Walla Walla in running for Intelligent Community award

The award recognizes cities that use broadband to improve economic and social opportunities.

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Walla Walla has made the cut of the world’s Smart21 Communities of 2014 by the Canton, Ohio, and New York-based Intelligent Community Forum.

The designation puts Walla Walla in the running for the organization’s top award, Intelligent Community of the Year, an honor that will be announced next June.

The award recognizes communities that use Internet broadband services and other information and computer technology to improve economic and social opportunities for their regions.

The topic is also the subject of a daylong conference today at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center and coordinated by the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The free workshop explains the power of broadband to level the playing field for rural cities and parishes, giving community leaders the tools to tackle social, cultural and political barriers, according to a description.

The visit today by Intelligent Community Forum co-founder Robert Bell marks a return to the community for the organization.

Earlier this year, fellow co-founder Lou Zacharilla was a keynote speaker at the Chamber’s business education conference in April.

Chamber Chief Executive Officer David Woolson said Walla Walla made the Smart21 list from an original selection of about 350 applicants from across the globe.

The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that explores how communities can move into the 21st century with success. Those that are doing so all have five things in common: broadband technology, a knowledge workforce, innovation, digital inclusion, and marketing and advocacy.

Walla Walla was in the company of Columbus, Ohio; Hsinchu City, Taiwan; Toronto, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; Nairobi County, Kenya; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Walla Walla wasn’t, however, the smallest town to make the list. Mitchell, S.D., population 15,000, also made the cut.

In a prepared statement, Zacharilla said the two communities have worked to capture their traditional cultures and harness them with an overlay of technology.

The cultural aspect was a new component in judging this year and went with the Intelligent Community Forum’s theme of “Community as Canvas.”

The development of the wine industry in Walla Walla and its job creation particularly caught the eyes of judges, said Zacharilla, who was not on the panel. He said the quality of life celebrated here has leveraged wine, food and attractions for up-and-comers.

“It is cultural ‘mining’ to produce economic activity and again it has helped push (Walla Walla) up into the Smart21,” he said.

The development of a fiber-optic backbone to upgrade the community’s broadband infrastructure and continued exploration in extending it to attract new business sectors was also touted.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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