The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

VDOT had loads of warning that wetlands could kill the U.S. 460 project but the state charged ahead with a design-build contract that everyone knew could explode.

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Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

A California developer is teaming with Daimler AG to bring buses, shuttles and ride sharing to an Orange County community -- with no government subsidies.

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Putting the “Garden” in Rain Garden

Putting the Garden in Rain Garden

Soon Virginians will start spending billions to meet tough storm-water regs. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden wants to show how we can save the bay – and look really good doing it.

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Tech Insurrection

Tech Insurrection

Smart cities, says Anthony Townsend, will be forged by geeks, activists and civic hackers through bottom-up technological innovation.

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Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

Sprawl's Hidden Subsidies

The answer to sprawl isn't more regulation, says Pamela Blais, it's fixing the endemic biases embedded in taxes, utility fees, municipal services and mortgages.

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Bob McDonnell’s Big Decision

 smith_mountain_lake2By Peter Galuszka

It was a gubernatorial quandary only Virginia could have .

In the summer of 2011, former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was ready to take a few days off. He and his family had been going to Smith Mountain Lake, a popular destination near Roanoke with lots of golf courses and seven-figure lakeside homes.

At his corruption trial this week, McDonnell testified that his summer getaway had been bankrolled by Delta Star, a company with a big factory in Lynchburg that makes portable industrial electrical gear. The firm had put him up at one of their lakefront houses for $2,474 in 2010, according the VPAP, which runs a data base about this kind of thing.

Summer 2011 had proved a big problem, however. His wife, Maureen, had become fast friends with Jonnie R. Williams a rich Goochland County businessman. Williams had given Ms. McDonnell a $50,000 check and also paid $15,000 for her daughter’s wedding luncheon that June. She had traveled with Williams helping promote Anatabloc, Williams dietary supplement that has since been pulled off the market by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The problem was — whose million-dollar-plus house would the McDonnells use? Williams very much wanted the McDonnells to stay at his sprawling domicile on the tip of a peninsula. Delta Star wanted the McDonnells to stay at their place.

What to do? They split it. The McDonnells stayed at Williams’ house for a getaway valued at $2,268 value according to VPAP. He also laid on a Ferrari that the governor could enjoy driving on the way home.

Delta Star made sure the family was entertained and fed. They provided the family with their very own boat to cruise the lake and catered meals – a $1,892 value for a long weekend.

Delta Star’s feelings didn’t seem to be hurt since they laid on another entertainment gift worth $10,182 in 2012.

And while we’re talking lakeside homes, guess who else also stayed at Williams’ place? Former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, that’s who – to the tune of $3,000 in 2011. We haven’t heard much recently from the former firebrand, hard right politician but he is on the witness list.

And so it goes. And, by the way, getting vacation favors is very common. Check out former Gov. Tim Kaine’s expensive sojourn on the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

It’s not the only way Virginia’s extremely lax ethics laws work.

If you use your PAC, you have an automatic teller machine. For instance, Tim Hugo of Fairfax, the third-ranking Republican in Virginia’s House of Delegates, expensed nearly $30,000 for travel and food and $9,400 for his cellphone over an 18-month period. As a spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections told The Washington Post’s Laura Vozzella in 2013, “If they wanted to use the money to send their kids to college, they could probably do that.”

Bringing out the Knives

An Afghan pesh-kabz

An Afghan pesh-kabz

by James A. Bacon

There is a rising tide in the op-ed pages, TV commentary and blog commentary that former Governor Bob McDonnell is a brutish, swinish cad for portraying his wife Maureen as the heavy in the corruption trial. You’ve got to love liberals. They’re so very compassionate…  until they’re talking about their wounded enemies. Then, like the Afghan women in the Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Young British Soldier,” they scour the battlefield to “cut up what remains.”

