The public works bill resulted in about $70 million in grant money for the state and was leveraged into 18 different grants. As the broadband work was progressing, he saw an article by the columnist Tom Friedman that described the importance of “gigabyte communities” using “ultra-high-speed Internet” a hundred times faster than what is available today. These communities, Friedman wrote, especially when located around universities, would offer researchers the chance to develop new IT applications, and in turn stimulate job creation. The governor decided to use $8 or 9 million of the grant money to hold a “gigabyte competition,” which he announced in his State of the State speech in 2012. It challenges communities in Illinois to submit ideas on how they would take advantage of hyper-fast broadband were it available.
The state, through the initiative of its Innovation Council, has also created an open data initiative. The goal is to put all state government data on line and make it freely available, along with data of the city of Chicago, Cook County, and eventually other local governments. The initiative will also encourage competitions and other opportunities to develop applications.
To simulate biomedical innovations the state has created a “medical district” in the shadow of four large hospitals: the University of Illinois, Veterans Jesse Brown, Rush University Hospital, and Stroger Public Hospital, all located near downtown and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The district has existed in law for other purposes since 1941. The current plan, he said, is to introduce fast broadband access into the mix “to help spark innovation” among the hospitals and the large pharmaceutical companies, including Baxter, Abbott, Astellas, and Takada. He said that the International Biotechnology Convention, which Illinois has hosted twice and will host again in 2013, would be an opportunity to bring innovative people and ideas together.
To strengthen STEM education, a Pathways Initiative had been designed with major firms, universities, and schools to encourage young people to embrace science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This program, also, was bolstered by the emphasis on broadband access and the development of digital educational tools. The state had already laid some 4,100 miles of fiber optic cable to provide online opportunities to school districts in remote areas.
The state has many programs to promote renewable energy sources and reduce carbon output, including installation of about 270 charging stations for electric vehicles in metropolitan Chicago and additional stations Downstate. Through competitive bidding, the state had purchase 15 electric vehicles from Mitsubishi and placed high priority on reducing reliance on petroleum. The city of Chicago had more LEED-certified buildings than any other U.S. city, said Governor Quinn, and one feature of the public works bill was to require LEED certification for new public buildings.
The state was active in generating its own renewable energy as well. One strategy, he said, was to use photovoltaic sources on hot days to “shave the peak” off utility usage. This strategy can reduce the need for expensive generating capacity that might be used only a few days a year. Wind energy is also a priority, the governor said; Illinois had erect 404 wind turbines during