Just across the river from Omaha, only moments away from Downtown, are the 65,000 people of Council Bluffs. Between the Bluffs and Downtown Omaha is the mighty Missouri River. But there’s more than just the river that stands between the two cities. For a long time now, there have been stigmas and assumptions that separate the cities.
Entrepreneurs, though, should be careful not to overlook Council Bluffs. The area has a lot to offer, and its leadership is ready and able to support and nurture new companies.
What makes Council Bluffs unique for startups? A lot says Niki Ferguson, who works as the Manager of Entrepreneurial Development at Advance Southwest Iowa Corporation. “Some great things are happening on the east side of the river,” Niki said in our interview with her. “For example, we have an awesome art scene that includes the new PACE building, the Harvester artist lofts, and public art.” The Pottawattamie Arts Culture Entertainment (PACE) project is a $27 million undertaking that will be complete in early 2020. According to the Omaha Wolrd Herald, the building will house the new American Midwest Ballet, Chanticleer Community Theatre, Kanesville Symphony, and the Kitchen Council for entrepreneur chefs.
“There is also a big push for community building and revitalization projects, as seen on the 100 Block, west Broadway corridor and the riverfront,” said Niki. “Not to mention, Blink – free community wifi.”
For some time, there has been a debate in Omaha on the use of our riverfront property. Council Bluffs, though, has stepped up the game on their side of the river. The area includes performance space, new class A office, condos, parks, and more. It’s a very vibrant scene.
The Southwest Iowa area knows how essential startups will be to their future. Niki was clear, “Entrepreneurs will always play a huge role in the economic vitality of our city.” She continued, “they will be the ones who develop solutions to our challenges. Council Bluffs will welcome, and is ready to support, those innovative solutions.”
Perhaps the most significant advantage Nebraska entrepreneurs may have when considering Council Bluffs is the ability to establish an Iowa presence without going far from home. Establishing a headquarters in Iowa opens companies up to a whole new world of relationships, resources, and opportunities. Iowa offers its entrepreneurs and small business owners some incredible incentives. Here are a few of those opportunities:
The Iowa West Foundation
Since its inception, the Iowa West Foundation’s grant program has awarded more than $430 million. The organization funds non-profits in education, economic development, and healthy families.
The Iowa Demonstration Fund
With awards up to $125,000, the Demonstration Fund is designed to assist companies with market-ready innovative technologies or products that have a clear potential for commercial viability.
The Iowa Innovation Acceleration Fund
With awards up to $500,000, the Iowa Innovation Acceleration Fund promotes the formation and growth of businesses that engage in the transfer of technology to competitive, profitable companies that create high-paying jobs.
Targeted Small Business Program
The Targeted Small Business (TSB) program is designed to help women, individuals with minority status, service-connected disabled veterans, and individuals with disabilities overcome some of the hurdles to start or grow a small business in Iowa.
Tech Brews Council Bluffs
Tech Brews is a program by the Technology Association of Iowa. For those familiar with 1 Million Cups, Tech Brews is a similar concept. The event happens monthly in Council Bluffs and is hosted at the Kitchen Council space. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet and connect with local entrepreneurs and builders.
John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers
Members of the Iowa startup community will be able to access the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at Iowa Universities. There is strong support for founders in Iowa’s university system. Building in Council Bluffs gives entrepreneurs the ability to engage these excellent programs.
Growing the Bluffs is good for Omaha as well. It’s common knowledge in economic development that there is momentum and energy in density. When density is high, good things happen. Council Bluffs is just minutes from downtown Omaha and selecting this as a primary home or secondary headquarters is likely better for Omaha’s density than building on the far western or southern edges of the city.
What’s next for Council Bluffs? Probably a lot. The Bluffs is also an extension of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and part of the We Don’t Coast collective. “I think Council Bluffs is the next up and coming neighborhood in the metro,” said Niki. “All of the players from the city, county, non-profit organizations, business owners, etc. all work collaboratively for the same common goal: to change the narrative and showcase the opportunities.”
She continued, “I would challenge anyone to come across the river and spend some time here. Come check out the 100 block, attend an event at Baylis Park, and visit Downtown. I guarantee your opinion will change. There are opportunities in CB for businesses and startups, as well as an awesome quality of life. I’m excited about the future of Council Bluffs!”