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Revitalization continues in Rockwell City

Community is in the middle of multiple projects, says city clerk

February 17, 2013
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

ROCKWELL CITY - In Rockwell City, revitalization continues.

"We're kind of in the middle of all the projects we're working on," said City Clerk Kelly Smidt.

One of those projects is creating a park at the east entrance to Rockwell City around the Marsh Bridge.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Lee Khommanyvong demonstrates how he stretches prototype gloves over a heat-testing device, using a glove he designed that’s now in production. Khommanyvong, a designer for Ansell Inc., recently moved his shop to Rockwell City.

"That is an historic bridge," said Pam Anderson, executive director of Calhoun County Economic Development Corp. "One of the concerns was if we don't do something with it now, it will deteriorate, and we'll lose that historical structure."

In 2012, the city tore down some abandoned buildings on the south side of the square, with the help of the Iowa Central Community College deconstruction program.

Work is also coming along in Gardens on 4th, which will fill a space on the square left by a demolished building years ago.

The idea for this came in 2008, when Sara Block saw an article about pocket parks.

Block is a loan officer at United Bank of Iowa, next door to what was then an empty cement lot.

"I was just looking at the cement lot and thought, 'I wonder if this would work here,'" Block said.

The community liked the idea.

"We've had a lot of support from the community, a lot of support through grants here," she said. "It's just a group of ladies that meets when we have time."

The group had to tear out a basement that was under the lot and fill it back in with dirt.

In 2012 the group put in a figure-8 walkway, with a large circular planter in the middle.

"We hope to have enough money in the coming year to finish the columns, and do the back seating area, and to complete the planter," Block said.

In addition to fundraisers, the group gets monetary help from local grants.

"I am a firm believer that local is very important," Block said. "Small towns are very important to rural America, and I'm a firm believer in keeping what we have here nice."

All the revitalization that's already happened has made a big difference, Block said, and has inspired businesses to begin their own beautification efforts.

"They're jumping on the bandwagon," said Theresa Hildreth, Chamber of Commerce administrative director.

"The key is to keep people engaged and excited," Hildreth said. "Not only uptown around the square, but extend this to your home. Your front yard, your backyard, the city parks."

Hildreth has been Chamber director for about nine months.

"I'm still trying to get up to speed on what the city and the Chamber want from the executive director," she said. "One of my projects is to grow our Chamber membership. I think the more people you have involved, and the more people you get, the more you can grow."

The key to her town moving forward is young people, she said.

"Personally I've seen some young families come back to the community, and to me that's encouraging," she said. "Those 30-somethings. They're coming back to Rockwell City to raise their families, because they want to raise their families like they were raised as kids.

"That's great for our community, it's great for our school system, but we have to make this community attractive for those young people to come back."

One exciting development for the town was a new Mexican restaurant, said Hildreth.

"People couldn't wait for them to open. It's nice to get another eating establishment in town, and something diversified," she said.

The restaurant, Las Flores, is owned by a family business that also has locations in Des Moines, Iowa Falls and Missouri, said manager Benjamin Ayala.

Ayala moved to Rockwell City when Las Flores opened three months ago, he said.

"We were looking on the Internet, and we found this place was for sale," Ayala said.

When they found it was a small town, and there was no other similar business in town, "we thought we should try it and see if people like it here," he said. "So far, everybody likes it."

Ayala has enjoyed living here.

"Everybody is friendly here. It's a small town, it's quiet," he said.

Also in 2012, Ansell International moved a prototyping, research and development office to Rockwell City.

Lee Khommanyvong designs new gloves for the company here, assisted by Tammy Ferry. Right now, only the two of them work in the office, but they may add more employees in the future, Khommanyvong said.

"They'll call him up and say, we need you do design something for, say, firemen, or something like that," Ferry said. "He comes up with a design and makes a pattern out of it."

Khommanyvong cuts and sews with a wide variety of materials, often creating specialty fireproof gloves.

"This is for a project we're working on now," he said holding some thin black gloves. "It's a touchpad glove, for law enforcement. Now you can touch your phone with that."

"If you take regular leather, it won't work" with a touchpad, said Ferry. "It has to have a specific leather."

The office moved to Rockwell City because that's where Khommanyvong has lived for the last 10 years. He said he loves the town because of all the activities they do on the square and the supportive local businesses, and because it's a great place to raise kids.

"I lived in Fort Dodge for many years. We decided to move here because we would like to raise a kid in this small city," he said. "In a small community, you get to know people better. Everybody waves at you. You go to the grocery store here, you keep your car running. You don't have to lock your car. Your kids running around the town without you having to fear what's going to happen.

"I'm very happy to be in this town, and happy I can make something different."



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