Plautz, Lutz stand firm for FD, Iowa at forum

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Terry Lutz, former mayor of Fort Dodge, speaks during a revitalize main street forum at Fort Museum and Frontier Village Opera House Tuesday night.

During a forum aimed at discussing ways to revitalize rural Iowa communities, Dennis Plautz, the chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, said Fort Dodge is a prime example of growth taking place in the region.

“In the last four years retail sales are up 35 percent,” he said. “Eighteen hundred new jobs have been added and now close to 1,500 more will be coming to the area with Prestage.”

He added, “One size does not fit all and I think Fort Dodge is a good example of that.”

Plautz spoke during a revitalize main street forum at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village Opera House Tuesday night. About 50 people attended.

Plautz said Fort Dodge has made a lot of progress since the early 1990s when the local population dwindled.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Jill Heisterkamp, Calhoun County economic development executive director, talks about ways to revitalize rural Iowa at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village Opera House Tuesday night.

“Fort Dodge’s peak population was 31,000 in 1970,” he said. “By 1990, after Hormel and others left, we dropped under 26,000 people.”

“We lost 3,000 jobs in three years,” he said. “At that time we had no need for new housing.”

Today, the city is experiencing a different set of problems, including lack of suitable housing.

And, Plautz said, another major issue in Fort Dodge and surrounding areas is workforce.

“The biggest threat is workforce,” he said. “Can we get people to move here to take these jobs or train people who are already here to take jobs?”

Terry Lutz, a former mayor of Fort Dodge, said workforce and housing are issues almost everywhere.

What makes the difference in any community, according to Lutz, is leadership.

“The No. 1 reason cities stagnate is progressive leadership,” Lutz said. “You have to have leadership to engage the community. If you don’t have strong leadership in your community you probably don’t have a bright future.”

He added, “In places that are stagnating, there’s probably not leadership and there is fighting about things that don’t matter in the long run.”

Plautz said leaders need to work together.

“There’s different levels of leadership — city council, supervisors, school board,” he said. “They all need to be on the same page to be successful.”

Susan Ahlers Leman, president and senior trust officer at First American Bank, said she is impressed with the collaboration taking place in Fort Dodge.

“I can’t think of a time where our city has worked so well together,” she said.

Brian Pederson, general manager at Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters, said when he moved back to Fort Dodge he noticed a difference.

“When I came back, the city had begun to take on a new attitude,” he said.

After graduating high school in the area, Pederson pursued opportunities in Atlanta, Georgia, and, ultimately, Denver, Colorado. He lived there for eight years.

“I did what most of high school kids did,” he said. “I got out of the area. I went to Atlanta and settled in Denver. I had a good job and a good house.”

He said smaller communities can thrive in important ways.

“There’s a lot of quality of life things and volunteer opportunities in small towns,” he said.

Since returning to Fort Dodge, Pederson has become the president of Fort Dodge Young Professionals, a group whose goal is to improve the quality of life and economic development of Fort Dodge and the region.

He said Fort Dodge’s reentry into the Main Street Iowa program is important as the city continues its upward trend.

“That program is critical,” he said.

According to Pederson, recent events that have taken place downtown have been another positive step.

“We have had two events recently — the Fireball Run and the Downtown Country Jam — where our main street was lit up,” he said. “We have to have that area where people can go on the weekends and find people.”

Gretchen Tiedeman, marketing coordinator for Pocahontas County economic development, attended the forum to have a dialogue about ways to improve surrounding communities.

“It’s always really nice to be able to collaborate with other city and county officials,” she said. “It’s a chance to put our heads together and better our communities in rural Iowa.”

She said her particular area of focus is on quality of life.

“To draw in new businesses, people have to want to live in an area,” Tiedeman said. “There has to be recreation and quality of life. That’s very important in economic development.”

Jill Heisterkamp, Calhoun County economic development executive director, was also on hand. She attended the forum with the hope of learning new information to take back with her to Calhoun County, she said.

In terms of revitalizing rural Iowa, Heisterkamp said the goal is to attract people back to their hometowns.

“We have some people coming back to the area,” she said. “It seems like more people are interested in raising their families in the same communities they grew up in.”

Hesiterkamp added, “The magic question is what will bring them back?”

She said, “I think it’s about providing those amenities, but keeping that small town feel. It’s kind of a delicate balance.”

According to Lutz, Iowa will remain one of the greatest places to live in the world.

“When you look at statistics, there’s no better place to live in the world than the Midwest,” he said. “We are relatively immune from natural disasters. We have the lowest cost of energy, half of which is renewable. And we have an abundant supply of water.

“All three of these will be around forever, so people need to understand that,” he said.

“Iowa is as well-positioned as anyone.”


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