We’re going places in Fort Dodge

Recently, we completed a week in Fort Dodge that brought activity and visitors to the community. RAGBRAI and the Iowa High School State Softball Tournament both showcased many of the positive changes occurring in Fort Dodge as well as provided an opportunity to market the community to visitors from Iowa as well as across the nation. Both events were very successful, due in large part to that elusive thing called leadership, which has been exponentially growing in this community and region in recent years.

RAGBRAI had 15,000 registered riders during the Fort Dodge stay, and 25,000 when counting the support individuals. RAGBRAI had over 500 local people volunteer their time to make it a successful stay and every single housing request was accommodated by local residents. Thank you to the committee, local government, and all the residents who contributed time and effort toward creating a positive impression for the RAGBRAI visitors.

The same week Fort Dodge hosted five days of the Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament at Harlan and Hazel Rogers fields. This was the 45th straight year these have been hosted by Fort Dodge and are currently under contract for at least five more years. The attendance exceeded 20,000 for the third time while hosting 40 teams from around the state of Iowa. The 45th year does not happen without the continued improvement and upgrades to the Harlan and Hazel Rogers Complex, and the terrific leadership of the Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation Department and the Fort Dodge Convention and Visitors Bureau. Iowa Central Community College has continued to support the weeklong event through the provision of meals and housing for the participants.

Both of these events demonstrate how leadership drives positive activity, and are really examples of why Fort Dodge is currently a quarter finalist in the America’s Best Communities competition. Fort Dodge was recently named as one of only 50 cities who are quarter finalists nationwide in this competition. The basis for judging these communities has been (1) Community Engagement, (2) Long Term Vision, (3) Strategy, and (4) Short Term Goals. Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank, and The Weather Channel sponsor this competition, which provides an opportunity to receive up to $3 million in prize money. In watching the way the above-mentioned events were planned and implemented by community leaders and volunteers, they really epitomize the criteria in the America’s Best Communities program.

When the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance was formed approximately four years ago, the community realized the need to marry traditional business recruitment with community and quality of life initiatives. In talking to various visitors, and in speaking with organizations at class reunions and meetings where people attend by coming back to Fort Dodge after having been away for a period of time, I continue to hear over and over how surprised they are with the visual and opportunity transformation that has occurred. It has such a positive impact on their impression of Fort Dodge as a good place to be.

Becoming a better place to live, work, and play does not just happen because of location, access to water or highways or resources, or other objective characteristics. Clearly, these factors can help or hurt economic survival or prosperity, but the essential ingredient is always leadership. Leadership is the guts and willingness to step up to hard decisions, be informed, be proactive, take risks, and be willing to occasionally fail, but a leader is in the action. You don’t have to be elected to be a leader, but just care and be involved for the improvement of the whole.

I would like to applaud all of the people who are increasingly becoming engaged and who really are the primary reason our community and region is “Going Places” again. Whether it’s events described above, new trails, aquatic centers, numerous water trails, the largest OHV park in the Midwest, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex, Iowa Central Community College or all of the other private economic development and community development and infrastructure activity that is and has occurred, without collaborative leadership, we would not be experiencing our current success. Again, learning how to collaborate and work together has never been better. The fact that 14 local entities from government to education to nonprofit groups have partnered with the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance in synchronizing strategic plans to is evidence of what type of collaboration exists in our Region. Thank you to all of you for your efforts and participation and for those that are not well engaged, please think about being more involved, which will reward all our residents in the long run.

Dennis Plautz is chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.