Buckle Your Seatbelt, Google; Tomorrow May Be Nuts

Municipalities vying to become a test bed for Google’s ultra-high speed broadband network have until tomorrow to provide information about their communities to the search giant. After that, it begins the process of deciding where to build.

With hundreds of cities in the running, many are pulling out all the stops to endear themselves to the company. As we noted earlier this month, Topeka, Kansas, took the bold — some might say overly bold — move of renaming itself Google for the month of March.

Duluth, Minnesota, and Sarasota, Florida, have shown a willingness to go off the deep end, too. Duluth’s mayor Don Ness recently dived into the icy waters of Lake Superior to grab Google’s attention, while Sarasota’s Richard Clapp jumped into a shark tank — filled with sharks. (As if that weren’t dramatic enough, he also renamed Sarasota’s City Island Google Island.)

Peoria, Illinois, isn’t sitting on the sidelines, either, though the city of 130,000 is hoping a more charming, measured approach will entice Google. For example, along with the requisite dedicated Web site and Facebook fan page, its other efforts to rally support around the initiative include an animated short (see below) and a special tribute to Google brought to life by the Peoria Ballet Academy. (See video here.)

A two-pronged attack is also in the works for tomorrow, according to Peoria’s mayor, Jim Ardis. While the city organizes a “surprise” in the heart of Peoria with the help of construction equipment behemoth Caterpillar Inc., which is based there, an airplane with a banner reading “Will Google Play in Peoria, Illinois?” will simultaneously be flown over Google’s Mountain View campus. (Hopefully, it won’t crash into aircraft commissioned by other cities.)
Indeed, Mayor Ardis — who also has a full time job with an environmental engineering and consulting company –says that Google should pick Peoria based on marketing concerns alone.

“From a practical standpoint, whichever community Google picks, they’ll want to do a certain amount of marketing to ensure the rest of the U.S. knows the area they’ve chosen,” Ardis tells me. “Here, that’s done. Almost everyone knows the phrase, ‘Play in Peoria.’”

Okay, so maybe no one outside of Peoria knows the mantra, which the city began using in the 1920s. No matter; Peoria has a few other aces up its sleeve, says Ardis. For one thing, he says, Peoria is close to being the geographical center of the country, “halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, three-and-half hours from Indy, and four hours from Des Moines.”

Unlike many rust-belt cities that have struggled to overcome their manufacturing roots, Peoria is also home to a Level I trauma center. (“If something catastrophic happened, like a terrorist attack, they’d be sending people from all over the Midwest to us,” says Ardis.) More, it is home to the medical school of the University Of Illinois; Bradley University; the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and “other innovative type things, whose efforts would obviously be assisted by the high-speed Internet,” says Ardis.

Whether or not Peoria’s efforts will be enough remains to be seen. Google won’t make its final decision until year end. In the meantime, in addition to Topeka, Duluth, and Sarasota, Peoria is facing some frosty competition from Madison, Wisconsin. In its own bid for Google’s high-speed network — which promises speed of one gigabit per second, 100 times faster than what most of us are accustomed to enjoying today — Madison created a new ice cream flavor using granola and M&Ms — though prunes and bran flakes might have been more apt. It’s called “Google Fiber.”