City Leaders Take on Silicon Valley

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Autonomous vehicles. On-demand everything. Gig jobs. Big data. Tech innovations are shaping life in cities — impacting how we commute to work and school, altering the way we respond to climate change, and shaping the job opportunities that are available now and in the decades to come. In much of the country, shifts in how we live, work and move are just beginning — but they’re taking hold at a dramatic pace.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta poses question to tech leaders at Lyft.

Last week, mayors and city councilmembers from across the country got a peek into the future — at the National League of Cities’ and Tech4America’s inaugural convening, Silicon Valley and the Future of Cities.

For three days, elected officials from 22 cities engaged with the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley and San Francisco. The trip provided a space for policy discussion, reflection and joint action across a range of issue areas including the future of work, transportation and climate change.

Following visits with companies such as autonomous vehicle startup Zoox, Thumbtack, LinkedIn and the team at the Google X Moonshot Factory, I sat down with NLC President Mayor Mark Stodola of Little Rock, Arkansas, to discuss the convening and what other city leaders can take away from it.

Courtney Bernard: Overall, what did you think about “Silicon Valley and the Future of Cities?”

Mark Stodola: I think it was really substantive, informative and thought-provoking. It put a bullseye on the fact that there isn’t as much communication between the tech community and municipal leaders as there should be…so this was really good to be able to see that intersection of ideas coming from really bright people in the technology fields and city leaders.

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Mayors gather on the rooftop at LinkedIn following a discussion on the future of work.

CB:Why do you think it’s important to have interaction between the tech industry and city leaders?

MS: In the future, we need to have even more dialogue where city leaders can sit down across the table from tech leaders and say here are our challenges, here are our problems, how can we work together?

Whether it’s an issue like crime and what the technology community is doing around public safety, or something else, I think it’s important for city leaders to have a seat at the table. Just because tech companies can collect the data and do the analysis, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve got the want on the part of public officials. It takes desire and political will for cities to actually implement that data and put it in a real-time situation. So there’s an opportunity for us to have more conversation about where our challenges and our issues align, and maybe we can find a technology solution to them.

CB: What is one lesson that you took away from the trip, and how can other cities learn from it?

MS: When looking to spur innovation, city leaders should look inwardly at the natural strengths of your city and then really try to think outside the box on how to support and grow them. You might not think it’s something unique, but every city has assets that could use a technology application.

For example, we looked at what our strengths are in Little Rock and we have a company called FIS (Fidelity National Information Services, Inc). They are the number one company globally that provides financial technology solutions and they do it all around the world. So fintech is a really important issue for us and we’ve done two fintech accelerators already and have had over 300 startups apply.

But this trip makes me think, what else is there? In Little Rock, we’ve got a medical corridor and eight hospitals, so obviously the medical care industry is something that we ought to explore. Maybe in the area of aviation, too, because our number one export in Arkansas is aviation and aviation-related products. And we’re also looking at the whole supply chain and logistics issue from an economic development stand point because we’re located right in the middle of America and we’ve got road, rail, runway and rivers.

Every city can do an asset map and identify the biggest opportunities for support and growth.

Mayors David Bieter of Boise, ID, and Richard Thomas of Mt. Vernon, NY, speak with Thumbtack CEO Marco Zappacosta about the future of work in their communities following a lively group discussion. Photo by Corey Wainaina, Office of Hon. Richard Thomas.

“Silicon Valley and the Future of Cities” is the first in a series of events and convenings on which the National League of Cities and Tech4America are partnering. Stay tuned for more on how you can get involved in future events!

Lead Photo: Corey Wainaina.

About the Author: Courtney Bernard is the executive communications manager at the National League of Cities. Follow her on Twitter @cbernard916.