St. Louis Regional Chamber looks full speed ahead
St. Louis, Missouri’s newest venture sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The city is vying to become the first in the world to host a hyperloop—a proposed mode of high-speed transportation, in which passengers travel in pods that levitate magnetically in systems of airless tubes.
It’s doing it through the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition in which metro regions from around the world propose prospective routes to house the first-ever hyperloop built by Virgin Hyperloop One, the Los Angeles-based company looking to commercialize hyperloops as a more efficient mode of transit.
At just over a half-hour, the planned route between St. Louis and Kansas City would shave roughly three-and-a-half hours off the current commute by car between the two major population centers.
“If we can link St. Louis and Kansas City into a single megaregion, we would have more than 5 million people in that workforce,” said Andrew Smith, vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “That would catapult us to the 9th largest economic development region in the country.”
To promote the proposal, the chamber teamed up with the University of Missouri System, the Kansas City Tech Council, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Columbia Innovation Center and others to form the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition. The coalition’s first move was to raise $1.5 million for an engineering feasibility study, which began in February and will run through the end of the summer.
“Right now, we are one of only two regions in the country that are at that stage—the other being Colorado,” said Smith, adding that, “Virgin Hyperloop One is now calling us one of the top three routes under consideration in the world.”
When the study wraps up in August, the coalition will have the benefit of a detailed roadmap, with details on costs, route alignment, regulatory framework and environmental impact. Following that, the focus will shift to onboarding additional partners with the capabilities to build the large-scale project.
“This is mostly a private-sector-led effort, and we’ve been very up-front about the fact that we aren’t using taxpayer money to fund it,” said Smith. “This is going to be more like building an airline or railroad than a public highway. We just have to find the right partners to build, own and operate it.”
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Staying ahead of Industry 4.0 v
The Quad Cities Chamber, which serves business in the five-city metro region of northwestern Illinois and southeastern Iowa, launched its Manufacturing Innovation Hub in 2015. The Hub, as it’s called, was designed to be a one-stop resource center for regional manufacturers to learn about the latest technologies impacting their industries.
“We’re in the start of what we call Industry 4.0,” said Mike Coughlin, executive director of the Manufacturing Innovation Hub. “With all the information available now, the question is, ‘how do our companies actually utilize that information in their systems to become more efficient?’”
The program helps businesses identify opportunities for technology adoption within companies’ systems and supply chains. It uses one-on-one assessments, during which specialists tour facilities and workshops, administer questionnaires and meet with management to discuss current and projected trends in high-tech and manufacturing.
“We have local experts who go in and provide assessments to organizations looking for opportunities to add efficiency,” said Coughlin. “When we’ve identified such an opportunity, we provide them with local companies that possess the skill set to assist them in capitalizing on the knowledge they’ve gained.”
In 2016, The Hub launched its Technology Roadmap, which outlined regional strengths and weaknesses in manufacturing, as well as emerging technologies like virtual reality, robotics and data analytics.
“We gathered all the data and locked about 40 people with different skill sets in a meeting room for a couple of days,” recounted Coughlin. “The roadmap helps companies understand what the technology is, how it will affect them, how to integrate it and who to contact for guidance.”
“The goal of the meetings and conversations was to create a real understanding of how these technologies will disrupt our industries,” he continued. “We’re engaged with our local colleges and universities, so we’re able to bring them an understanding of what the business community is saying with regards to needs and training.”
Coughlin says the benefits of the program will be felt by all industries in the region, as the knowledge shared filters back into the workplace, leading to increased efficiency and productivity for manufacturers and businesses.
“These conversation need to continue so we can raise awareness and foster a community-wide dialogue,” said Coughlin. “The synergies you get from building this ecosystem and having conversations like this will enhance the opportunities for all businesses in the Quad Cities region.”
