Topeka planning next steps in bid to attract Google

TOPEKA — Less than 24 hours after achieving their biggest victory yet in a campaign to bring Google's fiber experiment to Topeka, four core members of Think Big Topeka were already plotting their next step.

Jared Starkey, Brandon and Alissa Sheley, and Brendan Jensen said their phones had been ringing off the hook since early Thursday as news began to spread about an elaborate April Fools' Day joke that had Google replacing its famous logo with the word "Topeka" on its search engine homepage.

"We're enjoying it today, sure," said Alissa Sheley. "But tomorrow we'll be asking, 'What can we do to top this?' "

Think Big Topeka's origins can be traced to Starkey, owner of a local software development company. In early February, Google announced plans to build and test ultrafast broadband networks in a few trial locations across the United States. A day later, Starkey created a group on the social networking site Facebook titled "Bring Google's Fiber Experiment to Topeka."

The group attracted hundreds of members in a few days, and soon enthusiastic supporters arranged to meet to discuss the project.

"One of the guys there said we should call this Think Big Topeka, since it's more about Topeka than just about Google," Starkey said. "It was a bunch of people that got together and said we want to do this, and we realized that there was potential for us to do other great things in our community."

Members planned and executed increasingly elaborate stunts designed to garner publicity for their campaign, including a flash mob at a Heartland Visioning community meeting and a formation of fans spelling out "Google" on the ice during a RoadRunners hockey game.

Starkey said the positive attitude of Think Big Topeka participants is a conscious choice to reject some citizens' defeatist attitudes concerning the capital city.

"It starts out with people saying you have to be realistic, and being realistic leads to being pessimistic, and being pessimistic tends to lead to people being negative," he said. "At our meeting, people get together and talk about good stuff, and then go do good stuff. We've kind of punched through the barrier with this."

The next step for Think Big Topeka is planning for a possible visit by Google representatives involved in choosing test sites for the fiber experiment. Starkey said plans are in the works to "dazzle" them, including limousine rides, a downtown rally and a large parade.

Starkey said he believed the sky was the limit for what Think Big participants could accomplish.

"It is 100 percent OK to have stars in your eyes and work as hard as you can for something with all of your passion toward it," Starkey said. "That is the only thing that makes things happen.