Technology can rescue faltering downtowns, enhancing business and culture

If Miracle Mile, Las Olas and downtown West Palm are sick, then it’s our job to find the cure. As a community, the health of our businesses is essential to the well-being of the local economy. Pointing out the problem isn’t enough. Local governments have stepped up. Municipalities and counties […]

If Miracle Mile, Las Olas and downtown West Palm are sick, then it’s our job to find the cure. As a community, the health of our businesses is essential to the well-being of the local economy.

Pointing out the problem isn’t enough.

Local governments have stepped up. Municipalities and counties have created COVID-19 business-relief programs, both loans and grants. From Key West to Coral Gables to West Palm Beach, the commitment to saving our businesses remains a top priority. And at the federal level, the pledge to do more than the Paycheck Protection Program dominates the headlines.

Yet, today’s entrepreneur needs a boost, and not just a financial one.

Access to the latest technological advancements will have the most significant impact on the survival of a business and the well-being of a community.

Technology has bridged cultural and economic divides in the past, finding ways to engage, empower and educate. This past year, our businesses have had to make technological leaps, forcing them to adopt virtual meetings, step up cyber protections to accommodate a remote workforce, and use online and mobile tools more effectively to reach customers.

These practices will only intensify, because it’s doubtful we’ll return to business as usual. Employees relish working remotely, and virtual meetings make it easy to connect with colleagues and business associates oceans apart and in different time zones.

Those businesses that embrace technology will thrive. Those that fight it will ultimately close their doors. They won’t need a pandemic to keep people at bay. Their inability to adjust and adapt will determine their fate.

Just as city, state and federal governments have stepped up relief programs, we need them to help our businesses embrace the technological changes that lay ahead. We need to power our business communities with the latest innovations, bringing platforms that help them expand their client base and leading developers to fuel advancements that create new opportunities.

We see some signs of this in our community already. RISE Miami-Dade, a COVID-19 business relief fund, teamed up with Cognistx, a Pittsburgh-based AI company, to integrate artificial intelligence used by big banks to accelerate the loan process. In three months, the community loan program dispensed $7 million to 340 businesses. The success of that technology has community development financial institutions (CDFIs) looking for more ways to use artificial intelligence to expand resources to businesses in need.

Other positive signs are fueled by businesses taking the lead. Ford Motor Company and Argo AI are testing their autonomous vehicles on our local streets—and it isn’t just to sell more cars. Their goal, in part, is to study the business of delivery. They’re looking at how autonomous vehicles can be used to deliver goods. They’re doing this by piloting a small charitable-giving effort with the nonprofit The Education Fund, helping to deliver food and school supplies to students and their families via self-driving cars. That pilot program may pave the way for more community giving and refine an autonomous vehicle–delivery model sure to transform transportation and material handling. That same pilot program also revealed the need for the nonprofit to consider a home-delivery option for students throughout the county.

Restaurants are at the forefront of adopting new technology, adopting new technology as a means to cut costs and stay in business. Piola, with seven locations in Miami-Dade and Broward, is testing an all-mobile ordering system for its indoor diners at one location. Customer table-side mobile ordering reduces the overhead while guaranteeing the health and safety of customers.

Local leaders can lead the way by encouraging the use of new technology to address community and business needs. That leadership will ensure innovation reaches even the smallest company and employer.

All companies’ success is in everyone’s best interest and ensures our communities’ overall economic health.

Tony Newell is a the CEO of Resorcity and the CityGrader.com based in Coral Gables.

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