‘Smart city’ touted as a bright idea for businesses

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Print this page by Stephenie Overman
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Minh Le’s company, 22 CityLink, is developing the Gramercy
District in Loudoun County. Rendering courtesy DVA Architects

Minh Le, managing partner of  22 CityLink, sees lots of advantages for businesses — retailers, not just tech companies — that set up shop in a smart city with state-of-the-art facilities.

He would. His company is made up of engineers, architects, technologists and entrepreneurs dedicated to developing “smart cities,” which integrate various technologies to manage the logistics for everyone there. The team’s big project is Gramercy District, a 2.5-million-square-foot, built-from-the ground-up development in Loudoun County.

Gramercy District, adjacent to the future Ashburn Metro station, is expected to open next year. So far, JKH Holdings has announced it will move its global headquarters to the site.

Le envisions a development that includes retail, residential, co-working and training-oriented space plus apartments, a hotel, high-rise offices and a startup accelerator. With Metro and Washington Dulles International Airport nearby, he sees it as a transportation hub that will attract plenty of foot traffic for businesses.

Le admits that marrying technology and real estate is a big challenge, but he believes the key to success is that 22 CityLink controls the whole development process. That will allow the company to sell a “turnkey” package, including Wi-Fi access and a secure network, to tenants throughout the district.

Allowing small businesses to make group purchases of back-of-the-house items can help reduce the cost of their operations, he says. And in an interconnected smart city, businesses can send notifications and push offers, deals and discounts directly to potential customers’ smart phones as they pass by their shops.

“We’re taking away the complexity and confusion,” Le says. “It’s got to be easy, not intrusive. Why should a merchant have to think about all these confusing things? We can drive business to them and reduce cost so they can focus on what they do best.”

Businesses will have access to training on topics such as cybersecurity through the district’s partnership with the Center for Innovative Technology and George Washington University’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus.

For budding tech businesses, Gramercy District will offer the Concept Foundry, a co-working business accelerator where they can build, test and implement their products, Le says. “It takes an enormous amount of capital to build a tool set. They can avoid spending millions of dollars building their own tools.”

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