Growth Alliance says ‘There’s no place like home’
Program aims to bring former area residents back to Fort Dodge
The Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance has started a new marketing campaign aimed at enticing native Fort Dodge residents to return to the area to live and work.
“There’s no place like home” targets former Fort Dodge residents who may be visiting the region while home for the holidays, said Kelly Halsted, economic development director for the Growth Alliance.
Following a survey the Iowa Economic Development Authority commissioned earlier this year to find out why people travel to Iowa or choose to move to Iowa, Halsted said the Growth Alliance decided to execute a survey in August and September to find out why people visit or move to Fort Dodge.
“One of the results is people that have moved from here have a propensity to move back and they have the propensity to stay longer as well,” Halsted said. “We thought let’s target them while they’re here for the holidays and make a big deal about it, making sure parents and friends have talking points for when they’re back for the holidays and saying, ‘This is why you should be moving back.'”
The Growth Alliance has marketing materials throughout the community and businesses to show visitors what it sees as the biggest draws for people to move back – low cost of living, nearby family and friends, sports and recreation options, short commutes, fine arts opportunities, social events and jobs.
Businesses have table tents in their dining rooms, and others have posters up.
The Growth Alliance is also doing a social media campaign with this project, featuring an array of individuals who grew up in Fort Dodge, moved away and then decided to move back for various reasons.
The goal is to highlight why people should want to move back to their hometown.
“Fort Dodge is a great place to raise a family and be with your relatives and friends,” Halsted said. “And we have great jobs, too, and a lot of the amenities that younger people are looking for.”
There are more than 700 jobs open in the Fort Dodge area, she said. The Growth Alliance has a job board on its website.
The Growth Alliance also has a module on its website with rental properties to help prospective residents find housing.
Aside from family connections and jobs, one of the biggest things that draws former residents back to Fort Dodge is the quality of life, Halsted said.
“You have to give credit to the city and the county and our leaders that they recognize that quality of life is an important piece of workforce,” she said. “It’s an important thing and our leaders right now really recognize that they do have to spend some money on quality of life features for our community to really attract and make Fort Dodge and the region a place where people want to come and live.”
Fort Dodge native Kole Petersen hadn’t lived in Fort Dodge in nearly 20 years when he and his wife, Molly Nelson, moved their family back in the fall of 2017.
Petersen, who is an investment advisor representative at Central Financial Group, and Nelson were living in Waukee with their two young sons, Joseph and David,when the couple found out they were pregnant with twins, Etta and Eyla. They thought Fort Dodge would be a “great place” to raise a large family, Petersen said.
“The real eye-opening thing for me was when Joseph was going to be a kindergartner, there were 1,000 kids just in his grade in Waukee,” he said. “(Molly and I) both came from Fort Dodge, a class of 290 people, and we thought maybe it was time to go to a little smaller school district.”
Much had changed in the 20 years since Petersen and Nelson lived in Fort Dodge.
“It’s a little different seeing it through adult eyes than seeing it as a kid,” he said. “You see all the good in Fort Dodge.”
Petersen said he thinks there’s more opportunities for his family in Fort Dodge because of the smaller size of the city. He encourages others who have moved away to come back to see how things have changed, and those who want to spread their wings to do so as well.
“Go out and explore, see what’s out there,” he said. “When you come back to Fort Dodge, you’ll figure out that everything here is just as good, if not better. There’s a lot of opportunities here that don’t present themselves in other places. You can work for a small business here, or own a small business here, where I couldn’t imagine doing in Waukee because there’s so much competition.”
Fort Dodge has a “small-town feel,” with big-city opportunities, he said.
Petersen said Fort Dodge welcomed his family back with open arms, just as it would with anyone moving back home.
“Once you’re a Dodger, you’re always a Dodger,” he said. “People from Fort Dodge really stick together.”