If Maureen and Bob McDonnell had been Democrats instead of Republicans, we would be treated to a litany of perspectives on the heavy toll of political life upon the marriages of elected officials, the unambiguous signs that Maureen was suffering from depression, and speculation from mental health experts to provide subtlety, nuance and context to the story.

No such compassion is accorded McDonnell, who now is being depicted as a man who “betrayed” his wife and was willing to “flay” her character in order to save himself, just to cite the observations of Petula Dvorak and her headline writer in the Washington Post. (Bacon’s Rebellion‘s very own Peter Galuszka is no kinder.)

Here’s the question I would pose to them. If you were in McDonnell’s shoes, and if the marriage were the shambles he says it was, and if Maureen was indeed the one who solicited the gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, Sr., and if you truly believed yourself to be innocent of any illegality, what would you have done? Would you have, in Dvorak’s words, “manned up” and taken the plea agreement offered by prosecutors before the trial? How many people would admit to a crime they believed they did not commit?

Who really bears the moral onus here? McDonnell, for defending himself, or the prosecutors, who (a) proceeded with a case that’s looking flimsier by the day, and (b) called the witnesses whose testimony trashed Maureen’s reputation before McDonnell breathed a word?

McDonnell bears his share of blame for the failing marriage, as he seemed willing to concede on the witness stand yesterday. Maureen was happy living in Virginia Beach before he rose to statewide political prominence. He asked her to sacrifice a lot for his political career, giving up her cozy network of friends and her part-time job selling vitamin supplements. When he first moved to Richmond, the family lived apart while the kids finished high school. As attorney general and especially as governor, he traveled constantly and spent half his nights away from his wife and family. He insisted she use a small inheritance to pay down credit card bills. When Maureen expressed her increasing unhappiness by nagging and throwing tantrums, he withdrew from her, often spending extra time at the office. Emotionally exhausted from the confrontations, he did not question some of Maureen’s activities that he should have questioned — it was easier just to look the other way.

But McDonnells’ critics don’t mention any of these all-to-human failings that probably could describe thousands, even millions, of American men at some point in their marriages. Liberals bring out the long knives. They move in for the kill, portraying their weakened foes as morally reprehensible, as less than human.

In his poem, Kipling advised the wounded English soldier, “Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.” McDonnell did not roll over. Perhaps that was his worst affront of all.

Maureen McDonnell and Sexism

maureen_and_bob(1)By Peter Galuszka

Sitting for hours listening to former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell testify in his federal corruption trial makes one wonder exactly what his values are, especially as they relate to women.

His entire legal strategy is to “Throw Maureen Under the Bus” – namely his lawyers and those of his co-defendant wife Maureen are portraying Ms. McDonnell as a “basket case” who set up a lot of funny meetings with snake oil salesman Jonnie Ray Williams Sr., accepted expensive gifts from him with promptly telling her husband, and communicated with him 1,200 times in about a year and a half (one day it was 52 text messages.)

She is bad and deceptive. He is good and didn’t know much about her messy friendship with Williams. She is guilty. He is innocent (or so it goes).

Gov. Bob, helmet hair perfect as usual, took the jurors through a horrible litany of his long-decaying marriage to college sweetheart Maureen. While she was screaming and intimidating her staff, he was slogging through “the business of governing” for endless hours every day.

When she approached Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate on the campaign trail in 2012 and offered the woman who suffers from MS some “Anatabloc,” Williams’ miracle pills, Bob overhead it and was “embarrassed.”

There is something deeply disturbing, however, about McDonnell and his attitudes. He seems to have come from a bygone era when men worked long hours, held major responsibilities and answered to the most important thing in their lives – their overweening ambition.

The husband was ordained by God to do great things, be a Boy Scout, and write his name in history books. His wife was to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen knitting socks or selling silly vials of creams.

