Career Spotlight: Mike Grisby
Executive profile: City’s innovation leader brings ‘smart city’ credentials mixed with military, public safety career.
The young mother of three had a new state-of-the-art washer and dryer in her apartment – with stacks of dirty laundry on top of them.
She was using an old fashioned wash board in the bathtub instead when Mike Grigsby – then a police officer in Kansas City – met her after arriving at the home responding to a 911 hang-up call. Curiosity got the best of him.
“How come you’re not using it?” he asked her upon seeing the appliances, which he estimates cost thousands.
“Nobody showed me how to use it,” she responded.
Grigsby, whose career has led him to information technology and who earlier this year became this city’s Director of Innovation and Technology, thinks of that woman when framing how he views his role within the city’s leadership team.
“One thing that’s big for me is digital equity,” he said. “Her situation underscores so much of what happens when we think ‘Just get the people connected to broadband.’ That doesn’t mean they automatically know how to use it. If you grew up thinking the Internet is mostly about entertainment, you won’t necessarily explore what it means for knowledge or career enhancement or improving quality of life.”
For Grigsby, technology – and the connectivity it offers – represents an opportunity to simplify and streamline government operations and use data to make more informed decisions. For the past few years, he’s been at the forefront of helping develop such so-called “smart city” strategies.
His previous role, as engagement leader for Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities practice for North America, connected him with dozens of cities as he assisted with their smart city strategies and digital solutions.
“The opportunity in Sioux Falls is for me to put my money where my mouth is and help build out a vibrant, thriving, and inviting smart city,” he said. “From a process standpoint, a community standpoint, an economic standpoint, and a resiliency standpoint. That’s what I hope for moving forward.”
Grigsby’s road to Sioux Falls came courtesy of his wife, Mara, a Washington High School graduate. They met in Kansas City, where she had moved for a job with Gateway Inc.
“For almost 20 years I’ve been visiting Sioux Falls, but my visits were relegated to the tourist spots or seeing family. It’s very different now coming in as a resident with different eyes and paying attention to things like potholes, schools, swimming pools and infrastructure,” he said.
“I have been pleasantly surprised to find out what I thought Sioux Falls had, it actually does. This administration has one of the most collegial feels of any I’ve worked with, and the trust that’s inside City Hall is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere. I know no city is perfect, but Sioux Falls is absolutely moving in the right direction.”
Grigsby has seen plenty of places since growing up in Oberlin, Ohio, a community southwest of Cleveland, where a military career led his father to become an air traffic controller. His mother was a teacher. Under his parents’ influence, he and his five siblings grew up mimicking their hard work and discipline, pursuit of education, and community engagement.
Grigsby joined the United States Air Force out of high school. After a multi-faceted military career, he desired to go into law enforcement, but didn’t have the right path to get there.
So he drew on his last job in the military, which involved graphic design, and made the journey “into this brand-new emerging field called the World Wide Web in 1993,” he said.
That led to work with several marketing and design agencies in Texas, and eventually a role as Marketing and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a mortgage bank. He gave that up to move to Kansas City where he finally found the right path to becoming a police officer.
“I never would have thought my technology background would cross my police background, but after a few years it did,” he said.
He was promoted to a division commander role for the city’s Police Department, essentially becoming its CIO, which then led to a role as CIO for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority working with the community’s Smart City Advisory Board.
In Kansas City, he points to a solid example of what “smart city” investments can achieve: A $102 million streetcar starter track pulled in more than $2 billion in additional transit oriented development, he said.
“That’s significant! The challenge is, how does the city parlay the economic boom around these projects and spread that out across the city to get a more comprehensive impact? I venture to say there are few cities in the U.S. who have been able to translate their efforts into a comprehensive footprint, but I think Sioux Falls has the opportunity to do just that.”
His role leading the Department of Innovation and Technology involves overseeing a team of 60 that includes the city’s I.T., Communications, Geographic Information System (GIS), Office of Innovation, and Digital Services divisions.
But he also works across departments, bringing an “innovation and smart city” perspective to everything from public works infrastructure to public transportation.
“I think public transportation is the central nervous system of any thriving community,” Grigsby said. “And I don’t know mean public transportation from the standpoint of buses only. It’s any mobility solution that allows people to move in, across, and through the city’s key areas. I think that’s essential to a city’s growth and vitality.”
That can mean anything from scooters to bicycles to buses to ride-sharing, he said.
“We look for ways to integrate public transportation so people can minimize their carbon footprint or vehicle use,” he said. “Thinking holistically like that is very smart. I think about how we can use transit to connect to different spaces. I think about how downtown has such a vibrant feel, and about how we connect that to the Premier Center and the Sanford Sports Complex and our shopping districts.”
Beginning his job as the pandemic began meant an unconventional start to the role, including a quick shift to managing most of his team virtually. There’s some frustration in not being able to connect in the community as fast as he otherwise would have, he said.
“I typically go out and look to connect with key community players, because it really does take a village and I want to know how one person is tied to another, and how one project affects another,” he said.
“I am curious to hear what ideas are out there. I don’t look at our Office of Innovation as being the generator of all ideas. I look at it as a curator of ideas. I would very much like to hear from the business community to hear their needs and learn what it would take to help them thrive, as well as other segments of our community.”
He invites anyone with input to reach out to him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Let’s figure this out together,” he said. “There’s an open invitation to say to the entire community: What do you want Sioux Falls to look like? Let’s really think with posterity in mind. It’s a wise thing to sow good seed, even if you know you won’t reap the harvest. Let’s think about what it will be like for people 10, 20, 30 years from now instead of focusing only on what we’re going to get today. Let’s pay close attention to what’s going on today and on the horizon and set things up to go right.”
Hometown: Oberlin, Ohio
Alma Mater: Grantham University, Washington University Olin Business School
Best thing about his job: The diversity of collaborating with every department within the organization and the broad reach across the entire community.
When he’s not at work: Biking/walking on the trails, time with family and friends, reading, racquetball, enjoying the city’s great dining establishments.
Favorite place in Sioux Falls: Falls Park—for an outsider coming in, it is Sioux Falls.