StreetsBlog USA has a weekly podcast called Talking Headways, and the city of Dallas made it into last week’s. The host was speaking with George Karayannis, the vice president of Panasonic’s “smart city” subsidiary, known as CityNow. It’s a brief moment, but it’s an interesting view into how Dallas tried to lure the company’s 400-acre development, a first-of-its-scale experiment—LED streetlights that dim automatically, driverless shuttles, high-density wifi that spanned the development, and the freedom for Panasonic and the host city to try out new technologies in the field.
Karayannis said the Japanese technology company winnowed a list of 25 down to two: Dallas and Denver. It went with Denver. Here is his full quote:
“Dallas, as my business unit president says, was prepared to back a dump truck up with money and just dump it on us in incentives. We’re doing OK, we don’t really need more cash. We’ll always take it, but it wasn’t the motivation. What we found in Denver was very strong, clear, broadly supported leadership and so, from the governor to the mayor to (project partner) Xcel Energy, the Denver airport, all of the key stakeholders, they were, first of all, a very responsible pro-business attitude. Cities and states can be very political, especially when you talk about smart cities. Mayors get elected and then new mayors come and go and so smart city projects can stop and start based on political winds. We were looking for a few things: where’s the right political climate, where’s the right business climate, and where’s the right piece of land where we can come set up shop and create a living lab where we can introduce essentially endless innovation into this district as a benefit to all of the stakeholders.”
The company calls its development a “living lab,” one that’s much larger than similar projects (the Dallas Innovation Alliance’s presence in the West End immediately comes to mind), and includes planned housing. The 400 acres exist along the rail line between the airport and the city proper; Karayannis calls it a “transit-oriented development,” and equates it to what’s seen in Japan along its rail lines. Reached by phone, he wouldn’t talk about the differences between Dallas and Denver’s pitches, and he said nobody else in the company would either. No upside for Panasonic to do that.
The Dallas Regional Chamber wasn’t familiar with any efforts to bring CityNow to town in recent years, which could just mean that it didn’t work on it. A city spokesperson didn’t return an email for comment, and a search of City Council committee agendas and memos turned up nothing. So all we have are Karayannis’ comments.
Why is this interesting? Dallas is one of 20 cities stuck in limbo as Amazon decides where it’ll put its $5 billion second headquarters. The regional pitches that the chamber presented have not been made public, which means we don’t know the type of incentives on the table. And, yes, Amazon and Panasonic’s living lab are very different developments. But it gives a little insight into what Dallas has been willing to offer in the past—a dump truck’s worth of tax breaks, to maybe help ease some of the concerns over the sometimes dysfunctional relationships between the people running the city and the state.