Why expert thinks Newark is best ‘smart city’ in the state

Everybody wants to live in a smarter city — but how do cities in New Jersey achieve this goal?

Amy McIlvaine, business development manager at AT&T Smart Cities, said municipal leaders might be wise to look West for advice.

“One of the places I can speak directly about is the city of San Diego, which is currently going through the world’s largest smart city deployment right now, starting with a LED-conversion pilot with lighting controls that will result in real dollar savings,” McIlvaine said. “In neighborhoods in which it was applicable, they were able to leverage community development (grants); they did some financing with a private company; and they also used some direct dollars from the city budget.

“Another very popular approach is public-private partnerships, and a different approach that we are getting deeper into is working directly with utilities, looking for ways to both preserve existing and find new revenues as technologies become more efficient.”

McIlvaine joined more than a dozen speakers in sharing her ideas at the Smart Cities Conference during Tech Day at Rutgers University on Thursday, hosted by the New Jersey Tech Council.

She went on to say that Newark currently is doing the best job in the state when it comes to innovation.

“I have worked with the city of Newark for many years, and they have done a phenomenal job of reinventing that city and have been making all of the right decisions to really embrace all the values and benefits that a smart city transformation can offer,” McIlvaine said.

Brian Sabina, senior vice president of economic transformation at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said Newark’s commitment to innovation is indicative of the entire state’s progress.

“New Jersey actually has a whole bunch of different pockets of innovation and urban flavors, and over the last decade, our programs have not addressed that enough,” he said. “Each community’s needs are different — some need to invest in infrastructure; some need to build new physical spaces and innovations hubs; and some need to conduct research projects.

“So, the NJEDA recently put out a call for proposals in which to earn $100,000 planning grants. We said, you as municipalities can apply if you partner with an institution of higher education and find one or two other strategic partners.”

The NJEDA handed out nine grants for a total investment of $900,000 into the state.

“I really do think the approach of bringing together our academic institutions, municipalities, and companies as strategic partners to think through these problems and create solutions is important, and we’re going to make all of those plans public, so we can start to learn from each other,” he said.

It is just one part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s approach to try to drive innovation down into local communities, Sabina added.

“We are shifting from focusing solely on finance to more comprehensive economic development,” he said. “We need to think about the workforce, the regulatory environment, and the infrastructure that supports the industry, because if we want to see an industry grow, we need to think beyond just capital.”