McDonnell has since disowned this little passage he wrote at Regent University (Pat Robertson’s school) back in 1989 when he was a graduate student, but it seems strangely relevant. He tried to create some kind of conservative, faith-based government paradigm that would cut taxes, open charter schools and the like. He wrote:

“Further expenditures would be used to subsidize a dynamic new trend of working women and feminists that is ultimately detrimental to the family by entrenching status-quo of nonparental primary nurture of children.” The kicker is his view that feminism is one of the “real enemies of the traditional family.”

Well, a hell of lot of good that thinking has done since he has steadily, deliberately humiliated his wife in a bid to avoid jail time. A parade of defense witnesses, mostly McDonnell cronies, have humiliated Ms. McDonnell as a grabby, irrational, fashion-mad bimbo who just didn’t get it when Bob patiently told her that the stock she held in Star Scientific, Williams’ firm, had lost half their value and were a bad investment.

There are other giveaways that paint McDonnell as a self-important, entitled, superior little prig. Maureen had an apparently successful home-based business selling nutraceuticals like face creams. The Bob that may have sounded so pointlessly “womanish” but it is a big business. When he ran for statewide offices, he told Maureen to nix the biz.

Now wait a minute. Why should he tell his wife that she can’t run her own business she built up because his mission as a conservative political savior is just too important? Why does he get to decide?

One reason has roots in a kind of mid- 20th century philosophy that one used to see in black and white movies and television shows. There has been a deluge of testimony about the Virginia suburbs of DC roots of the McDonnells. Lots of military, conservative, family values, do-goodism, ticket punching (making colonel or the appropriate GS level position) having some silly affection for the Redskins or golf club bags with your school logo and so on. But the most obnoxious attitude is that the self-pride that one is doing something very important for his country and fellow citizens.

If you are male, you get to wear this cloak. If you are a woman, your first and foremost goal is to mind the kids and support your man and be a handmaiden to HIS career and ambitions. Watch the 1950s “Strategic Air Command” film” with Jimmy Stewart as a ballplayer pilot and his dutiful wife June Allyson. He makes the big decisions and flies the big bombers. She’s always waiting at the air base fence for him to come home so she can cook him fried eggs.

But McDonnell has a bigger problem than just this over-the-top sense of duty. By his own testimony, McDonnell is seriously addicted to political ambition. It is his oxycodone. His heroin. He gets a real kick by planning the next stage (vice president? president?) Maureen is left by herself and her screaming fits. Bob just tunes her out and spends as much time traveling and in his office as he can.

As he testified, McDonnell got a buzz from being a state legate and an even bigger buzz by running for attorney general and governor. One woman who seemed to be cheering him every step of the way was Janet Kelly, who ended up being Secretary of the Commonwealth when he became governor. She testified that when he wanted her for that spot, she told him flat out she could not work with Maureen. She didn’t.

Family values, anyone?

Virginia’s Entrepreneurial Vitality

inc5000

How does Virginia reinvigorate a lagging economy dragged down by sequestration-driven cuts to defense spending? Foster a business environment conducive to new business formation.

There’s a good-news, bad-news story coming out of publication of the 2014 Inc. 5000 compilation of the nation’s fastest-growing companies. As Virginia Business reports, the 284 Virginia companies on the list ranked Virginia 5th in the country, lagging only California, Texas, New York and Florida, states with far larger populations and business communities. That’s a positive indicator of Virginia’s business vitality.

It’s a mixed-news story, however, because three-quarters of the fast-growing companies are located in Northern Virginia. While NoVa is an incredibly fertile ground for entrepreneurship, RoVa (the rest of Virginia) is not. Take away Northern Virginia, and what you get is… middle America.

Many (including me) have questioned the ability of the NoVa business community, which is heavily skewed to defense contracting work, to restructure itself to thrive in an era of federal budget cuts. I’m less worried now than iI once was. Ironically, budget cuts may benefit the region in the long run. With one of the best educated, highly skilled populations anywhere in the country, NoVa residents have no lack of ideas for new enterprises. The contraction of the government-contractor sector releases employees, office space and other resources  to start-up companies. While NoVa is suffering now, the number of fast-growth firms suggests that the region will recover and within a few years resume its position as Virginia’s economic growth leader.

