Category Archives: Fresno CA, USA

A Farewell to Fresno

IMG_5868SCCThree weeks.  Seven IBMers.  More than 60 formal interviews, and two dozen informal ones.  Three notebooks filled with notes (and that’s just for me).  All leading to our three categories of findings and our five final recommendations:

  • Implement quick wins
  • Develop a CitiStat model
  • Adopt a Fresno branding campaign
  • Drive adoption of broadband, focusing on digital literacy
  • Nurture the Ag Tech sector

The press has been really positive so far, and the Mayor and her team are moving with impressive speed to implement actions and get things started.   I think Fresno’s been ready to accelerate for a while, and I’m glad we got to be here to be a part of it.

IMG_5876Before we left, there was a special treat for Govind.  All the time we’ve been riding our bikes he kept asking why we didn’t get motorcycles instead.  Well, Carolyn’s husband Steve has a Harley, and after the public report at City Hall, he took Govind for a ride.  Just look at that smile.


IMG_5889Some quick review and wrap up meetings, and then we headed out to Engelmann Cellars for our final team dinner – with a band.  With the recommendations done and the report handed in, we got a chance to kick back and celebrate our time in Fresno.

But all things must end, and now it’s time for us to go back to our families and our jobs and our homes.  We’ll miss each other – it’ll feel weird going to a restaurant without the Red Helmet Gang.  We’ll miss Fresno, too, and all of the amazing people that we’ve come to know here.  It’ll take some of us a couple of days to get home, others only a couple of hours, but it’s definitely the end of a chapter – although maybe just the beginning of the story.


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Word Clouds, writing, and the final report

Final Report Word CloudFinal Report Phrase NetIt’s coming down to the final week for Team Fresno, and we’re buried pretty deep in writing the final report and preparing for the presentation.   We’re getting pretty excited about the final product.  Bill hooked us up with a local copy of Many Eyes and we had a chance to start doing some analysis on our report – we’ve churned out over 40 pages of content backed up by more than two dozen references.  Distant memories of writing final papers from college started to creep back in.    We kept wishing that we’d been able to have all of our notes in searchable docs instead of on pages of notepads.  After interviewing more than 60 people, it would have been really interesting to do some analytic analysis on all that raw data as well as just relying on our own synthesis of it and observation of our notes.

IMG_5797IMG_5804Lucky for us, it’s not all just being locked into the teamroom writing and analyzing.  Craig invited us over for an awesome dinner – nice to not be in restaurants for a change.  I’ve still been enjoying morning coffee hanging out with Ephraim at Fresno Brewing Co.  Every morning I go in and might see Kate from Downtown Fresno, or I might run into Dan from the Food Commons or Elliot from the city.  It very much feels like a small, tight knit, and very friendly community.  Everybody here has been incredibly welcoming.

We’re all starting to think about what it’s going to be like when we leave here at the end of this week and go back to our lives and our jobs and our regular non-Fresno world.  Hard to imagine not going everywhere with 6 other people, or being focused on something other than downtown.  I’m going to miss the team, but I’m also going to miss Fresno – this has been a great experience.

IMG_5809Mayor's BriefingIn our last bit of work today, we briefed the Mayor on our findings, and had a film crew show up to follow us around a bit.  They’re shooting one of the Smarter Cities videos for us, and we’re trying very hard not to be too awkward on camera (well – I’m trying – the rest of the team is succeeding).  We’ve now got the report to update, and then the public presentation and briefing in two days.

Team with Mayor Large-2

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Second Weekend: Tomatoes, and Ya Xiao vs. the Yetti

IMG_5739IMG_5737So the second weekend started off with us volunteering at the Fresno Community Food Bank.  They’d gotten a huge donation of organic tomato sauce, and it all needed to be relabeled and boxed.  We got pointed to pallets of stacks of cans and given our label sheets and told to go.  In classic IBM style, we both optimized and measured.  Our first row (roughly 260 cans) took IMG_5727us 15 minutes to complete.  Pretty quickly we got it down to 4:50, with variances of under 6 seconds for the mid-height cans.  (We’d lose some time when we had to crouch to get the ones on the floor).  The urge to graph the execution time and to start to apply analytics to it is pretty hard to resist.

