A growing number of United States cities are expanding and touting their mobile infrastructure and mobile-oriented businesses to lure new businesses and workers.
In Atlanta, which seeks to become the world’s premier mobility hub, AT&T has opened its 5,000 square-foot Drive Studio for developing automotive connectivity. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Nashville and Louisville also have made investments or launched initiatives aimed at creating mobile ecosystems.
“It definitely helps to attract businesses and people if you have the mobile infrastructure and support of high-tech companies,” said Michael Zeto, director of corporate development, mergers and acquisitions, with AT&T Mobility, and co-chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s mobility task force.
“The high-tech companies will bring high-tech workers, and we’ve seen this trend in Atlanta,” he said. “With major companies like AT&T, Panasonic, NCR and others expanding their operations in recent years, we have seen an uptick in high-paying, high quality technology and mobility jobs.”
The perception is growing that mobile know-how can be a big asset in attracting foreign direct investment and a highly skilled workforce to a city.
Using mobile as a marketing angle continues a brand-building trend begun during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century, when Seattle faced off with Portland, OR and Victoria, British Columbia over which city was better suited to supply Alaska-bound gold prospectors with gear. But branding a destination is different from branding a product or a company.
The trick is to find basic truths that a city’s members and groups share: unique stories, habits, promises, smells, and dreams, according to Jason Little, creative director of Landor, who worked on the rebranding of Melbourne, Australia.
Strong city branding depends on more than just a mobile angle.
“Strong city brands are the result of a combination of factors,” said Inga Howell of London-based Saffron Brand Consultants. “Using any kind of technology, even if it is as broad as mobile, as a key differentiator for a place brand puts an expiry date on the differentiation it hopes to achieve.
“Other cities will be able to copy and improve technology eventually," she said. "A strong city brand will therefore have elements that aren't replicable – emotional factors such as Paris being the city of love or London being a 'creative' city.
“So, together with good ratings in business and leisure infrastructure, having a strong community of mobile-oriented businesses based on a solid mobile infrastructure should help attract foreign direct investment and a highly skilled workforce.”
In the years ahead, mobile payments and ticketing are identified as major opportunities for mobile operators to pursue in cities globally, according to a recent Accenture report, “Smart Mobile Cities: Opportunities for Mobile Operators to Deliver Intelligent Cities.”
Those services combine the largest benefit with the greatest ease of implementation, and are therefore most applicable opportunities for near-term, large-scale pilots, according to the report. The report encourages operators to persuade mayors and city governance bodies to help with the delivery of the needed infrastructure.
Atlanta is an example of a city that is meeting the mobile-branding challenge.
The city’s Mobility Task Force had a major presence at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past year talking about Atlanta’s strengths as a smart city for mobility. The event presented by the GSM Association – an association of mobile operators and related companies devoted to supporting the standardizing, deployment and promotion of the GSM mobile telephone system – is the largest signature event for the mobility industry, with more than 80,000 attendees representing all the major carriers from across the world.
In February Atlanta hosted the 2014 Rutberg Global Summit – a high-profile, invitation-only gathering of more than 350 senior executives involved in the mobile arena. For the first time, Atlanta was selected as a host city for the conference because of its strong leadership position in driving mobile technology and mobile usage.
Ralph de la Vega, AT&T Mobility president/CEO, at AT&T Foundry innovation center opening in Atlanta.
Atlanta will also play host to two major conferences back-to-back in September: the GSMA Mobile 360 conference and the second annual Mobility LIVE conference.
“It is the first time GSMA has hosted a Mobile 360 conference in North America, and GSMA selecting Atlanta as a host city validates the work that we are doing through the Mobile Atlanta initiative,” Mr. Zeto said. “Mobility LIVE brings together the top influencers and innovators in mobile from the Atlanta market and beyond – power players like The Weather Channel, AT&T Mobility, CNN, Delta Air Lines and AirWatch by VMware.”
Ripe for change
Atlanta was ripe for a mobile tweaking of its brand.
Home to the ninth largest U.S. metropolitan population, and the headquarters of such companies as Coca-Cola, Home Depot,
Delta Air Lines, AT&T Mobility, UPS and Newell-Rubbermaid, Georgia’s state capital was hard-hit by the 2008 U.S. financial crisis and subsequent recession which drove up unemployment and hammered the housing market.
With a robust information-technology sector and a wireless infrastructure expansion that began with the city’s hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics, a mobile push was a natural next step for the Southern city.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber identified mobile as a critical component of its five-year strategic plan to drive job growth and job creation, Mr. Zeto said.
“The Chamber really had the vision to pull the right people together to validate that Atlanta is indeed a global hub for mobility,” he said. “These early partners are still involved today – people like AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, AirWatch by VMware Chairman Alan Dabbiere, Turner Broadcasting CFO John Kampfe, Chris Walters with The Weather Channel COO Chris Walters, Coca-Cola Company’s Director of Global Mobile Strategies Tom Daly and Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson.
“All of these powerhouses working together have guided this initiative and believe in the future of mobility.”
Today, Atlanta is among the fastest growing metropolitan areas for mobility resources, ranked No. 3 in the U.S. and No. 9 in the world, according to May 2014 LinkedIn data.
While mobile is only one component of an effective city-branding plan,
the availability of mobile infrastructure and know-how will be increasingly important in an ever-mobile society. Cities will benefit from investing in bandwidth, experts say.
“Given that with 4G and 4G+ we are seeing speeds that allow users to make full use of data-heavy applications wherever they can get signal this will appeal certainly to creative and technology companies but mid-term also to all other industries including light and heavy industry,” said Saffron’s Ms. Howell.
“Cities such as Bucharest and Krakow in eastern Europe have been able to attract BPO outsourcing beyond the scale one might have expected,” she said. “Besides comparatively low wages for highly skilled workers and deregulation, it was bandwidth that was the main differentiator for these cities.
“Similarly, mobile bandwidth and other mobile infrastructure should help to differentiate those cities that choose to make targeted investments in this area. Naturally many other considerations will be made by companies or individuals when they choose where to invest or live besides mobile infrastructure.”
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.