Charlottesville looks like a mini growth story but the metropolitan region is too small to have much spillover effect for the statewide economy. Hampton Roads and Richmond appear to host small, fast-growth companies roughly in line with national averages — a lukewarm performance.  Virginia’s smaller metros and rural areas are laggards, as are small metros and rural areas are across the country. (I’m on vacation and haven’t had time to calculate the number of fast growth companies per capita, so these impressions are rough and subject to revision.)

– JAB

McDonnell on the Stand

mcdonnellFormer Governor Bob McDonnell took the stand yesterday, defending his conduct in connection with Jonnie Williams Sr. and Star Scientific in precisely the way one would expect: Other than providing access to government, something that every governor does, he said, he did Williams no favors. As the Times-Dispatch summarized his testimony, “He never used discretionary funds at his disposal to give Star Scientific a grant, never paid a site visit to the company, and never held a news conference or issued a news release for the company.”

The fact that people are disgusted with the influence of money in politics is not an argument for convicting McDonnell. If McDonnell can be sent to jail for arranging meetings between Williams and state officials, then every living governor in Virginia had better start taking measurements for their orange prison jump suits. As for failing to disclose the real estate loans from Williams in loan applications to a bank and a credit union, the defense has made the case that he wasn’t required to — and the prosecution hasn’t presented a shred of evidence to suggest otherwise.

The only thing that can change the course of this trial is an aggressive cross-examination by the prosecution. If McDonnell comes across as contradictory or evasive, he could raise doubts that don’t exist now. But at this point, it does not appear that federal prosecutors have a case.

– JAB

Mo Maureen and Po’ Maureen

Mo McDonnell

Mo McDonnell

by James A. Bacon

More interesting testimony from the McDonnell trial yesterday. In the balance, the defense bolstered its case. But it was not entirely convincing.

The other Maureen. Mo McDonnell, Bob McDonnell’s little sister, was a successful business executive who had worked for IBM, Regent University and Amerigroup, culminating with a salary of $540,000 in 2012 and accumulating savings of more than $1 million. Mo testified that she had more than enough money to cover the cost of maintaining the troubled MoBo Real Estate Partnership, undercutting the prosecution’s argument that Bob borrowed money from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams out of desperation to keep the real estate partnership afloat. Indeed, when her bother decided to repay the loans to Williams, she was the one who fronted him the money to do so.

Although she could have covered any shortfall herself with a $150,000 payment she received when she left Amerigroup, she explained, she and Bob decided that interest rates were so low that it made more sense to borrow the money so she could invest her own funds at a higher rate of return.

Really? I’m not sure that passes the smell test. She is asking jurors to believe that it made more sense to borrow money from Jonnie Williams, even though Bob knew how it would look if the loan were made public and even though he had discussed with Williams (if we are to believe Williams) ways to avoid disclosure. Any reasonable person would conclude the exact opposite, that it made far more sense for Bob to borrow the money from his sister in a transaction that would have created no questions — as he ultimately did when he repaid Williams. If I were the prosecution, I would hammer that hard. It is not a convincing explanation. My hunch: There is more to the story, and we haven’t heard it yet.

Poor Maureen. Mo McDonnell and Kathleen Scott, a special assistant to the governor’s wife, provide new details on the first lady’s state of mind. The story of Po’ Maureen’s out-of-control behavior has been so consistent throughout the trail that there is little point in enumerating all the anecdotes here. But one round of testimony advances us to a new level of understanding.

Although McDonnell defended his wife to others, he acknowledged that she had a problem.  As Mo testified (as reported by the Virginian-Pilot):

The first lady once reduced her to tears with a biting comment during a weekend family gathering in 2012, McDonnell’s sister testified. She told her husband she wanted to leave.

“Bob came up and apologized and begged me to stay,” she said. “He said he was working on it. He was trying to get her help.”

