Western Iowa Advantage Preparing for Opportunities

 

Western Iowa Advantage Preparing for Opportunities

How cities, counties, and western Iowa can prepare to take advantage of opportunities for economic development was the topic of keynote speaker Janet Ady at Western Iowa Advantage’s annual dinner meeting Tuesday evening, April 7, at the new Templeton Center in Templeton.

About 75 people attended, including Greene County board of supervisors chair John Muir, Greene County Development Corp members Norm Fandel and Doug Burns, Greene County Chamber executive director Chris Henning and Chamber board member Tori Riley, and Chuck and Carla Offenburger. Carla Offenburger represents Greene County Medical Center at GCDC meetings, and they are both supporters of economic development and tourism in Greene County.

Ady is spending several days in the Western Iowa Advantage (WIAD) counties—Adair, Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie, Ida and Sac—to inventory what has been done to poise the region for future growth and suggest next steps. She is president and CEO of Ady Voltedge, an economic development consulting firm based in Madison, WI.

Ady said her biggest surprise in her visit was the “Thoughtfulness that the city leaders and stakeholders have about how they want to deploy the land they have.” She said leaders consistently spoke of finding the “right fit” with potential new employers. “That’s not common, and to hear it so consistently really suggests that there’s a long term view in this region of economic development,” Ady said.

For Ady, “economic development” is “giving your children and grandchildren the opportunity to live where they grew up. They may not choose to stay, but there’s an option for them in some kind of industry or business that would suit their skills and their interests and their needs.”

Ady gave a broad overview of economic development and named three mega trends for 2015: 1) the elimination of risk for prospective businesses; 2) a regional approach; and 3) increasing competition among economic development organizations (EDOs).

Prospective companies want to minimize their risk in finding an adequate labor force, any difficulty in zoning for their proposed land use, any volatility or instability in the state’s fiscal position, and any uncertainty of the long term availability of water. Ady suggested that local decision makers determine what sort of companies they would like to attract and do any needed re-zoning in advance of marketing a site. There should also be discussion of what financial or tax incentives could or should be offered to attract a business.

A regional approach has become prevalent in economic development because regions better reflect the labor market than political boundaries, Ady said. “Regionalism is not about homogeneity. It’s not about everyone trying to be the same. It’s about holding your own identity, but realizing you’re part of a bigger picture. The truth is, the first sale has to be of a region. Once the employer is in the region, you can find the right fit,” she said. “You’re going to find the fit that feels right for the employer and their staff and the community.”

Ady emphasized that EDOs should work with existing businesses because of their potential to grow and expand, and because potential employers will ask existing business about the ongoing support they receive from the EDO.

The economic development process has become more competitive as it has “matured,” Ady said, noting that now virtually every county in the country includes an economic development function, and more than 30,000 communities have EDOs. The process of recruiting new business and industry has become more sophisticated, and generalized statements like “we’re a great place to live, work, and play” must be backed up with specific information.

Quality of life is important when it comes down to final decisions made by companies. When all other factors are balanced, company executives’ vision of the quality of life they want for their future employees, and how that fits with a particular community, can be the final selling point.

“Quality of life doesn’t matter at all until everything depends on it,” Ady said.

Ady’s presentation was preceded by a brief annual report by Western Iowa Advantage chair Evan Blakley of Crawford County. He listed eight large projects completed by WIAD in the past year, three of which were Greene County projects: assisting in moving Wild Rose Jefferson forward and expansions at Scranton Manufacturing and Bauer Built in Paton. He named an employer/educator summit held last September and legislative advocacy, which included support for the increase in the gas tax. The Templeton Center, located in the former Sacred Heart grade school, was open for tours. Joe Behrens, now vice president of Templeton Savings Bank and formerly of Region XII Council of Governments, gave a short history of the project. The school closed in 2003 and was vacant for eight years.

In 2011, Behrens said, community leaders began looking at a project that would put the building to use. In early 2012, Templeton Rye made a $250,000 donation to the project and a capital campaign with a project price tag of $1.4 million was started in May, 2012. The campaign raised $1 million in five months. Bids were let in 2013 and the Templeton Center open August 14, 2014. Behrens said it was, coincidentally,  50 years to the day that the building was first dedicated.

To date, $1.75 million has been spent on the project. Organizers have raised $1.62 million, with about $200,000 coming as grants.

 

Courtesy of www.GreeneCountyNewsOnline.com 4/8/15 and The Scranton Journal, 4/15/15.

Janet Ady Greene County News Online Western Iowa Advantage economic development trends Scranton Journal

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