IMG_5734Then it was back to our teamroom for a solid afternoon of writing and prep for the presentation, searching for supporting data and detailing our recommendations.  It’s the bulk of what we’re doing in this phase, but the process doesn’t lend itself well to terribly exciting blogging.

IMG_5758The next day was Cinco de Mayo, and the Fulton Mall was jam packed with people celebrating.  Two stages were up supporting different bands, and the front of every store was filled with tents offering everything from food to insurance.  We got to take a short break to check it out, then it was back to writing.

IMG_5770IMG_5775That night we hit the Sequoia Brewing Company, where Ya Xiao got introduced to the idea of a food challenge.  There’s a burger called The Yetti – 1/3rd pound of beef, 2 eggs, 2 slices of ham, 4 slices of bacon, some onion rings and condiments – and of course a side of fries.  If you can eat it in less than 5 minutes, you win a T-shirt.  So with support and coaching from all of Team Fresno, Ya Xiao gave it is very best effort – sadly, The Yetti defeated him, leaving the bun, onion rings, all the condiments and the fries uneaten at the 5 minute mark.  He says he’s got a better strategy for it now, and he could take it next time.

IMG_5779On the way home we ran into Preacher Tony and his horse Rex, who tour the streets of Fresno at night preaching to gang members.  Tony was really nice, and Rex let us feed him – kind of an unexpected sight to run into on our bike ride home.

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ArtHop and CartHop

IMG_5691So we took a break from what’s starting to be our routine (pouring over data in the teamroom and working on our final report and presentation to the Mayor/City Council).  For lunch, we checked out CartHop, which is a gathering of food trucks coming together in various places.  Some folks here will claim that you can’t get the downtown office workers to leave their buildings and support local vendors, but the food carts argue against that.  IMG_5688They’re tech-savvy, too – Dusty Buns managed to expand their business to brick and mortar.    Mattie’s Wood Fired Pizza is driving a kickstarter campaign to buy a bigger truck.   The food from all of them is awesome, too – I think I saw a “Cordon Bleu Alumni” sticker on one of them.

IMG_5694IMG_5706After more work, it was on to ArtHop.  All the galleries and a lot of non-gallery businesses in town open up late and share their space with artists.  There’s a huge amount of creativity in Fresno, and it was great to see so much on display.

IMG_5682IMG_5698At Warnors there was a collection of Fresno State interior design students who had each selected a building and done up a new layout for their interior,  complete with detailed drawings and renderings.

All of this brings a ton of people to downtown, and they spend, connect, and enjoy themselves.  Things like ArtHop and CartHop are a key part of the overall strategy of revitalization.

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The BlueTech Valley

IMG_5662One of the most compelling and intriguing ideas that comes up over and over again in talking to government and business leaders about Fresno is the idea that this should be a laboratory for innovation in agricultural technology (or to use the catchy phrase, “the silicon valley of Ag Tech”).  Look at the unique combinations – a huge diversity of crops (compare the 350-400 different crops grown here to the vast fields of corn/soy/wheat that you might find in the mid-west), coupled with the intense challenges of a fully irrigated agricultural system that is also frequently hit with water shortages (allocation reductions).  You’ve also got the costs of energy – both to pull water up from the wells (those suckers can be 2,000 foot deep in western Fresno Co), and to power the food packaging and processing plants that represent 3 times as much of the food dollar as the farming itself…..  well, when you combine all those unique inputs, you’ve really got an ag tech dream lab.

IMG_5668So with that as the background, Team Fresno trundled off to the BlueTech Valley Water Conference, to learn about innovation in this area.  We learned about drip tape manufacturing (Jain Irrigation is an Indian company that has moved some manufacturing capacity into Fresno), and technologies that will process waste water on prem, reducing the reliance on city processing facilities and maybe even opening up where value added processing plants can be located.  We heard about VC investment in this area and had a particularly interesting keynote from the former president of Trader Joes.

IMG_5656IMG_5677Heading back to the Lofts, we got ourselves changed into Red Helmet Gear and cruised down the mall to Chukchansi Park for the Grizzlies game.  Sadly, the Grizzlies lost 4-1, but it was still a great time and another awesome chance to be a part of this community.  Watching with Carolyn and her family and Craig was awesome.