As I have observed in previous posts, it is obvious that Po’ Maureen was suffering from depression, mood swings, hysterical outbursts and other signs of mental illness. This testimony confirms that while Bob coped by withdrawing and tuning her out, he also recognized she had a problem. I would not be surprised if testimony reveals that she sought psychiatric treatment and at some point took medication.  The McDonnells may not choose to release this information because they consider it private and shameful. They should not. Millions of Americans suffer from depression and related disorders. Suffering from depression is not a moral failing. (The behavior resulting from depression can be but the depression itself is not.)

Acknowledging Maureen’s mental illness would not excuse illegal or unethical conduct, especially on Bob’s part, but it would would put the McDonnells in a different light than the prosecution’s explanation, that Bob joined in a calculatingly immoral conspiracy with his wife to commit fraud. Also, the Maureen-the-depressed-wife seems less harsh and demeaning than the Maureen-the-bitch defense.

Throwing Maureen under the Bus

maureen_mcdonnellby James A. Bacon

The full dimensions of the McDonnell family tragedy came into clearer focus yesterday as attorneys representing Maureen and Bob McDonnell launched the defense phase of the corruption trial… by throwing Maureen under the bus. Defense witness Janet Kelly, Secretary of the Commonwealth in the McDonnell administration, described as “diva-ish” and so difficult with work under that her staff threatened to quit en mass.

Maureen’s behavior was so out of control that those in the governor’s inner circle wonder if she suffered from a mental illness. The picture painted by Kelly was of a woman who was isolated, miserable and unable to grow into the job. Kelly’s relationship with Maureen had deteriorated to the point she could not work with her even before Bob took office, but she did evince some sympathy for the first lady. Breaking down in tears at one point, she said she did not want to “pile on.” As the Washington Post summarized her testimony:

Maureen McDonnell repeatedly told her that being first lady was not something she had wanted. She was uncomfortable with public speaking and, in her first year in the mansion, lost both her parents and sent her youngest children to college — all while essentially losing her husband to his job.

“She would say, ‘I didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t what I wanted,’ ” Kelly testified. “It was a lot for her.”

Perhaps most germane to our understanding of the relationship between the former governor and his wife — defense attorneys said the marriage was in such bad shape that the two could not have conspired to swap gifts for favors with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Wiliams Sr. — Kelly testified that the displays of affection in public between Bob and Maureen hid a deeper alienation. In private settings, she would rage at him.

Bacon’s bottom line: More pieces are falling into place. Bob McDonnell was an ambitious man. What he wanted out of life — political fame and success — wasn’t what Maureen wanted. Family finances were a mess before the family entered the governor’s mansion, made worse by extensive borrowing during the gubernatorial campaign. Maureen was ill equipped to fill the role of first lady; she didn’t ask for the job but she was stuck with it. Unable to handle the stress of the position on top of the deteriorating family finances, she flew into rages, alienated many of the people around her, including her husband, which made her situation even worse. She gravitated to Williams, who plied her with attention, gifts and what seemed to be friendship. (Kelly’s testimony supports my observation in a previous post that her behavior seemed indicative of clinical depression, a phenomenon that takes on a life of its own.) It’s a sad story, even a tragic one.

None of this excuses breaking the law (if laws are shown to be broken). None of it exonerates the McDonnells for showing terrible judgment by accepting gifts from Williams. Wrong is wrong, whatever the psychological explanation. But it does provide a context for understanding and interpreting what happened. And the picture we’re getting is of a vulnerable woman preyed upon by Williams to extract political favors from the administration.

“The Economy of the Past Is Over.” But What Comes Next?

McAuliffeby James A. Bacon

So, Virginia faces a $2.4 billion projected budget shortfall, which Governor Terry McAuliffe blames largely on defense funding cuts mandated by sequestration. Surprise, surprise. We’ve seen this train wreck coming for years. Some (including multiple writers on this blog) have seen it more clearly and shouted about it more loudly than others. Now it’s here — the slowing economic growth, the stalled budget revenues and the general malaise. The question is, what do we do about it?

