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Local job news good, says FD alliance

Group pushing for dual rail system to serve ag park

October 26, 2012
By BRANDON L. SUMMERS, , Messenger News

The Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance held its quarterly update session Friday at the Webster County Courthouse.

Among the topics discussed were preparations for a dual rail system for a shovel-ready site west of Cargill and Valero Energy. The dual line would allow Union Pacific to serve the site in addition to Canadian National, which holds a monopoly on the area, said Kelly Halsted GFDGA economic development director.

The thinking is that a dual line would make the area more attractive to prospective companies.

Plans have already been drawn and sent to Canadian National.

"CN is going to look at those and determine if they would be able to give us an easement during construction to make a dual rail line for that area," Halsted said. "Things are moving for us. And CN seems like they might be OK with it, which is very exciting."

Webster County has received an $80,000 grant for rail infrastructure, which will get a $20,000 match from the county. The grant funds will be used for engineering the dual rail, Halsted said.

"It's chicken and eggs here," she said. "If the CN says yes, we would be willing to allow the dual rail, then engineering could be paid for by this grant, which is great."

GFDGA's work force committee, meanwhile, is preparing marketing materials, including a recruitment video, to encourage workforce growth in Webster County. Materials should be ready by Nov. 8, Halsted said.

The cooperative advertising materials will promote the area to prospective companies and labor at career fairs, for example.

"We're willing and ready to go to these career fairs and advertise the jobs and talk about the community and represent the companies," she said. "We have to know what's out there."

Only a few area businesses and companies are participating, though, Halsted said.

"Small companies like mine, we're not prepared to go out and do a large presentation like that," Clark Fletcher, business owner and Webster County supervisor, said. "It's outside of our normal scope of how we recruit and find people. It takes time for us to adjust to new methods."

Matt Bemrich, Fort Dodge mayor and business owner, said skilled employees come to Webster County for jobs from out of state. This is welcome, he said, because it's hard to find skilled labor in the area that isn't already employed.

"I've hired guys from Florida, Maine. I've got a guy from Missouri," he said. "I've got people who drive here every day from Ames and Des Moines. With 30-plus employees, I think I only have, like, 18 that live in Webster County."

A challenge to finding skilled labor is the training isn't emphasized in school or prioritized by students.

"A person can get a two-year degree, come to Fort Dodge and earn more than a teacher," Halsted said. "You can make a good living in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and stay here."

Discussing primary sector activity, Halsted reported a project pipeline of $224 million and 967 jobs. Existing industries are continually adding jobs.

"I think this is a great indicator of what's happening in Fort Dodge," she said. "One even expressed they could have a hundred new jobs in 18 months."

Mark Taylor, Fort Dodge councilman, said the job growth has positively impacted Fort Dodge. Friendship Haven, for example, is adding jobs in response to new employees at the county's expanded ag park.

"There's two different families that have relocated here to work at Cargill or CJ who moved their elderly parents here because they were so impressed by the facility," he said.

A shared concern was finding jobs for the more than 700 unemployed after Electrolux closed. Of those, about 400 lived in Webster County and 174 in Fort Dodge specifically.

According to Halsted, Cargill, by contract, is committed to creating 134 direct jobs and CJ is contracted to create 181 jobs.

"A lot of people in town are getting the call," Taylor said. "They're going to start working in December."

Halsted added, "If you can't find a job in Webster County, you're not looking."



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