After a virtual Prometheus awards last year, Technology Association of Iowa’s annual event is back in person tonight.
As well as recognizing individual companies, startups and people for their achievements, one community will receive the award of Tech Community of the Year for its work bringing businesses, residents and local government to the table for projects in areas like infrastructure, broadband and education.
Brian Waller, president of Technology Association of Iowa, said the work that communities do as a whole will be invaluable in the future.
“With the emergence of the “digital citizen,” Iowa communities that invest in technology infrastructure, education, innovation, entrepreneurship and privacy of citizens’ data will be the thriving communities of tomorrow,” Waller said in a statement.
Get to know the finalists before the event with highlights from their conversations with the Business Record.
The following conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
2020 population: 10,394
Questions answered by: Travis Toliver, executive director for the Waverly Chamber of Commerce and the Waverly Main Street Program
Share some of the initiatives your community has implemented and how they’ve encouraged growth among businesses and the community.
The bulk of the reason why I nominated Waverly was because our local municipally owned utility company, Waverly Utilities, a few years back used to be called Waverly Light and Power, and they renamed themselves, they rebranded themselves, because they knew they were going to bring on a telecommunications component to their organization. Since then they have run fiber to every home and business in Waverly. Even though Cedar Falls had fiber first, we were the first community in Iowa to have a fully built-out community — everybody has it now. It really just reinforces the progressive spirits that Waverly continues to have.
Now we have high-speed internet going to all these residents and businesses, and now we’re trying to look at how can we attract people that work from home that can have anywhere in the world to live to northeast Iowa and to live here in one of the best communities in the country, in my mind anyway. We have local cable through Waverly Utilities and our phone systems through them as well.
It kind of triggered a ripple effect. Our city has been doing a lot of infrastructure projects to upgrade all of our underground infrastructure that we have throughout the community. Highway 3, which is the main road that goes through our community, got torn up for two years by the DOT and our city leaders invested millions of dollars to put in new water hookups to all the buildings and making sure that the fiber was going where it needed to go and then putting a new water main on the south side of the street.
It’s just really neat to see where that initial start from the technology side of things has rippled down to the community, not reinventing itself, but progressing itself and making sure that we’re keeping up to date with not only technology, but all of our infrastructure that that we have to have in order to be a working community.
Was there a specific plan or initiative that started your community on this path?
This is just a progressive community. Since its founding, there’s always just been this spirit of once they accomplish something, what’s next? When I came into the picture seven years ago, the [Waverly Utilities] CEO had just arrived pretty much at the same time, and he had already accomplished this kind of project with his previous community so he was the perfect person to come in and take our utilities to the next level.
I remember three or four years ago having a conversation with our utility CEO, and he said, “What do you think about electric cars? What do you think about charging stations, do you think that’s coming our way?” I said, “Yeah, my friends up in Minneapolis have them, and down in Des Moines.” I said, “We need to start thinking right now about where we’re going to put our charging station.” Fast-forward to just last year, Waverly Utilities installed a level two charging station.
We’re always just trying to see what’s next on the horizon, and if that’s a good fit for our community, then how do we invest in it so that we can be ready for that when the time comes?
What are key issues or needs in your community that technology initiatives have been able to address?
I think there’s always a need for high-speed internet, and better-quality TV and phone services. But I also think there was a really strong need for quality customer service, and that is what the Waverly Utilities excels in. When you call you know you’re going to get somebody local, that can jump right on the problem in a moment’s notice, and nine times out of 10 gets the situation resolved in an extremely fast amount of time.
As the chamber director, I could say, “Oh, yeah, our businesses needed high-speed internet and certainly that’s a plus, and we’re able to attract more businesses and more remote workers to our community because of that.” That’s all great and everything, but the frosting on the cake for me is the rich quality of customer service that you’re going to receive. When you do run into a challenge with any of those services, you’re going to have a team of people working on it right away and getting the job done.
What do you feel makes your community unique in terms of ways it can innovate to improve life and business in the area?
It might sound generic, but the people here really do make it a unique place, because they know that they have something special here, and they want to try to continue having that. The only way that you are ever successful at having something special is to make sure that you’re always improving upon it, and that is very much the spirit of this community.
You look at a town like Waverly of 10,000 people, it is not your typical Midwest, rural community. This community not only prides themselves on being very progressive-minded and trying to push the envelope with all of its aspects, but at the same time, extremely welcoming. Where in most communities, it takes a very long time to break into one or two circles of friends or professional groups, I feel like people who move here are very welcomed and very accepted much more quickly than in other communities. They really do pride themselves on not being the stereotypical closed-minded, small, rural, Midwestern town. This community is trying to break that stereotype or break that mold.
What partnerships or efforts have made your community successful in its endeavors so far, and what will help you continue that success into the future?
Being municipally owned, the utility board has a wonderful partnership with our city staff and city leadership. The chamber and the Main Street program also have a great partnership with the city. I would say the partnerships are really the key in a lot of the progress that this community has made, certainly on the technology front anyway, because we have very strong-minded people that that want to see positive progress for our community and, and they know that technology is front and center when it comes to to attracting new businesses and new residents.
We try to look very intently and far enough into the future to be able to know how, and understand how the community could benefit from future initiatives and what it would take to invest in those and make sure that it’s either going to happen, or it’s going to be in place by the time those those initiatives come around to be trendy. We want to be at the forefront of that, and so we can’t react to a trend when it’s already trending.
I like to always read about communities that are larger than ours to see what’s going on there, because I know, eventually, whatever is happening there is going to be coming our way, as a quote-unquote rural community. I think we’re all just kind of looking out for one another to see what are the trends that are happening around the country and is that something that we want to do here in Waverly?