McAuliffe is making the right noises. As the Washington Post reports, the governor said the state needs to make a fundamental shift away from its reliance on federal spending. “It is obvious that the economy of the past — where we could simply take the economic benefits of the Department of Defense for granted — is over,” he said. “We need to move past this reliance — and build a new entrepreneurial, innovative and dynamic economy.”

Vague and platitudinous as the statement is, it has the virtue of being true. The hard part is figuring out how to move to that new entrepreneurial, innovative and dynamic economy. Part of the answer is not doing the same thing we’ve done before, only more of it.

McAuliffe can make a lasting mark on Virginia if he avoids that trap. But it will be difficult. When he solicits advice, whether in private conversations or through public mechanisms like study commissions, he’ll hear from the established special interests — not from startup entrepreneurs who are too busy building their businesses to participate in the public policy process. He’ll hear from the economic development lobby that we need to spend more money on corporate recruitment. He’ll hear from the convention & visitors lobby that we need to spend more money promoting tourism. He’ll hear from the agriculture lobby that we’ll need to spend more money on overseas trade missions. He’ll hear from incubators that we need to spend more money on incubators. He’ll hear from the public universities we need to spend more money on university R&D. He’ll hear from the chambers of commerce that government, not business, needs to spend more money on workforce development to give Virginians the skills they need in the marketplace.  McAuliffe will touch bases with all the stakeholders and he’ll hear the same thing they’ve been telling state government for decades: Give us more money!

In the early 2000s, back when I started Bacon’s Rebellion,  Governor Mark Warner initiated the state’s first economic development strategic plan. Before running for governor, Warner, a successful technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist, had traveled the state meeting with local business communities and setting up local venture funds. From first-hand experience, he understood the nexus between technology and entrepreneurial innovation. He appointed a highly capable attorney, Michael Schewel, as commerce secretary to oversee the study.

Schewel sought out new thinking, including the work, which was novel at the time, of economic geographer Richard Florida’s on the central role of the creative class. The final product of the study group included some interesting small-bore initiatives, strengthened business-university ties and represented genuine progress over previous thinking. But it conceptualized economic development along the lines of Virginia’s existing administrative organization and reflected the established institutional thinking of the “stakeholders.” Nothing really changed. If Warner and Schewel couldn’t push Virginia economic development into a fundamentally new direction, I fear, no one can. At least they tried. No one since then has made an effort to buck the conventional wisdom.

The most important thing we can do, as I blogged yesterday, is to think how to stimulate new business formation — especially of companies with high growth potential. We need more companies like Washington, D.C.-based SmartThings, an Internet-of-Things start-up which earlier this month sold out to Samsung for $200 million. SmartThings got its start literally two or three years ago with a Kickstarter fund raiser and $15 million in venture funding. That’s the kind of wealth creation we should be looking for.

One strategy would be to cull unnecessary regulation. Contrary to the views of some who frequent this blog, the state regulates many aspects of the economy to the detriment of innovation. Uber, Lyft and the taxicab sector is but one example of many that could be mentioned. Given time, I will detail others. But that is only a partial and incomplete solution. Perhaps more fundamentally, we need to build the kinds of communities where members of the creative class want to live. We need to recognize that economic development equals community development (smart growth). We also can work harder to help government do better those things that only government can do (smart cities).

The traditional pillars of economic development — industrial recruitment, tourism, agriculture — all have valuable contributions to make. But they are not sufficient by themselves to drive the economy forward. It is time for a stem-to-stern rethinking of how to move Virginia to the next level. If the budget crisis prompts that re-evaluation, it may prove more a blessing than a curse.

