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Mayor Sylvester Turner and Microsoft Expand Digital Alliance with City of Houston

Tech company will invest in workforce development as part of the “accelerate” initiative and support Houston's innovation district at The Ion.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Monday that Houston's city had expanded its groundbreaking digital alliance with Microsoft to innovate in big data, artificial intelligence, and the digital economy. Microsoft brings to Houston “Accelerate,” a new program designed to address economic recovery through skilling both underserved communities and re-skilling the many Americans impacted by COVID-19.

The collaboration is intended to create new economic opportunities, close equity, and digital skills gaps, and prepare a workforce for the 21st century.

Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft U.S., said: “Microsoft launched the Accelerate program at a time when closing the digital divide has never been more important. We're thrilled to be joining Mayor Turner and an impressive group of partners in this effort to expand access to in-demand digital skills—and close digital skills gaps widened by COVID-19—through Accelerate: Houston.”

The mayor was joined by Jacky Wright, chief digital officer, Microsoft U.S., to announce details of the Houston Innovation Alliance and Accelerate: Houston. Other partners supporting the alliance include The Ion, NASA, Kino-Eye Center, Upskill Houston, University of Houston College of Technology, and Space Center Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said: “More than two years ago, I announced our first transformative alliance with Microsoft — the first of its kind in the United States. Today, I am pleased to say we are taking another leap toward strengthening Houston's global standing as a center for innovation and technology.”

Through coordination with corporate partners, K-12 school systems, and higher education providers, Microsoft is developing a holistic plan for professional development/support and addressing the community's equity gap:

For transitioning members of the workforce and/or local veterans, the company will offer digital literacy workshops, empowerment programs and other development training with industry experts through LinkedIn Learning, to help prepare them for opportunities in new technologies and increase digital skills training.

For students, the company will bring the Microsoft Imagine Academy Learning Paths to Houston schools, with content and industry certifications mapped to student skill development. Additional programming includes LinkedIn workshops, DigiCamps and DigiGirlz camps, bringing young people together to plan their future, identifying the skills they need to reach their goals, and connecting to programs and technology that will help them get there.

For K-16 education providers, Microsoft and partners will bring digital literacy training and Modern Workplace training focused on educators' digital skills.

Dean Anthony Ambler, University of Houston College of Technology, said: “The University of Houston College of Technology and Microsoft are together providing students, professionals, businesses, and the Houston community with the resources to manage, create, communicate, and commercialize meaningfully unique opportunities. As game-changers, the College of Technology and Microsoft transcend beyond the classroom with industry-recognized certifications, workshops, and degree programs that support workforce creation and upskilling while reinforcing a culture of innovation. These complementing activities champion the Houston community as adept practitioners and mentors in proven disciplines that apply ingenuity and technology to solve problems, improve lives, and enhance the economy.”

Through their joint efforts, Microsoft and Houston's city will work to advance civic innovation and smart city initiatives, economic development and recovery, and digital skilling for the workforce and youth.

Jesse Bounds, innovation director for the City of Houston, said: “Our initial alliance with Microsoft, established in 2018, created the foundation for Houston to grow as a smart city. It brought startup innovation to city challenges through The Ion Smart City Accelerator. Further, it proved out cases for the use of IoT and AI to make our city safer and more resilient, and provided equitable access to technology through digital literacy, upskilling programs and Wi-Fi on public transport. This expansion will continue to build upon this foundation, the skills, processes, and technologies needed to drive future growth and equitable prosperity in the city and position Houston to be a shining example to others around the globe.”

To help accelerate the integration of technology and implement the vision to make Houston a center of excellence for innovation in the energy transition, AI, IoT, and data science. Microsoft is investing more than $1 million into programs that support social entrepreneurship and other initiatives in partnership with Houston's Innovation District at The Ion.

David Leebron, President, Rice University, said: “With this digital alliance, one of history's most important and innovative technology companies becomes a key pillar of The Ion. Microsoft will help implement the vision to make Houston's new innovation district a focal point for the future of energy, artificial intelligence, data science, and smart cities.”

Jan E. Odegard, The Ion's interim executive director said: “As a founding partner of The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, Microsoft has already established a close collaboration with The Ion, supporting startups as they develop and scale their businesses and pursue pilot opportunities with the city of Houston. In addition to supporting entrepreneurs solving challenges like mobility, clean-tech, air quality, and water purification, we are excited to expand our partnership with Microsoft as part of this digital alliance with the city of Houston to include access to resources that allow us to offer more robust workforce development initiatives on-site at The Ion's new space.”

Mayor Turner said: “Houston is home to some of the world's most important medical breakthroughs, and as the Energy Capital of the World, we're leading the energy transition into a more sustainable future. Microsoft shares my vision to make Houston the Smart City of the future and a leader among U.S. cities as we develop excellence in innovation, AI, and digital equity.”

Accelerate: Houston is the latest U.S. implementation of Microsoft's Global Skills Initiative, an ambitious plan to help 25 million people worldwide acquire new digital skills by the end of the year.
Microsoft enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Source: Press Release
Mayor's Office
Date: August 24, 2020
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