Partnership for Inclusive Innovation Hits One-Year Milestone

Public-private initiative drives economic opportunity across Georgia

 

A year ago, a coalition composed of the State of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the civic and corporate sector, launched an ambitious plan to advance innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success across the state, positioning it as the tech capital of the East Coast.

 

The City of Savannah in collaboration with the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, is exploring applications of emerging data analytics and machine learning techniques to leverage existing city data to guide decisions on the best strategy to deal with vacant and blighted properties in the community.

September was a one-year milestone for the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, a public-private organization charged with implementing that plan through the three pillars of community research, student engagement, and economic opportunity.

 

“Our charge was to support existing hubs of innovation, nurture promising leaders and entrepreneurs, especially from communities not often included in this discussion, and invest in the most promising and scalable technology-driven, community-based solutions,” said Debra Lam, the Partnership’s executive director. “What’s really exciting is seeing how our efforts in this first year are yielding tangible results that position Georgia to achieve inclusion one innovation at a time.”

 

The Partnership is supported with funding from the State of Georgia, a blue chip roster of some of the country’s largest corporations, strategic partners, and Georgia Tech, which also is providing administrative oversight. The Partnership already has 15 project sites across nine economic development regions and deployed more than 140 technologies. Public engagement and knowledge transfer remain core components of the Partnership’s offerings, with nearly 700 attendees in events and active digital communications, including monthly newsletters.

 

The areas of focus and the Partnership’s impact over the past year are reflected in three flagship programs.

 

Innovate for All: To scale economic opportunity, Innovate for All funds and supports proven programs, services, and technologies created by Georgia’s innovators. In the past year, it funded the Georgia Mesh Network and the Working Farm Fund.

 

  • The Georgia Mesh Network: Augusta’s theClubhou.se is piloting the statewide network with Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah to offer skills training and certification to historically disadvantaged and underserved entrepreneurs. It is backed with the commitment of 21 capital partners to support entrepreneurs who graduate from the program.

 

  • The Working Farms Fund: Through the Conservation Fund, this effort is committed to the preservation of local farms that are increasingly falling victim to the pressures of rising costs, low margins, and corporate consolidation, which stresses the food supply chain. The fund, which is at the forefront of advocating for a healthier and more resilient food supply chain, secured $1 million in additional funding, acquired two farms: a certified organic produce farm in Mansfield, and a 21.2-acre farm composed of 15 immigrant and refugee smallholder farms in Conyers.

 

Smart Community Corps: This summer program, supported by Microsoft, pairs students — from any Georgia college or university, any year and major — together to work on Partnership projects. Though experiential learning and public service, students can effectively advance technology and practice innovation by living and working with the communities. The 2021 cohort of students from Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Valdosta State, logged 5,280 hours on their projects, which ranged from addressing blight in Savannah to traffic monitoring in Valdosta, to smart pedestrian planning in Clayton County.

 

Georgia Smart Community Challenge (GA Smart): Now in its fourth year, with 16 community projects, the program allows localities across the state to apply for research assistance that empowers them to envision, explore, and plan for a smart future. The 2021 cohort includes the cities of Woodbury and Concord, and Pike and Spalding counties. This cohort will work with Georgia Tech researchers to expand and enhance connectivity and explore additional applications that will improve their services, efficiencies, and cost savings.

 

The Partnership is expected to support $2.88 million of programming this coming year across the state. It maintains its lean operations model through key partners at Jabian Consulting, Brand Culture, Jackson Spalding, and Kilpatrick Townsend. “While the Partnership has advanced much in its first year, we look forward to ongoing progress and growth utilizing innovation and technology to service Georgia today and tomorrow,” Lam said.

Partnership for Inclusive Innovation Announces 2021 Cohort of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge

Complementing federal and state efforts, incoming cohort class will focus on community connectivity.

 

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN) announced the four communities selected for its 2021 Georgia Smart Communities Challenge (GA Smart), which allows localities across the state to apply for research assistance that empowers them to envision, explore, and plan for a “smart” future.

 

The 2021 cohort includes the cities of Woodbury and Concord, and Pike and Spalding counties. As GA Smart communities, the cohort will work with researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology to expand and enhance connectivity and explore additional applications that will improve their services, efficiencies, and cost savings. The community connectivity focus for this cohort aims to link them with the resources they need to pilot relevant smart solutions within the two-year GA Smart program.

