EG taps Davis to lead city during time of growth

Former economic development director fills vacancy

EAGLE GROVE — Bryce Davis, the Wright County economic development director largely responsible for bringing Prestage Foods of Iowa’s $250 million pork plant to the region, has left that post to become Eagle Grove’s city administrator.

“Never in my life did I think I would be a city administrator,” Davis said recently. “But this opportunity was too good to pass up.”

Davis, a native of Ida Grove, was hired by the city Dec. 11.

He replaces George McGuire, who submitted his resignation earlier this year.

Davis began his duties as city administrator on Tuesday. He will be paid a starting salary of $84,000.

He said the decision to leave economic development for an administrative position “felt right.”

“There is a lot of opportunity ahead with the city of Eagle Grove,” he said. “It just felt like the right time to make the transition and diversify and learn new opportunities.”

He added, “Growing the housing stock, growing housing within the community, focusing on amenity development, whether it’s in urgent care, a hotel/events center, downtown rehabilitation efforts, but also getting more ingrained into the water reclamation facility expansion project to service the Prestage site and to accommodate current flows to the wastewater plant.”

A new hotel and events center is being planned just south of the Dollar General store on South Commercial Avenue.

The houses in that area have been burned down and construction could begin as early as spring 2018, according to Davis.

An estimated $25 million water reclamation facility is being constructed on 22 acres of land in the 1300 block of Southwest Ninth Street near Eagle Grove’s existing wastewater plant. It will include the water reclamation plant, force main and lift station.

Housing remains a top priority.

“Just like every rural town across Iowa, housing is the most important aspect,” Davis said. “The name of the game has changed, especially from an economic development standpoint.”

“A decade ago if you brought a business in, people would move for that job,” he said. “The economics have changed to where people will live where they want to live and commute for that job. Bringing in an employer is just one piece to the growth puzzle. You have to have amenities, you have to have the infrastructure in place that people feel that it’s worth moving to that community and that has a lot to do with affordable, quality housing.”

One focus area will continue to be dilapidated or abandoned houses, Davis said.

“If they have to be taken down, that opens a lot for new construction,” he said. “As we continue, we are starting to open up more lots. All of the lots that have sold have had houses on them at one time. We are seeing the market shift where people want to purchase those vacant lots and do new construction on them.”

He said the addition of Prestage has had a positive impact on housing development.

“Before Prestage, what we saw is if you built a house the appraisal would come back lower than the cost of construction is because the comparables aren’t there in rural Iowa to justify giving that much money for a house unless you have the financial ability behind you.”

“So it’s harder for individuals to build a house because they have to have more equity into the project because of the appraisals,” he said. “Now we are starting to see more new construction happening, so we are hoping those comps go up which means banks are willing to finance more for new construction. People don’t need as much equity, so they can actually afford brand new houses.”

Prestage is building its nearly 700,000-square-foot facility four miles south of Eagle Grove. About 1,050 people will be employed there when the facility opens in the fall of 2018.

More than 10,000 hogs a day are expected to be processed.

An economic impact study conducted by Goss & Associates Economic Solutions, of Omaha, and Denver, Colorado, earlier this year predicts about 30 percent of the Prestage workers will be foreign-born. That study concluded that 43 percent of foreign-born Latino workers speak exclusively Spanish.

Davis said he is confident in the systems in place to prepare for any possible language barriers.

“We have the infrastructure in place at the school for English as a second language,” he said. “We have the personnel there at the schools that are committed to those roles. The schools at Eagle Grove are very committed to those trends.”

Davis graduated from Simpson College in Indianola in 2012 with a bachelor of arts degree. He has a master’s degree in management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and economics from the University of Lugano in Lugano, Switzerland.

Davis was hired as Wright County’s economic development director in April 2015.

“We are advertising for the Wright County economic development position,” he said. “The transition program is there, and I am also just a phone call away.”

“We just have to focus on getting someone who is most qualified for the position who can take it over,” he said. “There’s opportunities in that department to make someone’s career successful.”

Davis said he will likely work a portion of his hours with Wright County until someone else is hired for the position.

The county will then compensate the city for the hours Davis works, he said.

Mayor Sandy McGrath said Davis’s knowledge in economic development is an asset.

“He has proven that he has the tenacity,” she said. “He’s also proven that he’s established here in Wright County and in Eagle Grove.”

She added, “I truly believe he has the best interests as a homeowner and a citizen of Eagle Grove that he has the best interest of Eagle Grove in mind. He has a lot of great ideas, just different viewpoints … great ideas. He’s familiar with budget. He’s familiar with management. And I think right now his expertise in economic development and funding are what we need the most.”

Davis said his new role will involve more oversight.

“There’s a lot more personnel involved,” he said. “A lot more departments with public safety, public works. We have a bigger budget than what I had. We have more funds and accounts to keep track of from an auditing standpoint.”

One of Davis’s first items of business will be the budget.

“Right now we are going through the budget process for the next fiscal year and amend our current fiscal year budget,” he said.

The budget will be voted on in March, he said.

“I am looking forward to implementing a vision, implementing a comprehensive plan, working on development that betters the city, provide more opportunities for residents, as well as working towards all the city requirements we have to do,” Davis said. “Whether that’s budgets, union negotiations, or capital improvements plan, working on infrastructure. I am just excited to get started. I think there’s a lot to get done, but I think with the amount of positivity in the community, there will be a lot of support for projects to go simultaneously.”