Milwaukee

Companies, city collaborate as Milwaukee aspires for recognition among 'smart cities'

Milwaukee looks for new innovation, in an important aspiration of becoming a "smart city".
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The city of Milwaukee is already known as the Fresh Coast and aspires to lap up attention as a freshwater hub.

Now it’s looking for a new name to cement its reputation as an area open to innovation and attractive to millennials.

The aspiration is to join municipalities in the emerging trend of “smart cities.”

The city and a group of local companies have worked this year to develop a framework for Milwaukee to become more well-known in this regard.

Erick Shambarger, director of the Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office (Photo: City of Milwaukee)

“We’re not starting from scratch,” said Erick Shambarger, director of the city’s Environmental Collaboration Office.

The city is among 10 cities participating in a national project, dubbed Envision: America, designed to share best practices and insights regarding "smart cities."

In the new year, the city will work with the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium to set up a working group to try to move the initiative forward, said Alan Perlstein, the consortium’s executive director.

“We have a challenge before us, to create a strategy and work plan to make Milwaukee a smarter and more sustainable city, and come up with a public-private partnership to make that happen," Perlstein said during a smart cities technology forum last week at Discovery World.

The consortium conducts market research and funds academic projects that aim to expand business opportunities for one of Wisconsin’s most prominent industry clusters — companies involved in power, controls and energy.

The consortium’s focus so far has been on emerging market opportunities in the areas of energy efficiency and energy storage, as well as microgrids and distributed energy systems.

But interconnectedness and data analytics are areas that also play well to the strengths of local companies. That includes Rockwell Automation, the industrial automation company that is moving strategically, thanks to the Internet of Things, to create what it calls “the connected enterprise.”

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And the emergence of “smart cities” in the vocabulary of business buzzwords aligns with the new strategic and branding focus of the state’s largest company, Johnson Controls.

At its annual investor day event this month, Johnson Controls executives described the emergence of smart cities as a key megatrend on which the company hopes to make inroads and sales as it integrates its former building efficiency business with the building products of Tyco International.

Tyco and Johnson combined in a reverse merger completed in September that shifted Johnson’s corporate headquarters to Ireland.

Johnson Controls already is at work deploying projects in New York and London that are a sign of things to come, said President George Oliver during the analyst presentation:

In New York City, the 16-building, 26-acre Hudson Yards development is seeing Johnson Controls handle everything from fire and access control and video surveillance systems to energy management actions based on data analytics. Total revenue expected from this one project: $80 million, Oliver said.

In London, Johnson Controls has helped deploy an advanced traffic management and enforcement system that relies on thousands of video cameras across the city — "connecting video from thousands of devices into multiple control rooms" and automated traffic enforcement and journey time monitoring systems, Oliver said.

George Oliver, president and chief operating officer of Johnson Controls International (Photo: Johnson Controls)

"We've been working with the city of London for a long time, providing solutions for public safety as well as efficient traffic flow for over 13 million residents and visitors per day. Think about the opportunity we have across the globe,” Oliver said. “Everyone wants to be the leading smart city. We’ve already demonstrated this type of capability within London and have the opportunity to replicate this many times over.”

The business opportunity is significant, said Lisa Brown, Johnson Controls national director of strategy, last week. Revenue from technologies linked to smart cities is poised to nearly triple within 10 years, to $89 billion worldwide, she said.

Among the trends driving the shift are forecasts that 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, and that energy use in buildings accounts for one-third of global emissions linked to global climate change, Brown said. Investments in energy efficiency yield savings, both in money and in emissions.

Johnson Controls wants consumers to know about the term as well. A company that generates most of its sales to other businesses rather than consumers isn't typically thought of as one looking to invest in a naming-rights deal.

But the Glendale company did just that, investing in a lucrative naming-rights deal with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. As part of a major redevelopment in Canton, the company will showcase its building automation and related technologies and pitch itself as the “official smart city partner” of the hall of fame.

Technology, energy efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand, said Shambarger, of the city's Environmental Collaboration Office. Milwaukee’s goal, he said, is to use technology to support a world-class eco-city.

“We’re reimagining ourselves for the future to be more sustainable while at the same time improving people’s lives, and technology is one of the tools we need to take more advantage of.”

Examples of city efforts include the Better Buildings Challenge, a city-led initiative that also involves local businesses and building owners in an effort to trim energy use by 20% by 2020.

"Our goal is over three years to impact 200 buildings within the city of Milwaukee," he said.

In the area of transportation, examples include the Bublr Bikes bike-sharing system, the MKE PARK app that lets drivers pay for parking via their smartphones, as well an advanced parking guidance system that lets motorists know which downtown lots and ramps have spaces to park.

Other city innovations are being led by the information technology department, where software is simplifying and automating the process for obtaining permits and other software is being used to save fuel in city garbage trucks, Shambarger said.

The city looks forward to working with private-sector partners to embrace innovation, including key clusters like water technology and energy and water technologies.

“The future is just now before us,” said Perlstein, noting that technology has the potential to transform our lives for the better. But it’s not an impersonal force of the future that will just happen without us being involved — and without us thinking strategically about what we can make happen."

The MEC supports the people and work of Greater Milwaukee’s environmental community. We foster collaboration through shared space and resources, incubate new initiatives, and activate diverse champions for a clean and healthy environment.