Nov 03 2020

Mayors Prioritize Investments in Tech Amid Pandemic

A U.S. Conference of Mayors survey finds that city leaders see investments in networking technology such as sensors to ensure safety and health in buildings as key priorities.

State and local government budgets have been under pressure since the coronavirus

pandemic arrived in the U.S., as declining sales and income taxes led to larger deficits. Now a clearer picture of those budget gaps has emerged. According to a September report from the Brookings Institution, state and local government revenues are expected to decline by $155 billion in 2020, $167 billion in 2021 and $145 billion in 2022 — roughly 5.5 percent, 5.7 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.

With that economic pressure as a backdrop, U.S. mayors see investments in technology and city infrastructure as key pathways to recovery, according to a recent survey.

While nearly all U.S. mayors (94 percent) agree that their city’s economic recovery depends on containing and preventing community spread of the coronavirus, they also see investing in infrastructure to generate jobs and economic growth as their immediate (69 percent) and long-term (71 percent) priority.

That’s according to “Infrastructure, Technology and Mayors’ Priorities for Confronting a Health, Economic and Societal Crisis,” a U.S. Conference of Mayors study conducted in partnership with Siemens USA by The Harris Poll and released in mid-September. The study, which surveyed 124 mayors of U.S. cities with a population size of 30,000 or more, also found that the mayors are prioritizing investments in technology as a way to ease the recovery.

“Investment in buildings/facilities [are] still seen as necessary despite the move to online and virtual services,” the report says. “Coupled with a focus on technology and sense of urgency to implement smart infrastructure initiatives to help curb the spread of the virus, reimagining commercial building use will be a priority for many.”

How Tech Can Help Lead Cities Back to Recovery

The shift to remote work in many cities has scrambled investment priorities. Compared with the beginning of the year, mayors have significantly accelerated many of their priorities around improving city services and economic development, with 90 percent of respondents saying that they are expanding the delivery of virtual or online city services.

According to the survey, the vast majority of mayors (84 percent) think that as residents continue to work remotely, it is more important to dedicate financial resources to technologies such as 5G wireless networks and universal Wi-Fi rather than to commercial buildings.

However, the survey also found that 9 in 10 mayors agree that “investment in technology to reimagine, rework, change, or adapt how commercial buildings are being used is necessary for the future of their city (97 percent) and that investment in buildings/facilities is still necessary for their city despite some tasks being conducted online during the COVID-19 pandemic (94 percent).”

Notably, 89 percent of respondents say that cities need to implement smart technologies “to help employees return to work with confidence.” Those include technologies that “connect systems and buildings to enable automated energy distribution, contactless body temperature measurement, improved air quality, bacteria reduction via ultraviolet technology or occupancy density monitoring for safe distancing,” the report found.

“Mayors know that few things can revitalize an economy and a city like investments in modern infrastructure and technology,” USCM President and Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement.

According to the survey, 60 percent say their city is “accelerating the implementation of smart technologies to help them quickly respond and advance healthy and safe workplaces.”

However, 89 percent say their city needs federal resources to put in place smart technologies to the degree needed to recover from the pandemic. The report also notably finds that while these initiatives may be accelerated, “actual implementation is still fairly low.”

A majority of mayors (56 percent) say they are interested in implementing sensor technologies for social distancing, the report finds, “though many who express interest are unsure when they could implement it (48 percent).”

Interestingly, all mayors report that corporations will have a role to play in helping to rebuild or revitalize their city’s economy. They see their role as supporting capital investments (69 percent), startup and small business funding/incubators (61 percent) and job training (56 percent).

EXPLORE: Find out how Houston has found opportunities to apply smart city solutions to the pandemic.

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