 

  • The City of Woodbury: Woodbury has employed an innovative Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) network as a publicly owned utility, serving 50 community members. Georgia Tech researchers will assist in the enhancement and expansion of the WISP network by exploring measurement-driven dashboards for evaluating the end-user experience. They will also explore connectivity needs for the proposed Meriwether County AgTech Center for Innovation (MACI).
  • The City of Concord: With a network similar to Woodbury’s, city representatives and Georgia Tech researchers will work together to advance connectivity in the city through further testing, evaluation, and community engagement. They will look to address challenges to wireless networks such as geographic terrain, natural foliage, and adoption rates. Tech researchers will also help Concord explore connectivity applications such as having water sensors available in public facilities for operational efficiency and potential cost savings.
  • Pike County: As infrastructure investments are often driven by an intersection of cost and functionality, Tech will help Pike administrators analyze technologies to improve connectivity countywide, including exploring different broadband options to identify solutions that are both cost effective and reliable for consumers.
  • Spalding County: Believing that access to the internet is a driver of economic development, officials want to identify methods to increase broadband access in the area.  Many internet service providers are unable or unwilling to provide access to households or businesses that are separated from other connections by acres or miles. Tech researchers will provide Spalding leaders with perspective on technology hardware and software options that will meet the county’s needs, as well as evaluate the current status of connectivity and how to improve it.

“Communities experiencing gaps in connectivity across the state of Georgia have sought creative solutions to bridge them, and still more communities are seeking answers about how to get connected,” said Debra Lam, executive director of PIN. “This cohort has taken steps toward being innovative in a collaborative way. By providing research services to these neighboring communities with established relationships and an interest in coordinating connectivity efforts across city and county borders, GA Smart can make a regional impact and follow the natural expansion of these services across the area. This placemaking opportunity allows communities to plan together, avoid redundancies, and accomplish more collectively.”

 

The cohort will be working with researchers from Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, including professor Ellen Zegura, the Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications, and associate professor Ada Gavrilovska.

 

“The pandemic has made it clear that dependable access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” said Ángel Cabrera, president of Georgia Tech. “At Georgia Tech, we believe in the power of technology to improve lives and communities, especially in our state, and we look forward to working with the winners of this year’s Georgia Smart Communities Challenge to achieve just that.”

 

Meet the Communities 
As the first city to be declared “Broadband Ready” by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in 2020, the City of Woodbury has pioneered a way forward for communities unserved by traditional broadband.

 

“Meeting the needs of our ever-changing world requires diversity in thought and a willingness to move boldly into the future,” said City of Woodbury Mayor Steve Ledbetter. “Our goal is to push beyond the possible and be a part of leading our community and our state into the future.”

 

“The pandemic underscores just how critical connectivity can be for a community’s economic well-being,” said City of Concord Mayor John Strickland. “Covid-19 made it clear that the internet is necessary for education, healthcare, and business, as well as access to important real-time information. We are fortunate to be geographically close to Woodbury, which introduced us to their service provider. Working together, small cities and counties can provide solutions that will serve more people at a lower cost.

 

Brandon Rogers, Pike County manager, echoed those sentiments. “We want to serve the citizens of the community by ensuring options for broadband access in all areas of the county, so that no communities are left behind in the digital divide. We’re excited to be working with Georgia Tech as we seek out reliable sources for connectivity that can reach unserved areas of the county at an affordable price range for all of our residents and all of our municipalities.”

 

Regional cooperation is a key differentiator, said Jessica Simmons, deputy chief information officer at the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA).

 

“Pooling strategies and resource capabilities for connectivity to benefit the broader region complements the state’s initiative to promote broadband deployment in unserved parts of Georgia,” she said. “This regional effort builds exactly the kind of momentum we want to see in rural areas that lack high-speed internet access.”

 

Since 2018, GA Smart has served 12 communities across the state of Georgia in a variety of projects, ranging from installing sea-level and traffic sensors to planning for connected vehicle technology. Alumni from the GA Smart program have successfully implemented their projects and garnered additional funding and technical assistance to continue their projects beyond the program period, continuing to service their residents and meet their community’s goals.

 

The GA Smart program has facilitated community engagement across the state by hosting more than 40 community meetings, provided in excess of 140 technologies deployed in its funded projects, and provided research support that led to successful grant proposals, academic presentations, and publications.

 

About the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation
The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN) is a public-private partnership that launched in 2020 to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the Technology Capital of the East Coast. Dedicated to advancing innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success across the state, the organization’s focus on community research, student engagement, and pilot programs — through its Innovate for ALL, Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, and Smart Community Corps — is a powerful combination that establishes Georgia as a living lab for inclusive innovation. Under the guidance of board Chairman G.P. Bud Peterson and Executive Director Debra Lam, the Partnership seeks to help foster access, growth, entrepreneurship, and innovation throughout the state. Visit pingeorgia.org.

 

About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a top 10 public research university developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its nearly 40,000 students, representing 50 states and 149 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting more than $1 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.