They’re doing it in San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Austin, Texas and even in Ethiopia.
As the information technology economy is realized more and more, regions across the globe are establishing committees to ensure their technological future.
San Diego is no exception. On April 17, the San Diego City Council is expected to vote on the formation of an information technology commission that will help turn all local citizens, government agencies and organizations into technology proficient members of society.
The proposed 15-member Science and Technology Commission, which will include local tech, education and science leaders, will collaborate with various city departments and agencies to set policies and promote and encourage the use of information technology in economic development, education, public safety and in all levels of government.
The commission will recommend a scalable, reliable and efficient citywide technical infrastructure plan that will include computer equipment and operating systems, databases, customized software, non-customized applications, local area networks, wide area networks, telecommunications, staffing and training.
Susan Myrland, director of the La Mesa-based Interactive Media Management, is one of the commission nominees. Myrland, a community technology consultant for the last five years, said now is the time to create such a commission.
Her goals for the commission include taking a broad look at how San Diego is changing as a society and where the region wants to go in the future.
“I think we have gone through different stages in our identity and now we are just right on the brink of defining and re-inventing a new identity,” Myrland said. “We’ve had this extraordinary change in the last two to three years. We’re not just talking about the dot-coms, but the dot-govs and the dot-edus and how they’re working together.”
She said the biggest challenge the commission will face is creating a plan that is adaptable and flexible.
“I think the challenge will be to do it well. How do you make policy that is not a barrier when you’re dealing with an industry that moves so quickly and that is hard for research studies and for the general public to keep up with? If you’re basing your policy on what was true two years ago, the landscape may have changed.”
Help For Nonprofits
When helping to shape technology policies for San Diego, the commission must not leave anyone out, including local nonprofit organizations, Myrland said.
She said while some nonprofits have access to technology, others can’t afford it.
“In San Diego we tend to look at our nonprofit organizations as just charity but we haven’t really understood the economic role that they play and how many people they affect and what they contribute. If you have that strong part of the economy that is not working efficiently because they don’t have the tools, it slows down the economy.”
The local government’s willingness to get involved in shaping San Diego as a leading tech city is critical to the commission’s success, Myrland said.
By working with the city, county, the San Diego Economic Development Corp., the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the community, businesses and trade industry groups in town, the commission can help put San Diego on the national funding map, she said.
Nominated commission member Bill Geppert, vice president and general manager of Cox Communications in San Diego, agreed San Diego would get more funding if organizations worked together more.
“I think a lot of cities wish they were where we are in terms of infrastructure and potential,” he said. “There’s a lot of public sector money available through grants and foundations that we can use to make a difference. But none of that can happen unless we work together.”
Myrland said San Diego is often left out of the state and federal funding process for libraries, schools and nonprofit public access centers.
For example, 25 grants worth about $10.5 million have been awarded to California cities under the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Technology Opportunities Program since 1994. San Diego has only received one of those grants.
While the cities of Santa Ana, Oakland, San Francisco and La Quinta have received U.S. Department of Education Community Technology Center grants, San Diego hasn’t received any funding.
The San Diego Regional Technology Alliance, a local nonprofit organization that helps grow tech start-ups, receives one-third the state funding its sister organizations in Los Angeles and the Bay Area receive. AT & T; Corp. had designated $873,000 for the digital divide in Southern California and gave it all to Los Angeles, Myrland said.
Close The Digital Divide
City Councilman Juan Vargas , who, along with his chief of policy Ali Cooper, was instrumental in the Science and Technology Commission’s birth , hopes the group will help erase the digital divide, which has separated the technology haves and have-nots.
“We should have public access to the Internet at all of our school sites after school,” said Vargas, who would also like to see public computers in places like local police stations, fire stations, parks, trolley stations, the San Diego Convention Center and local stadiums. “We want to create users of technology and creators of technology.”
Vargas said the commission should be at the forefront in addressing the needs of local science and tech companies. He said one way to support the local tech industry is to offer companies tax incentives.
“These are high-paying jobs, and we want them to continue to grow these jobs here.”
Mayor Susan Golding, who has wanted to form an information technology commission here for a long time, said the city needs to do everything it can to support the panel’s efforts.
“I think they will be ambassadors for the city,” she said. “This will be a very high-level commission and I hope the subsequent leadership of the city will rely on the commission.”
‘Understanding From Government’
Golding also hopes the commission can shed some light on issues and problems local science and tech companies face.
“When a business wants to expand or relocate and they go to City Hall, they want to know someone cares that they are in the city. If they get lost in the lower end of bureaucracy, you’re going to lose them,” she said. “There has to be an understanding from government.”
Steven Engle, chairman and CEO of La Jolla Pharmaceutical and chairman of local biotech trade group Biocom, agreed that local government leaders must address industry issues, such as finding affordable manufacturing space.
“For biotech companies, when you get past the development phase, the question is how are you going to manufacture the drug?” said Engle, also nominated to sit on the Science and Technology Commission. “There are companies like Idec that have created great drugs but the problem has been financing what they’re trying to do.”
Another issue concerning Engle is sufficient local fresh water supplies.
“Companies, whether they’re biotech or high-tech, don’t want to run out of fresh water. We’re willing to do whatever’s necessary conservation-wise. But we’re constantly using water in our processes, whether we’re making antibodies or synthetic drugs.”
Engle said since the San Diego region does not have an abundance of fresh water available, he would support a reclamation program or guaranteed water supply program.
“When you make drugs and they’re being injected into people, they have to have the purest water. We can’t afford not to have any.”
One of Carrie Stone’s goals for the proposed commission is to raise San Diego’s science and tech status and to help knock down potential barriers for industry’s maturity.
She said the commission is long overdue.
“We want to make sure there isn’t prohibitive legislation passed that will restrict growth of local technology companies,” said Stone, venture partner with Enterprise Partners Venture Capital in La Jolla and a nominated commission member. “We want to make sure we work in a collaborative environment. We can be influential in helping local government support the right kind of growth for San Diego.”
And the Commission Nominees Are
Here are the nominated members of the city’s proposed Science and Technology Council:
– Steven Briggs, president and CEO of Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute, Inc.
– Tom Dillon, group senior vice president for Science Applications International Corp.
– Bill Geppert, vice president and general manager of Cox Communications.
– Steven Engle, president and CEO of La Jolla Pharmaceutical.
– Craig Irving, co-founder and chairman of ConfirmNet.
– David Hale, president of Women First Healthcare.
– Irwin Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Qualcomm Inc.
– Dave Nichols, regional president for Pacific Bell in San Diego.
– Dave J. Robino, vice chairman of Gateway.
– David Eccles, vice president of engineering for Sony Electronics Inc.
– Richard Jennings, vice president of Computer Sciences Corp.’s Pennant Alliance.
– Jon Cohen, director of multimedia for Venture Catalyst Inc.
– Susan Myrland, director of Interactive Media Management.
– Scott Corlett, president of NexGift.com.
– Carrie Stone, venture partner for Enterprise Partners Venture Capital.
Ex-officio members of the proposed Science and Technology Commission include Rear Adm. Kenneth Slaght, chief engineer for the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, Julie Meier Wright, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., Mary Walshok, dean of UCSD Extended Studies and Public Programs and interim director of UCSD Connect, and Dianah Neff, the deputy city manager and chief information officer for the city of San Diego’s Technology Services Administration.