Building the Dynamic Dominion

virginiaIn its long-running Dynamic Dominion series, the Times-Dispatch today examines the issue of entrepreneurship in Virginia… or the lack of it. The editorial quotes approvingly an argument I made recently that the intertwined phenomena of lackluster economic growth, persistent unemployment, stagnant wages and the income gap can be traced in large measure to the declining rate of business formation, which in turn can be traced to over-regulation. Observing that Virginia trails the national average for business startups by three-tenths of a percentage point, the editorial surveys the climate for entrepreneurship here in the Old Dominion.

The T-D piece covers a number of other topics: Virginia’s lagging R&D sector, regulation of the craft brewery industry, the failings of business incubators and the folly of municipal investments such as the failed 6th Street Marketplace as job-creation schemes. These are all worthwhile matters to examine. Whether you agree or disagree with the T-D — or with me, for that matter — is less important than whether you give serious thought to this foundational question.

After all, there’s one thing that we can all agree upon: Without a hospitable environment for entrepreneurs, we will never have a strong economy. Without a strong economy, we will never have the resources needed to resolve the social problems we all would like to address. Virginians have too long taken their superior economic performance for granted. We’re losing our edge. It’s time to re-examine the way we do things. The T-D editorial, indeed its editorial series on the Dynamic Dominion, is a necessary start.

– JAB

Sharing Information to Gain Competitive Regional Advantage

by James A. Bacon

Very different models of regional competitiveness are emerging as people think seriously how to harness the power of smart cities. In metropolitan regions like Charlotte, Seattle and San Diego, for example, major property owners are collaborating with municipalities and power companies on communal energy-efficiency initiatives.

Tapping the potential of “smart grids” is a great idea. But that’s just a start. Udaya Shankar, a vice president with Xchanging, sees smart buildings as the foundation for smart cities. Writing in IoT World, he recommends that smart buildings pool information for mutual benefit. “When buildings operate in a silo, we gain no insight into the effects one has on the other, and if a smart city is the sum of its parts then there is something to be lost in keeping them separate.” He envisions a future in which smart buildings connect and talk to cities and to one another.

It’s an intriguing premise. Shankar provides few examples of what kind of information sharing property owners can share, but we can think of a few.

Smart grid. Almost all smart buildings draw electricity from the electric grid. They monitor their consumption carefully and have some flexibility as to how much they consume and when. Sharing this information can help the power company optimize its generation and transmission assets, benefiting everyone through lower rates.

Water. All smart buildings consume water. In many municipalities leaking water pipes is a major issue (up to 20 percent of all water is lost through leakage). Sharing of usage data can help water companies identify leaks, reduce water loss and delay the need for expensive capacity expansions.

Parking. Many smart buildings maintain parking assets for their employees: either open parking lots or parking garages. Sharing information about parking capacity and usage can help cities better match parking supply and demand. By optimizing the amount of valuable urban land dedicated to parking, cities can convert excess parking to more productive uses that yield more taxes.

Lighting. Cities operate street lights. So do many smart buildings. Sharing information can allow cities and building owners to reduce the wattage needed to light public spaces, thus conserving electricity and curbing light pollution.

Security. Smart buildings typically are equipped with security cameras to provide added security for occupants. Sharing video feeds with the city can provide law enforcement authorities with more eyes on the street, helping prevent and solve crimes.

Transportation. Smart cities utilize a variety of strategies — mass transit, walkable and bikeable streets, road improvements, car- and van-pooling — to manage traffic demand, many of which require cooperation with employers. Sharing information about employees and their transportation needs can help cities fight congestion.

We’re moving into a world where the sharing of information confers competitive economic advantage. Here in Virginia, we should start by encouraging state agencies and local governments to open up their data — not just to link to it from websites but to make it available so anyone, whether a business enterprise or a civic activist, to add value to it. Then we should start creating mechanisms whereby building owners can share information with local governments to tackle public challenges ranging from energy conservation to traffic congestion.

Communities that move first will gain competitive advantage. Those that are slow to adapt will fall behind.