Smart City Baton Rouge: What Could Make BR the Next Tech Hub

“We had no belief we could become a tech city,” said Mayor Andy Berke, describing the mindset that ran counter to what actually happened to Chattanooga.

Now, with its city-wide fiber network approaching speeds of up to 10 gigs, an exploding app economy, and skyrocketing GDP, it’s hard for many residents to recall when Chattanooga was a sleepy southern city.

Could the same fate be in store for Baton Rouge? It seems that now is the age of the urban underdog, where cities like Baltimore, Oklahoma City, and Richmond are catapulting ahead and positioning themselves as techie alternatives to the hyper-expensive coastal environments.

If Baton Rouge were to become the next Chattanooga, it would be due to a combined effort of government, private businesses, and the community at large. Here are our reflections of where we are as a city and how EATEL Business can contribute to this collective progress.  

A bird's-eye-view of Smart City Baton Rouge featuring a downtown city skyline overlaid with a techy-looking circuit board graphic.

Baton Rouge’s Smart City Score Card

Before we can paint a picture of where wewant to go as a city, it would be helpful to look at where we are. In general, there are four common characteristics of Smart Cities:

  • Smart city technology collects and analyzes lots of data.
  • Smart city culture is entrepreneurial and innovation-focused.
  • Smart city government is engaged and forward-thinking.
  • Smart city communications infrastructure can support high-speed internet and powerful business technology.

In recent years, news media lists and scorecards have not always been kind to this city. But as far as Smart City progress goes, there’s lots to be optimistic about.   

1. Data Collection and Analysis

How It’s Important: Every moving part in a city represents a statistical opportunity for improvement: traffic on highways, structural anomalies in pipes and bridges, and pedestrian traffic data can all be captured and analyzed. Smart City data projects can take the form of data harvesting by sensors and other Internet-of-Things devices, or simply a smarter utilization of existing data stores.

Our Score: Baton Rouge is already on decent footing with data innovation, as can be seen (with) the city-parish’s award-winning web portal Open Data BR. The data democratization project puts information in the hands of developers, analysts, and journalists who can use it to address problems faced by the city. Recently, the city took the data project a step forward with Open Checkbook BR, a “checkbook-level” accounting of the city’s expenditures.

2. Culture

How It’s Important: In Smart Cities, there’s a never-ending party for entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic development. Support circles exist to connect innovators with the resources and networks that can help them grow, and successful entrepreneurs achieve celebrity status and notoriety.  

Our Score: Depending on what professional circles you run in, you may have noticed that Baton Rouge is thriving. The yearly culmination of this is the Baton Rouge Entrepreneur’s Week, which for several years has reported increased levels of attendance. Spurred by the high-profile successes of techy companies like Waitr and Presonus and nurtured by entrepreneurial non-profits like Louisiana Technology Park, the culture of Baton Rouge is welcoming, especially for companies who want to be a big, locally famous fish in a medium-sized pond.

3. Government

How It’s Important: Often, the role of government in Smart City creation comes down to the three T’s: technology, talent, and trade. But at the core of aspects is top down municipal buy-in. Does the local government understand technology and risk? Is riding the waves of change a priority? Do the local leaders even understand the change to come?

Our Score: The government appears to be fully engaged in Smart City since at least 2016, when the  Metropolitan Council unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the Smart City Committee consisting of representatives from a large cross-section of the community. One major win of the committee came in 2017, when the National Science Foundation granted LSU researchers money to work with City-Parish agencies, using the Smart City Committee to facilitate such collaboration.

4. Communications Infrastructure

How It’s Important: High-speed internet access: the lifeblood of technological progress. Affordable, fast internet grows business, attracts tech companies from high-cost-of-operating areas, and supports new technologies. That’s why the most commonly shared trait of mid-size tech cities is fiber internet. 

Our Score: Of the four Smart City pillars, communications is where Baton Rouge could improve the most.  There are still too few businesses that have access to Gig speed internet, and those networks that can support this bandwidth still use last-generation copper cabling or almost-but-not-quite fiber connections.

Fiber Internet: The Common Thread of Smart Cities

EATEL Business can’t obviously deliver a complete Smart City on our own, but at least we can do our part. Here is an overview of our plan of action:   

  • Priority 1: Grow a wide area fiber network in Baton Rouge. We’re currently growing our fiber internet footprint in Baton Rouge using a business-first strategy among dense commercial corridors. We’ve already established a fiber presence in several areas of high business concentration, and will grow these organically. In time, a wide network of fiber optic cable will create a high-speed corridor not only within the city, but also a fiber super highway that will create synergy with our tech city neighbors in adjacent states.  
  • Priority 2: Support causes and organizations who champion innovation. We will partner with organizations that support the four pillars of Smart Cities mentioned above. Sponsorships, grants, and community involvement efforts will be focused on economic development activity and growing a smarter Baton Rouge. This includes economic development agencies, schools, business incubators, and other tech-related causes.
  • Priority 3: Help make government agencies models of technology excellence. Government is at the heart of Smart City development, and we will support them when we can. Already, EATEL has established a fiber network empowering critical State agencies with fast internet, disaster recovery capabilities, and next-generation cybersecurity, and we intend to replicate this success with other government bodies.
  • Priority 4: Exemplify the power of LOCAL. In most cases of Smart City emergence, the local businesses lead the charge, NOT the out-of-state mega corporations. Baton Rouge will be no exception. In the absence of large corporate giants, homegrown companies will cobble resources together with philanthropists and government agencies to achieve progress.

Conclusion

There’s lots of promise of a Smart City future for Baton Rouge and community leaders have already taken encouraging steps toward transformation. These steps should be backed up by tangible business assets supported by local companies.

There are many parts to the puzzle, Baton Rouge will need at least a strong communications infrastructure if it wants a level playing field with other business destinations. EATEL Business will work diligently with the community to establish this network while collaborating with local partners to establish a Smart City foundation.

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