Written by Steve Lord, Aurora Beacon-News. April 5, 2018. Aurora looking to become 'regional tech leader'
Michael Pegues, city of Aurora chief information officer, said his aim for the future of the city is clear.
"Making the city of Aurora a regional tech leader," he said.
The city this year will see RiverEdge Park, the outdoor entertainment venue and park on North Broadway, become a "smart park" — crews have been expanding the city's fiber optic network, Onlight Aurora, throughout the venue.
The infrastructure at the park will be better integrated through technology, which will allow officials to keep better track of crowds, have better security, analyze the environmental situation at all times, keep track of parking lots – both from a security angle and from being able to tell where parking spots are available – have better emergency response and use energy and other resources more efficiently, Pegues said.
He said the "smart park" will be a better way to get people into Aurora and see what the city has to offer, as well as a way to develop technology initiatives throughout the city.
"I call it a gateway," he said.
Aurora is a finalist to be named a "smart city" by the Smart Cities Coalition in Washington, D.C.
But even if it doesn't get that designation this year, city officials are determined to turn Aurora into a technology hub for years to come. Pegues said that effort starts with the city's fiber optic network, and extends through the entire city operation and into the community.
"Fiber is the fourth utility," he said. "The fiber optic network is an asset that we have. It's a smart investment that we use less than 3 percent of."
The city has started with its own operation, using its technology department to develop programs to read water meters, to help the city's financial management and to better communicate in the area of public safety.
This year, the city is developing a system for better record-keeping and communication between all the development-related departments, as well as with the development community.
But the "smart park" work, as well as the smart city initiative altogether, also has a money-making aspect for the city. At RiverEdge Park, kiosks will give the city a chance to make money from advertising, as well as communicate quickly to the public.
"I want to look at using our assets to generate revenue," Pegues said. "If we set this smart city up, we could share with Naperville, North Aurora. We can say, hey, township, you can use our system."
Eventually, the fiber optic network would sell to business institutions and possible even to households.
Mayor Richard Irvin said the effect of an up-to-date technology department at the city has already shown that it can help with the city's financial health. In his State of the City address this week, Irvin praised the IT department under Pegues with saving $2.3 million through renegotiating license agreements and other things.
A Downers Grove-based trade association, CompTIA, which monitors technology business, said in a recent report that the Chicago metropolitan area added more than 4,000 technology jobs in 2017.
It was a 1.4 percent increase from 2016, ranking Chicago 13th among major metropolitan areas in job growth in the tech sector.
Aurora is positioning itself as sort of a tech hub in the region. It already has activity near the CyrusOne data center at Eola and Diehl Roads, and that includes the new headquarters for Scientel Solutions Inc., which will be built across from CyrusOne this year.
This past week, Irvin and Pegues attended the 2018 Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in Kansas City at which they discussed and learned about "Smart City" best practices.
For the future, Pegues is planning to set up a cyber security team for the city that could also be available to look at cyber security issues throughout the city. He also plans to make it possible for people to file Freedom of Information Act requests online, and even directly access city data that one might be seeking through FOIA online.
The city is looking at public-private partnerships, and possibly extending fiber optic and smart technology to the Aurora Municipal Airport.
The effort is in the early stages, officials said.
"This is a phased project, and we're at phase zero," Pegues said.