Surg-a-Cuse! “What About Us?” Microsoft responds to questions about Smart Cities Technology Hub and the Urban Community

What’s in this for the average Syracuse resident? “What about us?”

“This starts with the youth of Syracuse, where we will offer more than 30 programs to help students build their digital aptitude…” -Microsoft

The goal is to more rapidly advance the Syracuse Surge, the community’s strategy of inclusive growth in the New Economy

Last week, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon and Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies aka iSchool, announced a digital alliance with Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft is choosing Syracuse to be home to its first Smart Cities technology hub in the Northeast and third in the United States. “The commitment is a key component of an expansive partnership being planned between the global technology company, the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County, and Syracuse University’s iSchool” According to the Memorandum of Understanding.

It became clear early after the last mayoral election that Syracuse was going to become a different city, now led by Independent Mayor Ben Walsh, the “Syracuse Surge” was announced. An initiative that promised to transform our community as it grappled with twin decisions of what to do with Interstate 81 and the plight of those living in public housing that’s been in place since 1938.

Syracuse’s new alliance builds on the previously announced Syracuse Surge, an unprecedented series of investments in tech infrastructure that will position Syracuse as one of America’s “smartest” cities and a leader in the New Economy.

In April of 2019, The Walsh Administration while accepting The JP Morgan Chase AdvancingCities Challenge Grant stated, “While Surge will impact all neighborhoods within the City of Syracuse, initial investments will target the Southside neighborhood, adjacent to Syracuse’s Downtown district. “

The Microsoft partnership adds momentum to these previously announced plans and financial investments for the Syracuse Surge, which has certainly gained momentum.

The “New Syracuse” featuring; Southside Campus for a New Economy, New York Center for Smart Cities and Center City Innovation Hub.

Mayor Ben Walsh

“It’s a win for the city of Syracuse, it’s a win for Syracuse Surge, and it’s really a validation that the Surge strategy is working.” Said Mayor Ben Walsh,” What we’re particularly excited about, look at what Microsoft is putting on the table and you look at some of our recent wins. The JPMorgan Chase Advancing cities grant, the JMA Wireless investment; in all of these cases not only are they making an investment in the city of Syracuse, but they’re making a commitment to the inclusive approach in which we are seeking these investments. When you look at what Microsoft is bringing to the table a lot of it is educational and workforce training opportunities, teaching digital literacy to young people in our community. The value of having those corporate brands investing in the city is significant solely from an economic development perspective. But when you look at the specific ways in which they’re investing; I think it speaks to a much more exciting story focused on inclusion and ensuring that everyone is going to benefit from these investments, not just a select few.”

J. Ryan McMahon II County Executive

Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon II said, “The city of Syracuse, specifically downtown and its growing neighborhoods are the economic engine for the region.  When you look at the plan that was put forward. There are different parts of the plan that are being executed. There are partners who are working on a day to day effort to implement the Surge strategy. Not just in the city of Syracuse, but through the region, are seeing success, you see the momentum growing. To have an independent validation like Microsoft coming in and making us their northeast hub, their flagship hub, the way that they’ve made Houston and Louisville, is a tremendous win for the entire community. It’s going to create opportunities for our county residents, our Central New York residents to have a world class partner that has resources more than most. As important is the intentional way that this partnership’s being built out. It’s going to be in the surge footprint. Just look at the different wins we’ve had together as a community. I think it’s going to build neighborhood confidence, that everybody is working to have inclusive economic growth for every resident, in every neighborhood in this region.”

This announced partnership, just as with any newly announced initiative there are questions that arise regarding those who’ve traditionally been left out of the equation.

Microsoft responds to questions/concerns “What about us?”

Having additional questions, I reached out to Microsoft regarding this collaboration and what does it mean to the average citizen. How does the program impact the residents of Syracuse? (Including training, support, improved services, etc.) How does this program mitigate the digital divide in Syracuse?

According to Jamie Harper, VP of Education for Microsoft  “The digital and STEM skills gap cannot be fixed by targeting one demographic, which is why we are working across the city, county and both K-12 and higher education schools to develop a program that supports all residents.”

Harper continues, “This starts with the youth of Syracuse, where we will offer more than 30 programs to help students build their digital aptitude and envision career pathways in STEM, specifically focusing on young women and minorities who are severely underrepresented in STEM careers, and on military children who move frequently and often lack consistency in their digital and STEM skill development. We’ll offer workshops, camps and career days to reach these students where they are and show how them how creative, cutting edge and lucrative STEM careers can be to inspire them

In higher education, this collaboration will provide a living lab for Syracuse University students which will help to develop students’ 21st-century skills and increase their employability upon graduation. And we’re thrilled to support plans for the first-ever county-wide STEAM high school – slated to open next year.

To promote digital literacy amongst the adult population of the city, we will be working closely with the state of New York to train government and company leaders at scale to implement Microsoft tools like Office365 more effectively with their employees.”

Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies has leading role in digital transformation

According to Arthur P. Thomas, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, the Microsoft digital partnership will, “Bring together, formally a number of partners who are dealing with digital transformation of urban regions so that the partners can commit the resources that they need to be able to have an effect on the region. That’s one of the biggest reasons for forming a partnership is that we coordinate activities so that we’re not overlapping, duplicating effort. Gives each organization the legitimacy to invest resources and take time to be able to carve out the functions properly. In the case of somebody like Microsoft for example, the formal arrangement among the partners allows Microsoft to dedicate some significant resources at no charge to these partners, and that I think is of significant benefit for all of us all as well.”

When asked to explain this partnership to the average person Dean Thomas continues, “Most of what Microsoft has in store for this initiative is ways in which information technology can be leveraged with a number of different constituencies in regions. They have technologies that will assist in the better understanding of what’s going on in a given city or in a given region. They have technologies which will accelerate learning and will accommodate people of varying learning styles and varying learning capabilities. They have technologies that can unite people in approaches that will accelerate their ability to work together towards common goals. They’ll also be able to leverage technology to improve business function of, for example the city or the university and make sure resources that are spent in those areas are the most effectively used. And through that whole process we can obtain a vision of the future that would allow the opportunity for people to engage more in the city and in the region generally, engage more with each other. And also, to be able to better themselves because of the opportunities to engage more with education, business, government and so forth.”

Microsoft to be on Southside Campus for a New Economy

Syracuse Surge Proposed by Mayor Walsh in 2019 State of the City.

To be located in the Southside Campus, the collaboration is significant to the Syracuse community because Microsoft will work with the additional partners across the region to deliver a broad curriculum of technology and digital literacy programs to local non-profits, community centers, educational institutions, employment and workforce development organizations, and businesses.

The goal is to more rapidly advance the Syracuse Surge, the community’s strategy of inclusive growth in the New Economy. The following is the text of the Memorandum of Understanding between entities.

Memorandum of Understanding

As part of this Memorandum of Understanding Microsoft company will:

  • Create a location in the Southside Campus for the New Economy geared toward early-stage start-ups and people who want to build a company
  • Partner with education providers and community organizations on digital literacy and workforce training, including DigiCampz and DigiGirlz programs targeted at minorities and women in technology
  • Sponsor public events, including an “Innovation Summit” before June 30, 2020, bringing together national and local expertise to envision a bold future for Syracuse
  • Support the development and research in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to grow long-term opportunities for residents and place Syracuse on the leading edge of emerging technologies
  • Support the continued development of entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem to help establish / grow new start-ups and jobs
  • Support corporate digital transformation efforts for local businesses with technical training and access to subject matter experts and leading practices to help grow local industries
  • Support the development of a digital ethics policy and an AI strategy for the City to ensure responsible deployment of new technologies

The City, County and Syracuse University will provide local leadership to the partnership and will actively recruit other institutions and organizations to partner in the programs.

With the announcement of the digital alliance with Microsoft, you can begin to connect the initiatives that are planned to soon begin.

There are so many elements to this comprehensive digital alliance with City of Syracuse, Onondaga County and the Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, that it will take a while to hash out the details. There are Smart Cities Hubs in other parts of the country, these partnerships are specific to their location, therefore this alliance is tailored to Syracuse.

Syracuse History has always been about transformation, “Smart Cities” is the new Erie Canal 

Downtown Syracuse at its peak.

Syracuse was once known as an Erie Canal town, grew in prominence as goods shipped west wound their way through the city. Supplying Salt to the world earning the nickname “The Salt City”.

As one era closed, another opened as Syracuse emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse; Crouse-Hinds and Carrier Corporations were headquartered here. And the city grew, by 1960 Syracuse had 212,000 residents.

However, by the 1990’s as with most cities especially in the northeast, thousands of manufacturing jobs left the area, forcing local leaders to search for innovation to stem the tide of job losses.

LED Technology Street lights with camera and 5G WiFi technology..

As a “Smart City” Syracuse could once again take its place as an innovator, a national leader, this time in digital transformation. Syracuse will become the first city in New York State to have 5G technology via an agreement with Verizon. The city’s street lights, and other services are in the process of being transformed thanks to investments in new technology. Becoming a Microsoft Smart Cities Technology Hub only accelerates this transformation.

Smart Cities Hubs primarily focus on Artificial Intelligence, full lifecycle education, empowering our young people as Microsoft will be in our schools K-12 and beyond. Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies is already a place where students engage in these projects with no cost to the companies involved. Smart Cities Hub participants will be on the cutting edge of new technologies and what’s even more important the efficiencies of their use.

Making a commitment to become a Smart City are beginning to pay off for Syracuse. This Microsoft digital alliance has the ability to transform our region to an economy of the future. Corporations may decide to locate here because of this unique collaboration. The opportunities for leveraging this relationship are boundless.

There’s still excitement emanating from both Syracuse City Hall and the Onondaga County Executive’s Office, why not, finally landed a big one.


Editor’s note: This is an update of the original story from Wednesday, October 30th 2019