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PSS Insights with Bob Cook, President of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation

Dark and frosty Oslo is half a world away from El Paso, Texas. But on the first day of Cisco’s Public Services Summit 2011 Bob Cook, president of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation, paid the climate no heed. He was focused on Friday’s plenary featuring former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and technology theorist Manuel Castells. “We’ve already come up with six different ideas on how to improve our situation.” Cook said happily afterwards.

Cook’s attendance at PSS drew hometown notice when friends took out a congratulatory ad in local business press. Cisco Systems, which worked with Cook in 2011 on the Smart Connected Communities Program, brought the Summit to his attention. He had no trouble justifying the journey.

“The relevance of this Summit was immediately apparent to me,” he confirmed. “Where else can you get an opportunity to sit down with current and former global leaders to talk about these issues? There’s no other forum that would let me have the opportunity to talk to [former Mexican] President Zedillo.”

Ann Q. Gates, associate VP in the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects at the University of Texas at El Paso, also traveled to Oslo. Gates and Cook collaborate on growth strategies for the El Paso-Juarez border area. “I will establish connections with others who are solving the same problems,” said Gates. “We have a lot to share in terms of being a bi-national community in an arid environment. When it comes to resource conservation, education, and energy policy, there’s a lot we can share.”

 “One of the things that crystallized for me today is how ICT [Information and communications technology] is really a double-edged sword,” said Cook, who said he contends with whirlwinds of negative Internet-based rumors and whispers in the El Paso-Juarez area – along with the persistent, though unfair, view that it’s dangerous. (El Paso is actually among the safer US cities of its size.)

“We along the US-Mexico border need to create some kind of community that communicates consistent messages to the world,” said Cook.

Oslo may be the perfect place to collect ideas. Bob and Ann, welcome to PSS 2011.

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