SOMERS — Better workplaces, better living and better travel are among the goals of the Smart City, Smart Future initiative that Foxconn Technology Group and its higher-education partners announced Thursday morning at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Foxconn is committing $1 million over the next three years to this initiative, which will start this fall with the goal of tapping talent at public and private universities and colleges.
The Smart City, Smart Future initiative will include a competition, which will offer winners and award recipients prizes, financial awards, and technical support, in addition to a platform to attract investments to support them in bringing their ideas to life.
The competition will look for innovative ways and harness technology to enhance quality of life and working environments, inspire attractive streetscapes, transportation networks and living spaces, and promote sustainable economic and demographic growth.
More details are to be announced during a Smart Futures Summit planned for Aug. 7 at UW-Parkside.
Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives and president of FEWI Development Corp., announced the new initiative, and Foxconn’s $1 million commitment, Thursday at UW-Parkside’s Bedford Hall performing arts center.
He was joined by leaders from the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities — three key partners in the initiative. Those organizations represent a talent pipeline of more than 350,000 students, staff and faculty across Wisconsin.
Also speaking at the event were UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford, Gateway Technical College President and CEO Bryan Albrecht, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Sec. and CEO Mark Hogan and Marquette University President Michael Lovell.
“Wisconsin has excellent undergraduate and post-graduate talent,” Yeung stated in a news release that accompanied the event. “We want to work with our partners in higher education to develop various programs such as the Smart City, Smart Future initiative to foster, energize and retain talent in Wisconsin.”
“Wisconsin’s talented workforce with strong work ethic is one of the reasons that attracted Foxconn to invest in the state,” Yeung stated. “As a long-term partner to the Wisconsin community, we look forward to doing our part to nurture talent in strategic sectors that will support the state’s transformation into a global high-tech hub.”
Smart City, Smart Future will continue the collaboration that’s helped get the Foxconn project to this point, the speakers said. In this case it will be a collaboration between the company, private and public universities and technical colleges statewide.
“Why are we doing this?” Yeung asked rhetorically, “… we’re doing this because we want to seek out the best ideas for smart, connected systems and cities throughout Wisconsin.
The competition for great ideas will offer the $1 million, over three years, in prizes, awards, stipends and also financial support and investment, Yeung explained.
“Besides supporting participants,” he said, “we will provide a platform to turn ideas into solutions, to turn a business plan, perhaps, into businesses and products.”
Yeung continued, “The competition will look for ways, and harness technology, to enhance quality of life and working environments, inspire attractive landscapes, transportation networks and living quarters, and promote sustainable economic and demographic growth.”
Ideas for smart cities could vary throughout the state, Yeung said. “If you live in La Crosse, Eau Claire or Green Bay, your concept, your idea for what a smart city or smart community may or may not be the same as those who live in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Kenosha.”
Gathering brain power
“So, why are we doing this?” Yeung said. “We’re doing this because of talent.”
Yeung said the collaboration wants to tap into the thousands of young people with talent within higher education, focusing on that early concept about smart buildings, smart cities and smart communities.
“But we do not have a monopoly on good ideas — as my colleague Dr. Louis Woo has said,” Yeung said.
Woo is the special assistant to Foxconn founder, Chairman and CEO Terry Gou.
Yeung said Foxconn wants to turn good ideas that well up during the competition into better ways of living, working and traveling. “We want to foster, we want to energize, and we want to retain our talent in Wisconsin,” he said.
Foxconn believes a smart city “first and foremost must be about jobs,” Yeung said about economic development and about striking a balance between sustainable economic and demographic growth.
“We all ask the same question: Who’s going to pay for all of this?” Yeung said. “So, economic growth is important; sustainable growth is important.”
He also laid out several categories of the competition.
“They are not just for science majors, or engineers or technical geeks alone. Those are welcome. But we also would welcome liberal-arts majors,” Yueng said, drawing applause from many students in the audience. “For those of you who are writers, creative artists, musicians, we have a place for you.”
Yeung said Foxconn wants ideas that can come in different formats including on paper, posters, videos and photo essays, business plans and social-venture plans. The subjects could be “smart” buildings, citizenship, energy, governance, healthcare, infrastructure mobility and technology.
UW-Parkside’s Ford called the Smart City, Smart Future announcement “historic.”
“What should be truly transformational for students and faculty throughout Wisconsin,” Ford said, “is knowing that their ideas could be transformational in our communities for years and decades to come.”
Ford added, “Innovation is powerful — even more so when supported by emerging science and technology ecosystems the likes of which our state has not witnessed before.”
“Wisconsin’s talented workforce with strong work ethic is one of the reasons that attracted Foxconn to invest in the state.” Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives