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Waterloo, it’s intelligent

Intelligent Community Forum

How cool! Waterloo, Ontario — just a couple of hours west of Toronto — has been named Intelligent Community of the Year.

The award was presented in New York last Friday, by the independent think tank Intelligent Community Forum, which said in a news release:

The Intelligent Community of the Year was selected based on in-depth research and analysis conducted by a knowledge process outsourcing company in India and the votes of an independent committee of experts from around the world. The ICF award came to North America this year, as Waterloo, best known as the home of BlackBerry developer Research in Motion, succeeded Taipei, the 2006 Intelligent Community of the Year.

The city of 115,000 people is the smallest, geographically speaking, of seven cities that make up Canada’s Technology Triangle. But with only 10% of the labor force in the Triangle, it accounts for 45% of job growth and is home to 40% of the high-tech firms in the region. 

They outsourced some of the award decision to India? I guess we’d better get used to hearing that.

The community’s Mayor, Brenda Halloran and two of its other driving forces, Councilor Mark Whaley and Simon Farbrother, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, accepted the award on behalf of Waterloo. A standing committee called Intelligent Waterloo, led by Research in Motion Chairman Jim Balsillie and University of Waterloo President David Johnston, has also supported the community’s development by educating business leaders, academics and citizens about the challenges Waterloo faces and engaging them in goal-setting.

According to ICF, the community’s success illustrates the power of getting a few critical things right and then working together over the long haul to nurture and manage the resulting success. The first and most important step took place at the University of Waterloo, founded in 1957 by two businessmen who saw an opportunity to create a high-level technical institution to train local business leaders. In the 1970s, the University established an intellectual property policy that was unheard of in its day: it allowed students and faculty members to own rights in intellectual property they developed at the University.

I remember touring the University of Waterloo’s computer science department when I was a senior high student in the early 1970s and being mighty impressed by all those big IBM boxes. All these years later, it’s clear that the combination of strong university education and innovative local government policies can make a big difference to how a city and region develop. As ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla said in announcing the award:

“Most important to us is that Waterloo has never stopped raising the bar. Waterloo’s government has engaged actively with business and citizens in planning for a prosperous future. It introduced the award-winning Waterloo Information Network in 1998, and offers a wide range of online services to better connect government and its stakeholders. They are active in CAP, the national program that places Internet access terminals in public locations. Most importantly, the community has an extraordinary culture of collaboration and reinvestment. People in Waterloo make partnership a priority and are eager to give back to the entire community.” 

– via Dave Forde at Profectio