Google chose the much smaller Kansas City, KS instead its Missouri counterpart across the river to test out a new super-fast Internet service. After a year-long search, Google chose KCK instead of 1,100 cities around the country. Why? Partly because the city could guarantee the cooperation of the local electric provider (a key player in sharing utility poles and buried conduit). It is publicly owned with significant unused fiber-optic capacity. The county and city governments of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS, are combined. There were fewer bureaucrats to become involved.
Without employing many locals, Google plans to build across KCK a fiber-optic network that it says will transmit data up to 100 times faster than conventional broadband, starting in 2012. That’s fast.
While the city doesn’t boast the statistics one would think Google would be attracted to (one in eight residents 25+ have a bachelor’s degree and one in four failed to graduate from high school, according to U.S. census data), it’s the latest in a series of comebacks for the city that has had its share of closing plants and dwindling population. The leadership of KCK began offering tax incentives for businesses and entertainment companies to develop the city’s western acreage, and the balance of power in metropolitan Kansas City, home to about two million people, started to shift. A racetrack featuring Nascar competitions opened, followed by a shopping center, hotels and amusement parks.
Suddenly, 10 million visitors annually, many from several states away, began pouring into KCK. By last year, the new development, known as Village West, boasted 114 businesses that employed nearly 6,000 people. For the first time in decades, new groceries and residential districts opened in KCK, reported WSJ.
“It’s transformative, a game-changer,” said KCK Mayor Joe Reardon in the story.
Google will provide the service free to KCK public schools, and at what is says are competitive prices to local homes and businesses. But the real test, both for Google and for KCK, is whether the super-fast option is attractive enough to accelerate economic growth, as Google has predicted it will.
The Kansas City Star reported the players who closed the deal — mostly the leadership at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County — spoke of hush-hush conversations, flurried exchanges of emails and no-frills get-togethers that wound up convincing Google it was right place to launch.
The KC Star gave a timeline of the deal:
•Feb. 2, 2010: Google issues a request for proposals.
•March 26, 2010: The Unified Government submits application by email.
•First week of January 2011: Unified Government receives email from Google asking for more information.
•Jan. 20, 25 and 26: Google and Unified Government officials hold conference calls about more specifics. The Unified Government team is asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
•Feb. 8: Google representatives travel to Wyandotte County to tour the area and meet with representatives from local institutions and businesses. Everybody signs non-disclosure agreements.
•Mid-February: Google tells the Unified Government team it wants to start talks about a deal.
•March 8-9: Google team returns to negotiate a development agreement. Local officials are optimistic after the two days of talks. Negotiations continue during the following weeks.
•Mid-March: Google tells Unified Government it is sending event planners to visit the city.
•March 28: Unified Government team notifies county commissioners and utility board members an important announcement will be made Wednesday.
•March 29: The team follows up by telling same group it’s Google, after they sign non-disclosure agreements.
•March 30: Deal is announced at Wyandotte High School.
• March 31: Unified Government commissioners approve agreement.
RBR-TVBR observation: Another reason the city was likely chosen was to gauge Google’s prediction of how fast the service accelerates local business and economic growth. If the service is indeed that fast, it could provide numerous internet-based companies a big reason to locate there or open an office/tech center. For a competitive rate against other local ISP’s, they may increase productivity, distribution and efficiency ahead of their competitors. It could be a big leg-up on the bottom line.