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Mitchell 'punching above its weight' for innovation

Pictured is the cover of "Brain Gain," which features Mitchell.1 / 2
Robert Bell2 / 2

If you ask Robert Bell, Mitchell can compete with the big boys when it comes to innovation around the world.

"When you look at everything that is being done there, Mitchell has been punching above its weight for a long time," said Bell, who is one of the authors of the new book, "Brain Gain: How Innovative Cities Create Job Growth in an Age of Disruption."

Bell, who lives in New Jersey, said the book is available on The book is one that shares success stories and best practices of what has worked to create new jobs using innovative means. In Mitchell's case, that's taking advantage of every opportunity to develop high-speed Internet access and use that growth to build industry.

"I think Mitchell has found quickly what works for them to grow," Bell said. "Unfortunately, agriculture is not a huge job creator. So they've zeroed in on communications, data centers, software businesses which are growing businesses and have created another whole economy for Mitchell, while still keeping the agricultural base, which is quite something."

Of the 18 cities featured in the book, Mitchell is the smallest at about 15,000 people -- a stark contrast to the 2.6 million people living in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, that is also featured in the book.

Bell and his co-authors, Louis Zacharilla and John G. Jung, researched Mitchell by looking at statistics and interviewing local leaders, but did not visit the city. The book is backed by the Intelligent Community Forum, a nonprofit policy research entity that founded the awards competition in 2007 and an organization that has rated Mitchell highly when it comes to technology and economy in the past.

For the second year in a row, Mitchell was up against 20 other communities for the 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year. Previously, ICF has applauded Mitchell's ability to stabilize population while nearby communities do not and to serve its residents with high-speed Internet.

"When you boil it down, you're either gaining in job growth and population or you're not," he said. "And you need to be on the right side of that."

He said because we live in a digital era, cutting down on the distance between two points is critical, and Mitchell was one of the cities able to do that quickly at its size. He said the ability to have high-speed Internet in the middle of South Dakota means distance is not as much of a factor as it has been in other times of development, such as the railroad or the automobile.

"Location and distance matter less," he said.

The book also focuses on what Bell calls a double-edged sword of technological advances.

He said successful communities have found a way to embrace immigration, which is no longer contained to gateway cities like Miami, New York City or San Diego.

Bell told of his recent visit to New Zealand, where he went to Whanganui, a city nearly three times larger than Mitchell. He said Whanganui faces similar issues to Mitchell, and is currently getting grant funding for high-speed Internet -- something Mitchell has had in some capacity for 10 years.

"They're about three years behind, but they're on the same track that Mitchell has taken and it's really a model for communities to learn from," he said.