The mayor of Sarasota, Fla., went swimming with the sharks today — yes, literally — in an extreme effort to woo Google (s GOOG) and land that sweet fiber network the company plans to dole out to some lucky town. And he’s not alone. Cities across the country have Google fiber fever, pulling off stunts like renaming their city “Google” (formerly Topeka, Kan.) or having the mayor jump into a frozen lake (Duluth, Minn).
My city of Alameda, Calif.? We’re passing a city council resolution!
Heaven knows I want a 1 gigabit-per-second connection, too — so why isn’t my mayor wrestling an octopus (or sharktopus)? Is Sarasota (or Duluth, or Topeka) on to something?
“We don’t have a burgeoning tech and creative industry,” explained Richard Swier (see disclosure below), who is spearheading Sarasota’s attempt to get Google fiber. And without such an industry, he felt his town had to do something “crazy” in order to get on Google’s radar. In addition to the shark tank, Sarasota declared one of its islands “Google Island,” and its I Want Google Fiber in Sarasota page on Facebook claims some 5,300 fans.
Alameda’s more sober approach certainly lacks flair, but that, too, is by design, according to Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott. She believes the message Google sent out in its call for participation was that the company wanted speed, efficiency and regulatory assistance, which the city council’s resolution, with its task force and one point of contact for the entire project, was specifically designed to do.
Jim Meyer, who founded the non-profit WireAlameda.org, echoed Ott’s all-business approach. “We have a strong application,” he assured me.
Since an active community behind the project was another one of the criteria set by Google, I asked Meyer about our paltry number of Facebook fans and the dearth of big, showy community events. Meyer pointed out that Facebook is a competitor to Google, so the group didn’t want a big presence there, and in terms of big events, WireAlameda is organizing a community chalk-drawing event this weekend. Chalk drawing certainly won’t attract mainstream media attention (unless it’s laser chalk), but it’s not meant to — the point is to showcase townsfolk that come out in order to pitch in.
In the meantime, an unexpected benefit has emerged: The actions of Swier’s group, WireAlameda and others around the country have become a rallying point for towns beaten down by tough economic times. Amidst the constant news of layoffs and general bad times, Google’s gambit is giving people something they haven’t seen in awhile — hope.
**Disclosure: I went to high school with and played 9th grade basketball with Swier. We haven’t talked really at all since high school, but his relentless efforts and recruiting on Facebook clogged up my news feed and provided inspiration for this story.
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