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Spirit of enterprise

SCW talks to the mayor of Fishers, Indiana, Scott Fadness about the reasons behind his town being voted the best place to live in the United States in 2017 by Money magazine

Scott Fadness, mayor of Fishers, Indiana
Scott Fadness, mayor of Fishers, Indiana

Fishers, Indiana was voted the best place to live in the US this year by Money magazine. A fast growing suburb with a reputation for entrepreneurship, Fishers is not a town that’s happy to rest on its laurels. Under Mayor Scott Fadness, the city has an all out mission to be the best place to live in the US in ten, twenty, thirty years from now. Scott Fadness is the first Mayor of the City of Fishers and is responsible for day-to-day operations and leads a team of 12 city department directors.


Believing strongly that people rather than government create jobs, in 2011 he co-founded Launch Fishers, an enabling space for entrepreneurs to develop and launch their high-growth, high-potential businesses. To date, over 100 new companies happily inhabit this area.


A new strategic plan was implemented in 2015 to encourage continued smart growth and in the coming months, Fishers will be home to Indiana’s first Internet of Things (IoT) lab, a 24,562 sq.ft co-working space where members will have the resources to test resources and experiment with connected technologies.


SCW spoke with Mayor Fadness about how the City of Fishers is gearing up for a digital future.


SCW: What makes Fishers such a great place to live?


MF: We are a combination of a strong educated workforce. It’s a great place to raise a family and we are adding dynamic elements to our city to make it an interesting place I need to live but also to work and to pin you pursue your entrepreneurial passion. When you add all that together you get a very well rounded and very dynamic city that is aspirational.


We have a big vision and we are moving and executing towards that. Momentum and excitement I think are contagious.


SCW: Your population growth this been extremely rapid. How do you expect growth continue and how are you going to manage that? Will the new IOT Centre help with this?


MF: We’ve had exceptional growth over the last two decades. Our population projections come out at 140,000. We’re 86,000 today, so we’ve got another 50,000 plus to come.


We build somewhere between 600 to 1000 new homes per year so we have lots of new residents every year and that obviously puts demands on things like traffic, the road network as well as our sewers.


Our new IoT lab originated more out of a desire to create an environment where people could pursue their entrepreneurial passions more so than a place that was going to solve all the city’s problems. Now that being said, we think that a cross pollination between private sector entrepreneurs and the public sector environment is fertile ground for new, interesting and innovative ways to apply technologies to the challenges we face.


SCW: What’s behind this rapid population growth?


MF: I think you can put that into two chapters. The first chapter would have been the traditional suburban sprawl but most American cities experienced between the 1960s and early 2000. We had cheap available land, we had good schools, low tax rates and it attracted those in the inner cities to move to the suburbs.


Today there is a new chapter in Fishers’ history. In the last two and a half years, we’ve had over 4, 000 new jobs brought to Fishers and by the end of the year we’ll be about 4,500 – 4,600 new job. For a community of 86,000, that is extraordinary. We are seeing growth now not only on the residential side but also on the economic development side which makes it an even more attractive place to live.


SCW: Where are these new jobs coming from?


MF: Primarily from the tech sector. We really focussed early on when we decided to really try and create a place with a strong economic base.


We now have the largest co-working space in the state of Indiana. We have over 600 members. We recruited tech talent.


Our vision was to become a smart, vibrant and entrepreneurial city. Now we have a number of the leading small to mid-size tech companies that are now located here, and we are recruiting even larger tech companies.


SCW: How did this vision for Fishers take shape?


MF: As corny as it sounds, I can actually remember the specific day where I was brainstorming about the future of our city and we had a whiteboard up. What we realised was that there was an intersection that typically was needed that looked at was needed to attract jobs. So in a 20th century economy it would be industrial parks and things of that nature but that these run counter to a quality of life standpoint – no one wants to live next door to an industrial park. There’s always this tug-of-war between industry and residents.


When we started listing on the whiteboard what companies in a 21st century economy would want, we wrote up things like trail connectivity, access to great culinary experiences, good architecture, dream space and so on. Then we went over to the other column and we said, O.K, now what do the next generation of talented people want for the communities that they live in, and they could have been identical in terms of what they wanted.


So we asked how do we create an environment that is the most hospitable for people who want to live here, as well as the companies that we want to attract. The same places where people want to locate their businesses are the same places that people want to hang out.