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Harnessing the Internet of Things
Atlanta, home to the world’s busiest airport and some of the top global supply chain companies, has long been known as a transportation hub. Now, the city is leveraging its expertise to capitalize on the next big technology in logistics and connectedness: the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Internet of Things refers to the interconnection of devices, appliances and other items embedded with electronic sensors through the infrastructure of the internet. Its proponents predict that it will disrupt and revolutionize everything from manufacturing and supply chain management to healthcare and energy management.
“Infrastructure-wise, we’ve already got the framework here in Atlanta to be a leader in the mobile IoT space,” said Cynthia Curry, director of IoT at Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “We have strong ecosystems like cybersecurity and fintech that are going to be vital to the growth of IoT.”
In September, Metro Atlanta Chamber expanded the focus of its major councils to include the biggest regional voices in IoT, like GE, AT&T and The Weather Company. The new taskforce, IoT.Atl, will focus on expanding educational offerings for IoT-related skills, bridging relationships between small firms and large enterprises and attracting top IoT talent and investment to the Atlanta region.
“Mobile IoT is basically touching everything right now,” said Curry. “When you take IoT and all the data that’s going to be generated from the billions of connected devices and combine that with the open-source, open data mentality we’re moving toward, we’ll be able to gain much better insight on what’s happening in the world around us.”
Atlanta is already experimenting with IoT and big data. In 2016, the city partnered with Georgia Tech to construct the North Avenue Smart Corridor, which uses hundreds of embedded sensors to remotely monitor lighting and energy levels and help police catch criminals by tracking gunfire in high-crime areas.
“There are huge economic reasons why this will impact companies’ bottom lines and help them save millions of dollars,” said Curry, adding that, “What’s perhaps more important, though, are the huge health benefits we can realize from monitoring things like diabetes and heart disease through connected devices, if managed correctly.”
The IoT innovations being pursued in Atlanta will ultimately better the quality of life in the city for everyone,” says Curry.
“I think it’s going to work itself out of the tech community and into the citizens’ everyday lives,” she predicted. “I see Atlanta being one of the next smart cities of the future and people here being able to enjoy easier commutes, safer environments and better health care.”
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Self-driving cars driving the community forward
Few emerging technologies have the potential to be truly revolutionary. But if you ask the people of Howell, Michigan, the future looks promising for autonomous vehicle technology.
A recent event hosted by the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce provided expert speakers from Ford Motor Co. and the American Center for Mobility with an opportunity to discuss the future of self-driving vehicles and how the Howell community can best prepare for its impending arrival.
“There are so many businesses here that support the auto industry, from interior and exterior components to engine parts,” says Jessica Wicks, communications manager at the chamber of commerce.
Because of its proximity – about an hour’s drive – to Ford headquarters in Detroit and its share of automotive support industry manufacturers, Howell stands to gain from the mainstream adoption of autonomous vehicles.
Wicks, a self-admitted car-lover, says that Michigan’s deep love for cars and trucks aside, “The idea of not driving a car had always kind of freaked us out.”
The speakers from Ford and American Center for Mobility wanted to address apprehension about the new technology and assure event attendees – mostly business executives and elected leaders – that self-driving cars and trucks could yield huge benefits for businesses, people and the community at large.
An analogy shared by a panelist at the event, and passed along by Wicks, explains how the emerging technology could benefit all of us. “Your kids go to school, let’s say they leave the house at 7:15 a.m. A self-driving car takes the kids to school and comes back to the house to take you to work.” Wicks says, “That same car could drop you off at the front door at work, then go park or refuel. The car is working the whole time you’re working, which makes life easier.”
As for the business case for self-driving vehicles, the concept is simple. The new technology has the potential to provide huge efficiency gains to trade and global supply chains. Michigan companies, already experienced in the various parts of vehicle manufacturing, have the expertise and know-how to advance the technology.
And the chamber’s motive for hosting the event is crystal clear, too. “We need new talent. We need engineers. And we need forward thinkers who are comfortable with this concept,” said Wicks. “We know it’s coming, so it’s time to get comfortable with it and determine how to best seize the opportunities that new technology presents.”