By Sue Morris
Special to the Chronicle Times
Cherokee County will be in a group of six counties receiving a $175,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Development to assist in economic development marketing efforts.
Mike Blouin, IDED director, was in Le Mars Tuesday to make the announcement. The grant to the Northwest Iowa Developers Coalition is the fourth collaborative marketing proposal awarded by IDED.
"A collaborative approach to economic development marketing will benefit everyone," said Blouin. "Companies looking for locations to grow their businesses want to know that an area has the critical mass to attract and sustain their employees. By representing communities in the state as groupings, we show that the amenities are available."
The funding comes from the original state allocations to the Iowa Values Fund, according to Blouin. Myths have developed about that fund since Gov. Tom Vilsack proposed it in January 2003, explained the IDED chief. Most companies benefiting were not urban and were not large.
In 2003 IDED had only 51 companies actively interested in seeking Iowa locations. Now IDED has 445 companies which have short-listed Iowa as a top consideration, according to Blouin.
"What's happpened? What caused the incredible numbers I just talked about and that huge growth in prospects?, Blouin asked. "Part of it, a big part of it is the Values Fund. We're in a game we've never been in before."
"We've got the dollars to compete with every other state that's trying their best to buy our businesses out of Iowa and get new business in their state and not here. Now we're able to compete in a playing field we've never suited up on before," said Blouin.
The six counties in the grant are Plymouth, Cherokee, Sioux, O'Brien, Lyon and Osceola. The last four counties have participated for 15 years in an informal collaboration known as the Northwest Iowa Developers Coalition, which was hosted by Northwest Iowa Community College.
The six counties and some cities and private groups are putting forward a total of $325,500. Over the three-year grant project, $500,500 will be available for marketing the area to businesses. The third year of funding from the state is dependent on further legislative action, according to a press release from IDED.
"I've believed my whole life that no matter where you live in Iowa, the strengths of this state speak for itself," said Blouin, a former state legislator. "The trouble is, we just don't do enough speaking, we don't tell the stories enough. And local communities individually, in and of themselves, don't have the resources to tell that story 950 times over and over and get the same attention that the larger cities in Iowa do."
Marketing this area of the state will go beyond placing ads in business publications. Participating in trips by Iowa delegations, attending conferences and trade shows and meeting business officials will be important in successfully marketing the area, Blouin indicated.
"Nothing works better than a face-to-face invitation. That costs money," said the Democrat, who praised the entrepreneurial spirit of northwest Iowa.
"This region of the state has seen some fantastic economic growth the last several years and this effort to collaborate as an economic region will help that growth continue," said Blouin. "I commend the local officials who have worked to build this collaborative effort. I hope that the department's contribution will help spread the word that northwest Iowa is not only open for business, but that it is one of the best places in the country in which to do business."