Data-driven innovation is taking flight in Columbus

On Dec. 17, 1903, two brothers from Dayton sent their Wright Flyer into the sky, changing global transportation forever. More than 100 years later, we are entering a new frontier of transportation innovation. From drones delivering packages to your door to self-driving shuttles that are navigating the busy streets of Downtown Columbus, times have changed, and the pace of technological disruption won’t slow down any time soon.

That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center, known as C_TEC, has embarked on a series of discussions across the nation focused on data-driven innovations and the challenges and opportunities they present for workers, communities and our national economy. On Tuesday, we’re excited to bring that conversation to life in Columbus.

Why Columbus? At the U.S. Chamber, we convene businesses of all sizes and from every sector, and we’re increasingly looking to host forums in some of the most forward-leaning and innovative cities in the nation — hello, Columbus! From the first flight to the first concrete street and stoplight, Ohio has historically changed the face of transportation by harnessing new technology and is doing so again.

After receiving a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Columbus started the Smart Circuit project that consists of three self-driving shuttles. Smart Circuit provides Columbus residents a hands-on experience with autonomous-vehicle technology while increasing mobility options for the elderly and disabled.

Partnering with Ohio elected officials, local chambers and tech companies, we are excited to explore what is happening and what lies ahead for innovators in the Buckeye State. According to a study recently released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Amazon, unlocking Ohio’s digital potential could add more than $2.6 billion to state GDP per year and provide an additional 20,000 jobs.

For Ohio to reach its digital potential, public and private-sector leaders must continue to work together to build a digitally savvy workforce. Since opening the first junior high school, Ohio has always prioritized educating its future workforce.

In its Digital Flagship Initiative, Ohio State University is collaborating with Apple to provide innovative teaching and learning opportunities to prepare students for a modern, mobile, technology-driven workforce. The Digital Flagship Initiative equips every incoming first-year student with an Apple iPad, protective case, smart keyboard and an Apple pencil. Through this effort, OSU is empowering the next generation of curious, innovative problem solvers.

We also must tackle some of the biggest societal challenges of our time, including opioid addiction and high rates of infant mortality, if we are to build the workforce of tomorrow. Through the recently launched InnovateOhio platform, the Buckeye State is leading this charge. InnovateOhio will manage a state-of-the-art data analytics system, allowing more secure and cost-efficient storage of state data and access to more data points and providing a more comprehensive view of different issues and how best to direct resources to solve these complex challenges.

C_TEC supported the Open Government Data Act, a law that makes public data like that used by InnovateOhio easier to access via smartphones and other electronic devices. C_TEC will continue to support policies that benefit open data while protecting consumer privacy.

Increasingly, we see the worlds of technology and public policy colliding. Problem is, public policy moves at a snail’s pace, while technological change moves at warp speed. Now more than ever, it’s critical for policies of our governments at the federal, state and local levels to keep pace with the progress of our economy. At C_TEC we believe bipartisan coalitions are best to encourage technology innovation and integration and ultimately achieve success for citizens and business.

While we don’t know what the future holds, we do know that we have an opportunity to lead and educate elected officials and consumers alike. We are excited to bring this national conversation to Columbus to highlight the benefits of technology, the challenges on the horizon and the vast opportunities #AmericanInnovators has to create, adopt and utilize mind-bending technologies that will shape our lives for the next 100 years.

Tim Day is senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center.