This happened 4.5 to 5 years ago, and since that time, we’ve done $350-$400 million worth of real estate investment as well seeing in the last 2.5 years over 4,000 new jobs.


SCW: Where did the idea for the IoT hub come from?


MF: That originated out of conversations I had with some of the tech guys in our community. We had a co-working space and we were thinking about what was chapter 2 in our city in the realm of entrepreneurialism. At the same time we started to look at our state and what we realised is that Indiana is an interesting example of where IoT fits in.


Indiana is exceptional at making things, moving things and growing things. In manufacturing, distribution and agriculture we rank in the top five states in the US in all three of those industries. But as we started to look at technological trends we realised that all three of those industries were about to be disrupted by this concept of the Internet of Things.


Firstly, it will certainly increase production and make the companies more successful, and secondly, a lot of the jobs that Indiana residents currently enjoy from these companies will go away.


We have this juxtaposition where businesses will be more successful in our state if they embrace IoT concepts, but at the same time less and less Indiana residents will have the opportunity to work in those companies.


So what we thought about was how do we start to create environments where we can provide the research and development, the talent, the necessary components of IoT so that when these large companies that exist in Indiana like EIi Lilly or Cummins Inc. decide to embrace the IoT, instead of going to California or New York City for that type of expertise they turn inward into Indiana and find the talent here. In doing so, we start to diversify our economic base to provide new opportunities for Hoosiers.


SCW: Are you employing typical smart city initiatives in the management of your city?


MF: We have a three-year goal to automate and modernise all our internal operations we have an embedded group part of partially our staff, partially outside consultants are working on this initiative.

All cities have centres of work – people would be one, land would be another, finance another, assets would be another. If you could put an architecture together that allows you to put comprehensive enterprise software systems in each one of these spheres but you do in such a way that they have APIs or the ability to communicate with one another, and you really start to think about the architecture of the data, you can create an environment where 2-3 years down the road in the City of Fishers, we will have an environment where insightful queries into the data can be accomplished so that we can really start to truly understand “what are our cost drivers,” “what are our work drivers,” “what are some of the challenges and where are the correlations.”


So many cities are quick to want to go out and put sensors up everywhere and collect data, but they’re not doing the hard work of creating the right environment that can actually be productive.


SCW: How important green, sustainable renewable initiatives to you?


MF: I think it’s the one frontier that I have not gone fully into yet but I think we must. Fishers hasn’t done much in the sustainability category but I think it’s the logical next step on the horizon. I think it is critical for the long-term sustainability of my community.


People use sustainability now so many different ways whether it’s financial sustainability, or “will my city continue to be vibrant 20 years from now,” but I think they’re all interconnected on some level. I would be disingenuous if I said we were on the cutting edge of sustainability but that being said I think that is the next mountain for us to climb.


SCW: How are your citizens engaging with the process?


MF: So many times we focus on this community engagement standpoint and what we talk about here is almost like a town hall forum – how do I get my opinion heard about future of the city – which I think is important, but what we don’t spend enough time on is in the thousands of interactions that happen on a daily basis between city government and their residents and how we can make that as intuitive, simple, and easy as possible.


The best local government service I can provide is one where the residents don’t have to put a lot of time and effort into it. I don’t want them to have their busy days consumed by trying to figure out how to fill out a permit to the city of Fishers. How do we create intuitive front doors like Google or Twitter?


If you look at city websites across the globe they are a disaster. They are as testament to cities wanting to tell you everything that they care about and not paying one ounce of attention of what the residents actually care about. We’re quick to put a mission statement up but that’s not really what people want to go to the website for. Citizen engagement is important but I think there are a million variations of how to do it. How we interact with our residents on a daily basis that is technologically intuitive is the area of focus for me.


SCW: How significant is Mayorship at this point in time?


MF: I think change leadership is critical. What I see for the future of our organisation and our community is that there is no finish line. We’re going to have to learn to run and love to run. Change will be a perpetual value system. Just like anything in the world today, adaptation will be a critical skill set to be able to survive. I think whether it’s the Mayor, or whether it’s the leadership team, or whether it’s the city council, whoever, if you have not become an expert in change management or change leadership then you better figure out real quick. We’re all in experience business, we have to create great experiences for residents to want to live here, and in order to do that you’ve got to adapt.


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