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Opinion: Fanfare missing as Springfield becomes gigabit city

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When Google Fiber launched in 2012, it was a big deal.

Two years earlier, Springfield was among thousands of cities that signed up for an information request for Google’s Fiber for Communities Project, a step toward becoming a test city for the service. According to Google, hundreds of thousands of individuals wrote letters supporting their cities.

The hype train was running off the rails.

The proposed payoff was gigabit internet service, which even today, is considerably faster than modern broadband. Think downloading a movie in seconds rather than minutes or maybe hours. It adds up.

Kansas City ultimately became Google’s first pick, much to the disappointment and jealousy of Springfield and many others. Since then, much has been said about Kansas City’s status as a technology hub, with some even predicting it would become the next Silicon Valley.

Today, the gigabit fanfare generated by Google Fiber seems to have faded.

This year, Springfield quietly became a gigabit city – referring to the hundreds of metro areas with broadband speeds of 1,000 megabits per second – but in my capacity as a journalist and a resident, I haven’t observed the type of hype this news deserves.

Part of a $1 billion broadband push, New York-based Mediacom Communications Corp. announced last month the launch of its home-based gigabit service throughout the Queen City. Mayor Ken McClure was on hand to celebrate the announcement.

“Springfield residents, like consumers elsewhere, rely on more connected devices and have seen their internet data consumption grow by as much as 35 to 50 percent per year,” McClure said in a proclamation on Springfield becoming a gigabit city.

AT&T, too, is working to roll out gigabit speeds to Springfield homes and expects to finish that effort by year’s end, said spokeswoman Katie Nagus.

While he helped, the mayor wasn’t the catalyst for gigabit internet and other quality-of-life improvements like ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, and Alamo Drafthouse to come here. But he does seem to realize their importance.

Some don’t appear to be following suit.

For example, Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Public Relations Manager Susan Wade wasn’t aware of any efforts by the organization to promote the city’s gigabit service for the purposes of attracting visitors or potential residents.

For its part, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce is dipping its toes in the water when it comes to using gigabit internet for talent attraction and retention, according to spokesman Jeremy Elwood. Chamber President Matt Morrow had this to say: “Mediacom’s investment in gigabit access provides the speed and flexibility residents want, especially anyone considering relocation to Springfield and those with home-based businesses and startups that need this type of advanced technology.”

Elwood said the chamber would use gigabit internet service as a selling point, but I was unable to find evidence yet of that on LiveInSpringfieldMo.com or SpringfieldRegion.com, two resources used by the chamber and Springfield Business Development Corp. for marketing purposes.

Gigabit internet service – including access to businesses now for at least a decade  – should be in the toolbox to get people here and, more importantly for our economy, have them put down roots and stick around. For instance, apartment complex managers have the opportunity to use the service as an attractor – free or discounted gigabit internet with a 12-month lease would make residents sign rental agreements faster. The possibilities are there among all types of companies.

Kansas City is a model for Springfield to emulate. The city has used its Google Fiber publicity as a springboard to promote itself as a city of innovation. Local marketing officials have caught on and use words like “momentum” on visitor websites to create a sense of excitement. The city’s high-tech sector is growing as a result, representing an economic impact of 9.5 percent, according to marketing firm VML.

While it’s a larger city with a bigger budget, Kansas City can be used as a target for Springfieldians to hit, particularly given the Queen City’s tech-sector growth through The eFactory and a bevy of startups.

Certainly, there are several factors contributing to the Queen City’s workforce retention, with cost of living often topping the list locally – and rightfully so. But there’s a ton of room for growth when it comes to marketing ourselves.

The term gigabit city should be worn as a badge of honor.

Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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