Grey showcases technology, innovation
Louis Zacharilla, Intelligent Communities Forum co-founder, takes part in a Leap Motion challenge with Grey County Chief Administrative Officer Kim Wingrove at the LaunchPad Youth Activity and Technology Centre in Hanover on Tuesday. (Rob Gowan The Sun Times)
Grey County has been flexing its muscles in the areas of technology and innovation over the past couple of days.
County officials have been touring Grey along with Intelligent Communities Forum co-founder Louis Zacharilla of New York, showcasing the many aspects that they feel should earn the municipality the Intelligent Community of the Year award.
“Size doesn’t matter anymore,” Zacharilla said Tuesday during a stop at the LaunchPad Youth Activity and Technology Centre in Hanover. “We are called the Intelligent Communities Forum for a reason and that is if we leverage our intelligence and we do the types of things that create the kind of growth that is appropriate for the kinds of places that we live in, then this place can punch at the same weight.”
With Grey County’s population of just under 93,000, it is the smallest community of the seven in the running for the award, which will be handed out on June 8 in New York City. The other communities include Edmonton, Alta.; Taoyuan, Taiwan; Chiayi City, Taiwan; Ipswich, Australia; Melbourne, Australia and Moscow, Russia.
Zacharilla said Grey County is no way at a disadvantage in the contest because of its size.
“The one thing cities have over smaller places that entrepreneurs and people like is density,” said Zacharilla. “Using technology and using systems and places like (LaunchPad) you can create forms of density.”
Grey County was named in the top seven for a couple of major reasons in that it is using its agricultural history and tying it to technology to do innovative things. It also offers a quality of life that is attracting people from the bigger cities who want to come to the area to live, he said.
“Grey County has actually a lot on its shoulders because it is going to show the rest of the world it is possible to live in a place where you have 90,000 people, a lot of land and you are not a dense urban environment and still do the types of things socially and economically that are required to create jobs and keep young people home in the 21st century,” said Zacharilla. “That is a big deal.”
Zacharilla said he was most impressed by the thinking of the people of the county.
“In your local governments you have got some very innovative people who are really thinking about the future,” said Zacharilla. “I would say all around there is not a fear of the future. People are starting to embrace the fact that things have changed and you may have had a family farm for a 100 years, but you can’t think about it the same way, that the future is going to be different.”
Among his stops on his visit were Georgian College’s marine training and research facility in Owen Sound, Third Line Homes in Meaford, Bay Growers Inc. near Clarksburg, and the village at Blue Mountain.
He said he was also impressed with the way Grey County’s nine member municipalities have been thinking together on innovation.
“Local government, like any government, can be quite siloed and territorial,” said Zacharilla. “You have nine communities here that are kind of thinking together, and that is very impressive.”
On Tuesday, Zacharilla was shown around the LaunchPad, where staff detailed the many programs the centre offers to area youth in areas such as digital media, music, arts, software development, computer hardware and the trades.
Afterwards Zacharilla talked to those in attendance about the Intelligent Communities Forum and the competition Grey is a part of.
Each of the finalists will be scored on six indicators: broadband, knowledge workforce, innovation, digital equality, sustainability and advocacy.
The Intelligent Community award is broken into three phases: Smart 21, Top7 and Intelligent Community of the Year.
Grey County first submitted an application in 2015 to the ICF, which is a global network of cities and regions with a think tank at its centre that helps communities “use information and communications technology to create inclusive prosperity, tackle social and governance challenges and enrich their quality of life.”
The county was chosen among nearly 400 applications as one of the Smart21 Communities in 2016 and was invited to apply for the Top7 designation. It was named to the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2017 on Feb. 9.
Grey County Warden Al Barfoot said Grey County already feels like a winner having made the top seven, but feels it can win.
“We are certainly the little guy and the underdog in this one,” Barfoot said. “We think with the technology we have and how we are working with our businesses, both agricultural-related and non-agriculture, we are doing what the criteria of the Intelligent Communities is set out for.”
Grey County’s Manager of Economic Development Savanna Myers said Zacharilla’s visit to Grey shows that the county has a story to tell.
“There is a lot happening here and it is on all levels. This a community effort and a collaboration at its finest,” said Myers. “To be able to bring individuals, businesses, organizations and government together to show all the things that are happening has been amazing.”