How Public-Private Partnerships Power Local Government Innovation
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
Cities and towns don’t have to do it all themselves — here’s how they’re partnering with local, national, and even global businesses to adapt, especially in difficult times.
Local governments have a lot on their plates. And in the face of uncertain times, it may seem overwhelming — or out of reach — to stay innovative. But that’s not true; sometimes you just need to look for a little help.
Some of the most interesting ideas we’ve seen on Govlaunch’s innovation wiki come when the public sector and private sector work together to tackle a common issue. These efforts are mutually beneficial. They open up resources for cities, both financially and among personnel. They offer entry points for business development, or the chance to pilot a service before scaling it. And they bring ideas and expertise together across orgs with wildly different skillsets.
Here are some examples of towns and cities across New Hampshire (and beyond) who have worked with businesses to enact new programs. Let’s take a look at how it’s paying off.
Manchester, NH and Fedex Test a Robot for Same-Day Deliveries
Little did FedEx know, when they introduced Roxo the delivery bot in 2019, how much demand there would soon be for contactless delivery options.
The Tennessee-based delivery company was looking for a way to enhance its same-day delivery service. It developed Roxo to use AI and sensors as it wheels through a city to deliver small packages (the robot carries up to 100 pounds and can travel 10 miles per hour).
When it came time to first test the robot, FedEx chose Manchester, NH as its pilot city because of its relationship with Manchester-based Deka Research and Development Corp. In fact, it was Deka’s standing wheelchair model that inspired Roxo — the robot has a similar base and wheels, allowing it to navigate potholes, curbs, and uneven surfaces.
To support the trial, the city of Manchester had to temporarily adjust city rules, suspending an ordinance that prevented driving on sidewalks. After debuting in Manchester, the bot tests have expanded to other cities (though some have been less welcoming — rather than adjusting similar traffic rules, New York City ordered the robots be removed).
Now, as COVID-19 is prompting reduced contact and more delivery-based shopping, Manchester’s work with the FedEx pilot has unexpected benefits: The city has already experimented with an automated delivery system, so knows what to expect. This puts Manchester in a good position to adjust to future shifts in process and react to evolving health and safety needs.
Chesterfield, NH offers every resident broadband access through partnership with Consolidated Communications
Another challenge cities and towns across the United States are facing in light of COVID-19 is connectivity. Some are employing buses to boost WiFi, others have created development-minded public WiFi zones.
In New Hampshire, access to reliable internet connection has been a challenge outside cities — especially in rural or forested areas — since before the pandemic. This impacted residents’ work opportunities, education access, and made it harder for towns to attract business.
To address this, the state enacted SB170, a new law in 2018 that allows New Hampshire cities and towns to issue bonds to pay for the development of broadband networks. Last year, Chesterfield, a 3,600-person community in the southwest part of the state, was the first town in New Hampshire to act on the opportunity.
Under the new bond program, the town entered a public-private partnership with Consolidated Communications, and is connecting every home in town to a high-speed fiber network. This partnership allowed the town to avoid raising taxes to pay for the network — Consolidated Communications is guaranteeing a $1.8 million 20-year bond that will be paid for by small fees in broadband subscriptions. The company is also contributing about $2.5 million to build the network. In return, Consolidated will own the network after the bond is paid (other communications companies won’t be able to use it), ensuring a long-term base of subscribers.
Before the pandemic hit, other New Hampshire communities were looking to follow Chesterfield’s example and provide greater internet access to residents. Now, with telecommuting and online education as a reality for many, these public-private broadband partnerships provide a valuable opportunity to adjust to a new way of life.
West Hartford, CT partnership launches plastics recycling campaign
Of course, while all eyes are on COVID-19 these days, innovative public-private partnerships extend far beyond virus-related projects. Across New England, towns and cities are working with both organizations to launch inventive solutions to local problems. And these solutions don’t have to be fancy or high-profile. Some partnerships work best when all the parties involved are local.
In West Hartford, Connecticut, the West Hartford Land Trust and West Hartford Rotary Club recently partnered with the town to launch a six-month campaign to recycle more plastics, keeping them out of local landfills and water supply. The partners set up four bins around town, encouraging people to drop off plastics that can’t be included in the regular single-stream recycling system, such as bread sleeves, drycleaning bags, and bubble wrap.
The campaign aims to collect 500 pounds of plastics by July, all of which will be given to the manufacturer Trex for their wood-alternative products. By joining forces, the local organizations and the town government have a stronger combined messaging power and are able to encourage more citizen participation.
These partnerships aren’t always perfect, and they aren’t always the right fit for everyone. But sometimes the best step toward solving a problem is to identify who else may want it solved. Finding a private entity with a similar goal can save time and resources, etc. As uncertain times continue, cities should be asking themselves who might be able to face challenges with them.
Lindsay Pica-Alfano founded Govlaunch with the belief that all local governments, regardless of size, need easy access to the innovative practices and tools being implemented by their peers, so they can avoid “reinventing the wheel”. When not evangelizing local government innovation, she spends time with her daughter, dog Harvey, and co-founder James, who also happens to be her husband.
Govlaunch is the wiki for local government innovation — The largest free resource for local governments to share and discover innovative projects and tools from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, and everywhere in between. Search over 2000 crowdsourced projects and contribute what your community is doing to innovate using our free tools at https://join.govlaunch.com.