Grizzlies Game

Grizzlies Game2

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Learning from Lowell, and the promise of Ag Tech

IMG_5641With the weekend behind us, we started off in City Hall again, meeting the City Managers.  We were quickly on to a focused tour of the revitalization underway in the Lowell neighborhood of Fresno – this is a neighborhood that’s been coming back with a lot of success in recent years, but today there’s a mix of refurbished bungalows next to beat up slums.  Craig and the crew at  Neighborhood Revitalization set up a tour with the code enforcement inspector (Steve, who was awesome), the police, the housing authority, and city IT Services, so we could see first hand what information they needed in their regular job and how they went about understanding it and sharing it.

IMG_5645We had a bit of drama when one of the slumlords who owned the place happened by while we were being shown the violations, and how they hurt the community.  The police liaison had already steered us clear of the apartment where the drug dealer lived (the kind of thing you’d like to know if you were a code inspector), but the landlord got an earful about the problems in his place – railings on the stairs that were ready to fall off, for instance, in places where we could see little kids living on the second floor.  So he got written up with a bunch of violations – that is one aspect to bringing the neighborhood back to life.  There’s a ton of effort spent on bringing new business, residents, and improvements to the area, but one piece of the puzzle is cleaning up the places that are a blight on the community.  So much of what Lowell is doing is working, and Fresno’s trying to find ways to make it go faster and to replicate it.

IMG_5646IMG_5649Later in the day we flipped over to the technology side of the puzzle and went to meet the team out at the WET Center (Water, Energy, and Technology).  In addition to testing out new and innovative systems in water control in their massive testing center, they also incubate new businesses.  This is driving exactly the kind of high value business growth that will really help Fresno out, so it was great to hear what they were doing.   We learned about generators that are creating electricity out of the water flowing downhill in irrigation systems, and new systems to control dust behind tractors in an effort to improve air quality.  The unique pressures on water in the Fresno area (such as dealing with allocations and 2,000 foot wells in the western county) make for a really unique laboratory to create and accelerate technologies needed the world over.

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Enduring the brutal first weekend

IMG_5270Friends, I tell you that Team Fresno is perfectly willing to suffer for the Smarter Cities Challenge.  We’ll endure long hours and vast volumes of data to analyze , we will tackle problems both intractable and complex, but few things have proven to be more brutal than our first weekend.

First was the wine tasting – the endless rounds of wine tasting, each wine delicious and subtle, and each winery beautiful.  The owners were rich with insights both into wine making and into the economy and culture of Fresno and its surrounding region.

IMG_5271IMG_5280IMG_5296Then came lunch, with a wide sampling of the fruits of the labor of the Fresno State Winery program (the only college in the country with a bonded winery on campus).  Really interesting to hear how the education there competes for training top winemakers against UC-Davis.

IMG_5311We even passed some of the vast winemaking facilities of some of your better known box and jug winemakers.  While we didn’t tour those, it seemed pretty clear that things are a little bit different in that style of winemaking.

IMG_5319IMG_5301With a few stop offs for fruit shopping, we managed to survive a truly grueling day of wine tasting, sun-dappled hills and vineyards, delicious meals, and great conversation.

IMG_5621The rest of the weekend continued its relentless barrage of trials, forcing us to put up with a guided day trip to Yosemite (locals insist without hyperbole that it is the most beautiful place in the world).   We saw the giant sequoias, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, IMG_5456Yosemite Falls, and climbers making the ascent on El Capitan.  Now they had warned us when we signed up for this program that it was going to involve some long hours and some really tough work, but the endless pain of seeing  these amazing mountains was rough duty for sure.

It’s hard to say what was the best part about it – I was amazed by how small the seed of the sequoia tree really is, and it was incredible to watch the climbers going up El Capitan. IMG_5404 Feeling the blast of water and hearing the roar of both Bridal falls and the three levels of Yosemite falls was pretty cool, too.  They say it gets really crowded here later in the summer, but for us it was quiet enough that we could eat lunch on rocks next to the Madera River without seeing a soul.

IMG_5610With the second week ahead of us, we’d be back to focusing on the core issues of revitalizing downtown Fresno – and it’s fair to note that, as the gateway to Yosemite, one of the unique advantages Fresno has is its proximity to this amazing national park.  Sure, that’s right – this was far more of a detailed fact finding exercise than an awesome weekend.  A detailed, focused, data-intensive, fact finding exercise of constant, relentless work.


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