The following is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the Data Smart City Solutions section of the website for the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. It is reprinted with permission and lightly edited only for style and brevity.
The new digital economy is coming, and Louis Stewart, chief innovation officer (CINO) for the city of Sacramento, wants to make sure everyone in his city is ready to ride this new workforce wave. As the innovation chief, he focuses on innovations that make the whole city a living laboratory, but he doesn’t just bring in “tech for tech’s sake.” Stewart wants to spark community imagination about what’s possible and what’s coming so everyone can get on board — and even get ahead of the city with original innovations.
As Sacramento’s inaugural CINO in Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Stewart has the freedom to shape the role he assumed in 2017. Influenced by his seven years as the Deputy Director for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the California Office of Business and Economic Development, Stewart focuses externally on the larger Sacramento community. He wants to connect the dots among startup businesses, data-driven government, and the city’s educational landscape. Steinberg and City Manager Howard Chen, whom Stewart has worked under since 2018, are supportive of Stewart shifting the city’s innovation mindset outward and looking for opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.
One of Stewart’s main achievements is the Sacramento Urban Technology Lab (SUTL), which he developed and launched as an innovations-based economic development strategy. SUTL is a framework through which the whole city can be seen as a demonstration area; through the lab, new technologies are piloted around Sacramento. Workforce Development is one of the lab’s seven focus sectors, along with Mobility, Cleantech and Sustainability, Life Sciences and Health IT, Food Systems, Internet of Things and Cybersecurity, and Government Policy and Civic Tech. However, Stewart says that workforce is related to all of those other verticals. It is especially cross-cutting with industries like health sciences and cybersecurity, and Stewart works to align the SUTL framework with the city’s evolving inclusive growth strategy. SUTL is the framework that enables the whole city to be a demonstration area for innovation, by working across government, academia, and industry.
Through its Demonstration Partnership Policy (DPP), enacted in April 2017, the Lab incubates collaborative relationships. The main goal of the DPP is to bring “new and innovative solutions to enhance customer service, improve City operations and infrastructure, and support the quality of life in a sustainable manner.” Partner businesses are able to test their innovations and showcase them for potential city procurement, but they need to share the city’s cross-sector focus. Partner projects must have demonstrated direct public benefits, especially for underserved populations. Equity is a key piece of the partnership, and there are specific metrics that require potential business partners “to reduce disparities and build equity in the city’s diverse communities.” If a business meets the city’s requirements, it is allowed to pilot projects with SUTL in Sacramento, using the city as a demo site for a new technology or innovation.
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