As big cities push back on innovation and tech, are small cities taking advantage?

Small cities around the country seem to all label themselves as new tech hubs. But do they embrace emerging tech opportunities?


America's biggest and most famous cities are often seen as the breeding grounds of technology, though most of them still fail to truly embrace the innovation and opportunity springing up all around them.

I was listening to a Wall Street Journal podcast last week where the host and her guest discussed the infant technology of last-leg delivery robots. The podcast, which also highlighted the societal hurdles of robots rushing up and down sidewalks, wrapped with mentioning the growing regulatory pushback coming from governments in cities where tech firms are eager to try out their new innovations. Another article- found here- discussed the fascinating potential for the technology but couldn't wrap without mentioning San Francisco's well-publicized robot ban and new efforts by lawmakers in Washington to heavily restrict and hamper the use of delivery robots statewide. Other cities and states are considering similar restrictions; when combined with examples such as New York's recent running-off of Amazon and big-city pushback on autonomous vehicles there's a lot of room for small cities to step in.

This new window for smaller cities could be propped open by their ostensibly more flexible and smaller bureaucracies and an eagerness to shoulder the mantle of a 'tech hub'. By simply creating a welcoming environment- not just with quality of life improvements, as many cities focus on, but with favorable regulatory environments- small cities can start to eat away at the advantages of competing larger cities and begin enlarging their chunk of the economic pie. We could now truly begin to make headway against America's already established tech clusters.

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I think back to when I was a child in one of these small rural cities. Back then, the area had a reputation of being a tough and discerning market, though one that was open to new ideas and new products. Life has changed since 20-some years ago, but that same spirit could be embraced and promoted not just here in southern Virginia, but in smaller cities around the country. What's stopping us from being the technological testing bed for the United States?

It would be a grand thing to see our government councils, economic developers, tourism organizations, and workforce boards start to embrace our potential as a tech proving ground. We've already got a well established enthusiasm for tech. We've already got an incredible inventory of nearby resources like Virginia Tech and the multitude of colleges, hospital networks, and eager entrepreneurs looking for opportunity. Opening ourselves up as America's Tech Lab would be a low-risk, low-cost venture.

To make matters even simpler, the biggest issues are purely local, and purely bureaucratic. All we need to do is proactively and positively connect with, embrace, and protect the innovators and we're off to the races.