Team looks at Fresno's future

IBM experts see 'opportunity' for downtown growth

ghostetter@fresnobee.comMay 18, 2013 

— A team of IBM experts delivered a simple message about Fresno's future Friday morning.

"There is huge opportunity" in the valley's biggest city, IBM business development executive Bill Keegan told an audience in the Fresno City Council chamber.

Keegan and six colleagues spent three weeks in Fresno, thanks to an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant. Their charge from Mayor Ashley Swearengin was to explore ways to continue revitalizing downtown and use high-speed broadband to spur economic development in the urban core.

The team delivered its findings Friday. Swearengin called them "a shot in the arm" for Fresno. The IBM report, she said, is a "reminder that we're on the right track" to success.

Fresno was one of 34 cities worldwide to receive the IBM grant in 2013.

Among the team's recommendations and findings:

Fresno has unique assets that can enable it to revitalize the downtown area and local economy. These include work force and crop diversity; proximity to fields, farmers and crops; and affordable housing to attract young adults and families.

"Quick wins" (i.e. immediate and visible progress, even if on a modest scale) along Fulton Mall can change attitudes and show vitality downtown. The wins can be something as simple as better use of social media by local businesses to increase their potential audience. Another possibility is a small entertainment cluster to complement the opening a small public food market. Cultural events such as a wine walk would add foot traffic.

CitiStat is a management model of regular meetings, sharing and tracking data, for data-driven decision-making. The development of a CitiStat model would help city agencies communicate more effectively.

A city branding campaign would provide a focused message to many audiences. These could include Fresnans, ag tech firms and young adults. Eventually, the branding campaign would go global.

Go with high-speed broadband whenever possible. That means using broadband in Internet marketing efforts. That also means supporting digital literacy for the underserved.

There are big opportunities in an ag tech cluster. A good place to start is creation of an advisory council to study ag tech characteristics. Another key is working with the federal Agriculture Department in the sharing of information.

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