Cary, North Carolina: Pursuing smart initiatives through partnerships

Cary, North Carolina sits just outside the research triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. With three major universities and a wealth of tech firms operating nearby, Cary is taking advantage of partnerships to support its efforts to become a smart, data-driven city and to achieve the goals laid out in its 2040 Community Plan.

Cary uses partnerships as well as technology and data to optimize city services, drive economic growth, and improve the quality of life for its citizens.  “In Cary, in terms of innovation, we are able to take risks, and partner and try things out easier than other municipalities,” said Nicole Raimundo, Cary’s chief information officer. “We have higher expectations because of the makeup of our population, most of whom work in technology, and we have companies like Apple, Google, and Epic Games in our backyard.”

Cary draws on a network of partnerships with entrepreneurs and businesses, from start-ups to larger established companies like Microsoft and SAS. The relationship with SAS, a global analytics firm located in the city, has helped its police force, for example, utilize data and analytics to solve complex crimes. The SAS Visual Investigator system has helped detect criminal networks, accelerate information sharing, and facilitate investigations.  

In 2021, Cary and SAS, together with Semtech, a global supplier of high-performance analog and mixed-signal semiconductors and advanced algorithms, announced a collaboration to build a Center of Excellence focused on technology solutions, including the development of edge-to-cloud IoT solutions. Cary is also collaborating with Cisco to capture and manage data on a single pane of glass for parking, traffic, facility usage, crowd counting, and other use cases.

2040 Plan 

Since establishing it first city-wide plan in 1991, “Cary… Growing with a Vision,” Cary has been using such policy documents to guide decisions related to investments and novel initiatives. In 2010, Cary began revising its existing plans, which only covered a few geographic areas, to create a single, comprehensive policy roadmap.   

The 2040 Community Plan was adopted in January 2017 and consolidated individual plans across domains like mobility and transportation, preservation, housing, and safety. It covers seven main elements of citizens’ lives: live, work, shop, engage, shape, move, and serve. It was developed using a robust public engagement process. The city sought public input using both traditional and innovative web-based methods to educate and engage the community, including dozens of meetings and workshops.  

City leaders employ the plan to inform projects and to set metrics to assess progress. Making data-driven decisions is a priority. The plan guides project proposals, planning for future service needs, and qualifying for grants. It is also used to showcase key initiatives. For instance, after it received requests from citizens to allow the use of eBikes in certain parts of the city, Cary developed an eBike pilot program. “Cary Greenway” provides citizens with over 80 miles of car-free space and helps to promote sustainable outdoor living. 

Using data and technology to inform future plans 

Cary has set up a “Town Hall,” an experimental campus where it can test smart city initiatives before implementing them on a large scale. Testing new applications on a small scale has allowed the city to capture data and understand how initiatives will work. Building out a test lab in its Town Hall campus also has permitted Cary to involve citizens in the testing and decision-making process and to gain their trust. The city also has a small citizen committee that meets once a month to discuss the topics of technology and communication.  

Citizen involvement, data, and partnerships are key to Cary’s plans. The city is expanding this approach by working with nearby towns and cities, particularly on stormwater impacts. In another collaboration with SAS, it has installed water-level sensors to monitor stream activity during storms and to act as an early warning system during flooding—a critical use of technology as climate change generates stronger and more frequent flooding conditions globally. The data Cary collects is shared with its surrounding towns.  

Data-sharing and collaborations related to floods have proved to be a “break-through model” for the future that can help Cary achieve its goals in other areas, such as transportation. “We said, let’s start small, figure it out, get a win, get everyone’s buy in and move forward. And that’s what we did with the floods,” says Raimundo. I think that was a good model for us to move forward with.”