in its competitiveness toward lasting economic growth and improved educational delivery, working with Google – and the competitors who follow – will ensure that we’re among the winners.