Adrian Perkins, the mayor of Shreveport, La., is turning ideas into action to fulfill his vision for a smart city.
At the virtual “Roadmap to Modernization” program hosted by Nextgov, Defense One and Route Fifty on Dec. 16, Perkins recalled his successful 2018 election campaign where he centered his platform on making smart cities a reality in his hometown.
He followed up on the campaign pledge by appointing the city’s first chief technology officer, hiring a data scientist, and developing partnerships to create training and job opportunities for the city’s tech talent – all with the aim to use technology to improve the lives of Shreveport residents.
Alisha Powell Gillis, senior editor for Route Fifty, introduced and asked Mayor Perkins, “Why did you decided to center your campaign around technology? And why do you think technology should be central to your agenda, and how it will serve the people of Shreveport?”
Perkins explained that his approach was far more than just jumping on the smart city bandwagon.
“I did a lot of studying of cities and technology prior to running for office,” he said. “And one of the reasons why I wanted to run – on top of just serving the citizens of Shreveport – was because I saw how cities around the country were leveraging technology to improve the quality of life for citizens. I knew that a lot of those ideas, a lot of those practices were not taking place in my hometown.”
Perkins said he realized that those practices could help Shreveport, the third largest city in Louisiana.
“It’s more imperative for cities with fewer resources than the bigger coastal cities for us to utilize technology as a multiplying effect with our resources,” he said. “So that’s the reason why it was so critical for me to make sure that technology undergirded all my other initiatives.”
The most critical initiatives for his administration are public safety and economic development, and so far it’s been working out well in improving the quality of life for Shreveport citizens, but also raising awareness about technology throughout the city.
Public Safety Improvements
Under Perkins’ leadership, the city just stood up a Real Time Crime center – which employs centralized technology used by law enforcement and first responders – in Shreveport. “And we did something that government typically doesn’t do – we actually did it under budget, and we did it ahead of schedule. That does not happen often,” Perkins said.
The price tag for the technology was just a couple hundred thousand dollars. “In most municipalities, they spend millions of dollars to get a center like ours stood up. So that’s something that we’re proud of,” he said.
Perkins also talked about other partnerships between his chief technology officer and police and fire departments, including bringing Shreveport’s police officers and firefighters on to FirstNet, the nationwide, wireless communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders.
When it comes to economic development, Perkins said another major initiative involves narrowing the digital divide.
“The more residents that have access to affordable, reliable internet, the more opportunities there are for jobs,” he said. “Right now, a lot of us are still teleworking in the middle of a pandemic. So that gives a lot of our citizens opportunities to continue work and contribute to our workforce,” Perkins said, adding he’s well aware how critical it is to have every able-bodied citizen working in Shreveport’s economy in order to keep it going. “And technology has allowed us to do that.”
Gillis asked Perkins for his advice to local communities on tackling the broadband availability issue, and the mayor broke it down into several stages.
“The first stage in order to close the digital divide, you have to know where that divide exists. In our city, our divide is an East-West divide as our Interstate 49 cuts right through the city going north-south and separates our city into East-West sectors,” Perkins said.
Next, the city has to determine demand, and do more than just look at a publicly available map or even ones from local carriers. It takes some real ingenuity, he said. “We also did our own research where we sent out garbage trucks to ping neighborhoods to see where the actual internet connections were in neighborhoods. So we had a very, very thorough map of where the digital divide is located,” he explained.
Perkins said that once you know what and where your divide is, you can then go into those areas that need access. “You can go in and start to make investments and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re in phase two right now after mapping the divide. We’re going in and making investments into those areas so that they can have access to a reliable and affordable internet in those areas.”
He said those investments will help out the students that are still doing school remotely, as well as the workforce still working remotely as well. “Right now, we know we have a lot of work to do. But we’re happy that we know what that map is, and we’re happy that we’re making millions of dollars in investment whereas in the past and we were relying only on the private sector.”
Perkins fielded a final question similar to one that state and local governments across the country are asking – how is Shreveport planning to leverage Federal stimulus funds to bolster the city’s technology services and operations?
In addition to the broadband work for residents in the city, Perkins also described broadband investments into hotspots run out of the city’s numerous recreational centers. “This affects some of our most deprived internet neighborhoods on the west side of the city. So that’s going to actually connect thousands and thousands of our citizens,” he said.
Coding Boot Camp
Perkins also spoke about a third initiative, his CodeSHV software development boot camp. “SHV is our airport code here in Shreveport, it’s a 16-week coding bootcamp,” he said. “We’ve pushed over 100 citizens through and we’re going to continue to push other citizens through as well that are interested in coding and tech jobs, so that we can expand the base of our labor market here with people who are interested in those STEM jobs that are in a sector that’s growing by the day.”
Mayor Perkins, the former Army captain and West Point graduate, has indeed been a busy man.