Council Bluffs Named Iowa's Technology Community of the Year!

The Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) recognized Council Bluffs as Technology Community of the Year at the 2021 Prometheus Awards on Thursday, November 4, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Prometheus Awards acknowledge individuals, companies, and communities impacting Iowa’s technology industry.

“We are honored to receive this prestigious award,” said Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. “The BLink Wi-Fi project continues to demonstrate the effectiveness and value of public/ private partnerships. Thanks to the relationships with Google, Council Bluffs Community School District, and Iowa West Foundation BLink is possible.”

BLink is a free and open Wi-Fi network that boosts connectivity in many Council Bluffs neighborhoods, the Council Bluffs Community School District buildings, and many outdoor spaces such as Gale Wickersham Athletic Complex, CB Rec Complex, and Bayliss Park. BLink is available for students, residents, and visitors. The BLink coverage area will reach more than 20 square miles at project completion, providing Wi-Fi access to more than 40,000 people.

“The City of Council Bluffs had the idea of providing free Wi-Fi in partnership with Google and the Council Bluffs Community School District as part of a one-to-one initiative,” said Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. “It became apparent that some students couldn’t use their school laptops at home because they didn’t have internet access.”

In the spring of 2014, the Council Bluffs Community School District approved a strategic plan that extended its Wi-Fi network for students into the community. The City of Council Bluffs and the Council Bluffs Community School District formed a 28-E organization to develop free community Wi-Fi for the District’s students. A committee known as the Council Bluffs Area Wi-Fi Consortium assembled, and the first phase of BLink was complete in 2015.

"Our school district is fortunate to be part of an innovative, can-do community that collaborates to meet community needs," Superintendent Dr. Vickie Murillo said.  "Through the partnerships that made BLink possible, Council Bluffs students and families benefit every day from the free Wi-Fi network as they use their school-provided Chromebooks to access their school work at home. When the pandemic hit, this group answered the call to rapidly expand the network to more areas of our school community to help ensure connectivity for students."

BLink continues to be a community-wide effort. No tax dollars have been used. While the project is led by the City of Council Bluffs and Council Bluffs Community School District, it is supported by many community partners who have contributed funds, time, materials, labor, or expertise. BLink Partners include Google, Iowa West Foundation, Charles E. Lakin Foundation, CB Area Chamber of Commerce, Echo Group, Emspace, Mid-American Energy, Miller Electric, Ruckus Wireless, SmartWAVE Technologies, UNITE Private Networks, Bluffs Electric, City of Carter Lake, OPPD.

“We are honored to have played a part in earning this recognition for the Council Bluffs and are especially proud of the collaboration amongst all the key partners,” said Brenda Mainwaring, President and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation. “There are so many organizations working tirelessly to meet the needs of our community. Our goal is to support and empower them in order to continuously improve the lives of our residents.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced school buildings to close in March of 2020, many families relied on BLink to continue learning. The Council Bluffs Area Wi-Fi Consortium worked quickly to launch two new phases of BLink coverage. The BLink Wi-Fi coverage map can be found at www.blinkwifi.org.

“Google is proud to call Council Bluffs home and congratulates the city and our local partners on this tremendous recognition,” said Dan Harbeke, Head of External Affairs for Google. “Access to technology is critical to help bridge the digital divide, and Google is committed to be a community partner that helps prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow.” 

The Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce nominated Council Bluffs for the Technology Community of the Year Award. TAI is the statewide, member-based organization uniting Iowa’s technology community. TAI advances Iowa’s reputation as a technology state and supports the industry by connecting leaders, driving public policy, fostering diversity and inclusion, and developing talent.

“We are so pleased to be recognized as TAI’s Technology Community of the Year,” said Drew Kamp, President and CEO of the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce. “This is yet another example of how we continually partner and collaborate to move our community forward and provide resources and opportunities for all in the Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County community.”

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) sponsors TAI’s Technology Community of the Year Award. The award was presented to Council Bluffs officials by IEDA Director Debi Durham.

“Our approach to economic growth in Iowa is to create opportunities for businesses, communities and Iowans to thrive,” said Durham “I’m proud that communities such as Council Bluffs are making that goal a reality through investments in local tech companies, infrastructure, unique partnerships and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Learn more about TAI and the Prometheus Awards at technologyiowa.org.

This post was originally published on November 10, 2021 on the Unleash Council Bluffs blog.