WINTER HAVEN — Some 16 local residents will give their best efforts to make Winter Haven a smarter city.
They will serve on the newly formed Smart City Advisory Committee, which the Winter Haven City Commission approved at its Monday evening meeting.
Commissioners also approved 14 members of the 16-person panel with an at-large seat and a designated representative from Florida Polytechnic University to be added later.
The panel will advise Smart City Officer Hiep Nguyen, who oversees Winter Haven's information technology department.
“A smart city is a city that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare,” City Manager Mike Herr told the commission. “The city is committed to using the appropriate technologies to keep our community safe, our residents engaged, the economy growing and the quality of life improving.”
Nguyen told The Ledger he expects the committee to hold its first meeting soon, but he declined to offer a specific time frame.
One of the first tasks he will ask the committee to undertake is adopt a mission statement, Nguyen said.
The statement should focus not on technology but helping Winter Haven residents, he added.
“We want to make it people-centric,” he said. “What makes up a smart city is not the technology but the people.”
In that light, one of the challenges the advisory committee might take up is addressing the “digital divide,” or making technology available to everyone, not just higher income households, Nguyen added.
“To me, it's not the projects we want to adopt but who we want to include, who we want to engage,” he said.
Other issues that might come before the committee are how to improve government services and boosting economic development, Nguyen said.
The committee should also play a role in attracting younger, entrepreneurial people to the city, said committee member Rick Montney, founder and CEO of ProPak Software LLC in Winter Haven, which specializes in agricultural technology.
For example, he said, Winter Haven High School has a robotics program that is “off the charts,” having won awards in major academic competitions, he said.
The committee could also look at how it could help advance the introduction of 5G technology to the city, Montney said.
The 5G technology represents a major advancement in the speed and capacity of wireless communication for smartphones and other computer applications, such as driverless cars and robotics.
“I think it's not only building the future city of Winter Haven, but the committee will create more efficiency in public services,” Montney said.
The committee will likely play a role in overseeing the city government's continuing expansion of its fiber optic cable network, Nguyen and Montney agreed.
Until the end of 2015, the city had installed about five miles of underground cable during the previous 17 years, according to Nguyen.
By the end of this year, the city will have 50 miles of underground fiber optic cable, including 30 miles installed recently on U.S. 27, the corridor expected to contain the most future growth, Nguyen said.
The city plans to lease the cable network to private and public organizations. Current leases generate an annual income of $130,000.
Kevin Bouffard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7591.