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Louisville, Aiming To Boost Tech Profile, Partners With Microsoft

Mayor Greg Fischer signs partnership agreement with Microsoft U.S. CTO Jennifer Byrne.
Mayor Greg Fischer signs partnership agreement with Microsoft U.S. CTO Jennifer Byrne.

City officials on Friday announced another local partnership with a tech giant. This time it’s Microsoft, which will lend resources and expertise to Louisville to establish a regional hub focused on advanced technologies.

Local government and universities are pursuing alliances with tech companies with urgency, as they look to stave off a future in which the city lags behind peers in tech workers or jobs. Another concern is having a workforce ill-prepared for competing with machines that get smarter and more adept at traditionally human tasks.

A recent report said Louisville is eighth out of the top 100 cities in the country in terms of the risk of losing local jobs to automation.

Earlier this week, the city announced a new initiative called LouTechWorks aimed at countering that threat. And in April, the University of Louisville said it was partnering with IBM to create a Skills Academy to prepare all of its students for a tech-infused economy.

Microsoft U.S. CTO Jennifer Byrne, speaking at Friday's launch event in Louisville, said society could see more technological change in the next decade than it has in the past 250 years. And machines taking on more work is a big part of that.

"That creates space for us to unlock human potential," she said. "But it also means that we have to get ready for what the future holds for us."

For Louisville, that means linking up with corporations like Microsoft, which through this agreement will provide fellows specializing in artificial intelligence, data science and the internet of things to train and partner with local entities.

The partnership includes multiple commitments, such as Microsoft-driven digital literacy training sessions, a regional high-tech summit and the development of a city-based ethics policy for the city's use of artificial intelligence and other technologies.

Mayor Greg Fischer said these moves will push Louisville’s workforce and economy into the future. At the moment, the city is lagging in both high-tech jobs and workers.

"We can be a great developer of local talent, and then a great attractor for talent that's working in these areas to come to the city so that they can be where the latest and greatest thinking is taking place," he said.

Local IT leader Dave Christopher of AMPED said the partnership can and should focus on getting more disadvantaged individuals into tech jobs.

"When I discovered technology, it was a game changer," he said. "Technology starts at a living wage. Technology can take a family from government assistance to self-sufficiency.”

Louisville's Chief of Civic Innovation, Grace Simrall, said the alliance fits with the city's overall objective to increase digital literacy across neighborhoods and socioeconomic statuses. She said making sure the Microsoft resources reach students as young as pre-K will expose more kids to technology skills and opportunities.

Earlier this year, another high profile partnership between Louisville and a leading tech company fizzled when Google Fiber ceased service here. Simrall said the city was aware of the risks in that deal, and would identify and publicly communicate the risks in the Microsoft partnership as well.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.

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