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Greater FD Growth Alliance: Growing the area

Pressing for development, quality of life

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance Chief Executive Officer Dennis Plautz, at right, along with Economic Development Director Kelly Halsted, work on a project together at the Growth Aliiance’s downtown Fort Dodge offices recently.

The Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance exists to pursue economic development and quality of life efforts to improve the entire region.

Dennis Plautz, the alliance’s chief executive officer, said it was created in 2011 to ”marry up” the twin causes of economic development and quality of life.

During 2016, it has pursued that mission by carefully targeting its efforts to recruit employers to the area.

And in an effort to make the Fort Dodge community more attractive as a place to live and work, the alliance has also tackled issues related to retail sales, housing, and education.

In all of those diverse efforts, the alliance has worked closely with local and state governments and businesses.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Growth Alliance Communications Specialist Amy Pingel, at right, along with Jill Nelson community development director, look over the Growth Alliance’s web site recently at their downtown offices.

”We have continued this last year, I believe, to build even better partnerships with people in all of these areas,” Plautz said.

”I think we made a lot of headway working in the region,” he added.

For proof that things are getting better in and around Fort Dodge, Kelly Halsted, the alliance’s economic development director, turns to reams of statistics and charts.

Perhaps one of those statistics is the most telling. According to data compiled by the alliance, average wages in Webster County have grown by 27.2 percent since 2005.

Nationally, wages have risen by 21.6 percent since 2005.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance Organizational Administrator Skyla Porter answers a few questions on the phone recently as Office Manager Kate Stucky works on table decorations for an upcoming event.

”I think that is significant, especially for a rural area,” Halsted said.

Such statistics indicate that the work of the alliance and its various partners is paying off.

The alliance’s work was also recognized in a more direct way last year.

The organization received a 2016 Business Retention and Expansion Award from the Professional Developers of Iowa in April. The award honored the alliance’s work to keep a building at 141 Riverside Drive, commonly called the Riverside plant, viable and to retain its skilled staff. Today, that building is the home of a new animal pharmaceutical manufacturer, AML Riverside LLC.

”It’s recognition that your peers in the business realize the significance of the project,” Plautz said of the award. ”It’s just recognition that things are getting better.”

During 2016, the alliance added to its inventory of marketing tools by creating a video promoting Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation, the industrial park west of Fort Dodge that is home to Valero Renewables, Cargill and CJ Bio America.

It includes comments by Gov. Terry Branstad and Debi Durham, the director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. At the end of the video, Branstad says ”You can’t beat Fort Dodge.”

”Gov. Branstad has said that other communities should come into Fort Dodge to see how we get things done,” said Amy Pingel, the alliance’s communications specialist.

In the past year, the alliance also updated its web site to make it more functional with mobile devices.

Plautz said the alliance’s efforts to recruit new companies to Webster County is now more tightly focused on biotechnology.

Halsted said a cluster of animal health businesses is developing in Fort Dodge with AML Riverside LLC and Elanco. She said that cluster is rooted in ”human capital” – the local workers with experience in the animal health field.

As part of the effort to target biotechnology companies, the alliance has sent Halsted to a number of international gatherings for that industry. She has attended the BioWorld Congress and Vet Health Global, both in Canada.

At those shows, the alliance partners with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which Halsted said ”gives us a much higher profile.”

Building and maintaining relationships is the goal of attending the shows, according to Plautz.

”This is how you become successful in recruiting companies and businesses,” he said.

Finding ways to help provide trained workers for the companies it recruits is another alliance initiative.

It has developed what alliance staffers call an ”externship program” in which local teachers get to spend a week with a business. The objective is to have those teachers return to the classroom and tell their students about the jobs at the business and what skills are needed to get those jobs. Halsted said 14 teachers participated in 2016, the first year the program was held.

The Growth Alliance consists of hundreds of members, including individuals and organizations.

”We can’t do the work that we do without our members,” said Jill Nelson, the alliance’s community development director.

The alliance’s members pay dues and have the option of paying even higher dues by signing up for Visionary Membership. Nelson said 43 percent of the members have signed up for that higher status.

”That shows that our business community is really supportive of what we’re doing,” Nelson said.

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