Joplin Marks Full Recovery from Disaster by Signing onto Smart Communities Movement

Eight years after a tornado leveled the Missouri city, development of a smart city program signals its official return.
by Debby Woodin, The Joplin Globe | September 27, 2019 AT 3:10 AM

(TNS) - Joplin city officials celebrated the nearing closure of tornado recovery projects funded by federal and state grants by agreeing to adopt a "Smart City" initiative as the final project to be launched with that funding.

A "smart" designation is given to a city that builds information and communication technologies to enhance the quality of life, education, economic development and urban services.

After hearing the proposal, the Joplin City Council on Wednesday night approved the Smart City initiative and a corresponding $30,000 membership to U.S. Ignite, a nonprofit that will work with the community to build those technology strategies.

Goals of the initiative and the collaboration with Ignite include an expansion of access to fast internet connectivity citywide, developing smart education and job training programs, and the creation of an innovation district within the city to attract tech-based business and entrepreneurs.

Troy Bolander, the city's planning and development director, said city staff did not want the city to adopt a Smart City project and then have it sit on a shelf. He said U.S. Ignite will provide consulting services, potential funding sources and other assistance to obtain the services and technology needed to implement the program.

Bolander said businesses and institutions in the city who would benefit from the program will be asked to contribute to the $30,000 cost for the first year of services from U.S. Ignite.

"It does have to be a relationship between government, institutions and industry for this to be successful," Bolander said. "One without the other won't work."

The initiative is one that also fits with the talent attraction and entrepreneurial growth that the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce wants to achieve, council members said.

"We believe that with this investment, we will receive more out of it than the $30,000 that it cost," Bolander said.

Representatives of the city's disaster recovery consultant, Guidehouse, recommended that the city venture into the growing "smart communities movement." City staff and key Guidehouse personnel presented a guide to the work that is to be done to bring about "Smart Joplin."

John Hunt, a Guidehouse partner, visited Joplin on Wednesday to tour the additions to the recovery zone that were part of the city's $111 million of its $158 million total disaster recovery funding.

"It has been an amazing day," Hunt said of seeing the projects built with recovery grant money that include schools, parks, affordable housing and the new senior center. "We are honored to be a part of your team," Hunt told the council. "Thank you for including us."

Chuck Banks, a Guidehouse director who has worked in Joplin since the firm was hired in 2013, walked the council and city staff through a presentation on the Smart Joplin plan.

"When we first came to Joplin, we made a strong commitment to you all to help you move through this recovery successfully in a compliant manner (with federal regulations), working on your affordable housing, your infrastructure and your economic redevelopment goals," Banks said. "And I think that with the team effort we have had has been very successful in that effort.

"There was a second commitment we all made to the City Council and the community when we came and that was we wanted to position Joplin to be successful for the future. We wanted this recovery to position you from an economic standpoint, from a quality of life standpoint, and to improve your resiliency so you will be stronger and more resilient."

He said the Smart City program will be the last of the work in the recovery.

Dami Kehende, a Guidehouse program manager, said one of the priority projects is to expand access to internet service. That effort could include developing city-owned fiber networks, working with existing privately owned networks to expand or provide digital kiosks with internet access. An internet access study will start that process to evaluate the status of Joplin's internet accessibility and identify gaps.

Smart education and workforce training to teach technology skills and entrepreneurial programs will be another project.

Other goals of the program are to create more efficient city operations by providing online city forms, permit applications and other digital city services.

The city and community also will use digital tools to promote Joplin branding and communication.

An innovation district that promotes economic development also is to be developed.

In addition to the Smart Joplin initiative, the council approved a request by the nursing staff at the Joplin Health Department to provide classes for lifesaving skills such as CPR because the American Red Cross has quit providing those services.

©2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.