Eagle Grove: on the verge of growth

Wright County town has new leadership

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Downtown Eagle Grove along West Broadway Street is shown here.

EAGLE GROVE — As the city of Eagle Grove prepares for the impacts of Prestage Foods of Iowa’s $300 million pork plant, it has turned to new leadership in Bryce Davis, the Wright County economic development director largely responsible for recruiting Prestage to the area.

Davis, a native of Ida Grove, was hired to be Eagle Grove’s city administrator on Dec. 11. He had served as Wright County’s economic development director since April 2015.

“There is a lot of opportunity ahead with the city of Eagle Grove,” he said. “It just felt like the right time to make the transition and diversify and learn new opportunities.”

He added, “Growing the housing stock, growing housing within the community, focusing on amenity development, whether it’s in urgent care, a hotel/events center, downtown rehabilitation efforts, but also getting more ingrained into the water reclamation facility expansion project to service the Prestage site and to accommodate current flows to the wastewater plant.”

After considering Webster, Hamilton and Cerro Gordo counties as potential sites for its plant, Prestage was contacted by Davis about the possibility of locating in Wright County.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Railroad tracks near Gold-Eagle Cooperative are shown here.

In the summer of 2016, the Wright County Supervisors made that proposition a reality when it entered a development agreement with Prestage.

Prestage’s plant is being constructed 4 miles south of Eagle Grove, a city of about 3,500 people.

The site was chosen, in part, because of the number of hogs in the area. About 6.5 million hogs are marketed within 250 miles of the plant site. Prestage will funnel in about 60 percent of its hogs from their own farms. The remaining 40 percent will come from independent producers.

About 1,050 workers are expected to be employed at the plant. Many of which could speak English as a second language.

A 2017 economic impact study conducted by Goss & Associates Economic Solutions, of Denver, Colorado, projects about 30 percent of workers to be foreign-born. The study predicts 43 percent of foreign-born Latino workers will speak exclusively Spanish.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
AGP’s Eagle Grove plant is shown here near North Commercial Avenue.

Davis said he is confident in the systems in place to prepare for any possible language barriers.

“We have the infrastructure in place at the school for English as a second language,” he said. “We have the personnel there at the schools that are committed to those roles. The schools at Eagle Grove are very committed to those trends.”

More than 10,000 hogs a day will be processed using highly advanced technology. Robotics will assist workers in moving the animals as well as making different cuts of meat.

Another development just a few miles north of Prestage’s plant is the construction of a new hotel and events center.

It is being planned just south of the Dollar General store on South Commercial Avenue.

-Submitted photo
The massive Prestage Foods of Iowa pork processing plant is expected to drive growth in nearby Eagle Grove.

The houses in that area have been burned down and construction could begin as early as spring 2018, according to Davis.

Also in the works is an estimated $25 million water reclamation facility. That is being constructed on 22 acres of land in the 1300 block of Southwest Ninth Street near Eagle Grove’s existing wastewater plant. It will include the water reclamation plant, force main and lift station.

Housing remains a top priority for the city, according to Davis.

“Just like every rural town across Iowa, housing is the most important aspect,” Davis said. “The name of the game has changed, especially from an economic development standpoint.”

“A decade ago if you brought a business in, people would move for that job,” he said. “The economics have changed to where people will live where they want to live and commute for that job. Bringing in an employer is just one piece to the growth puzzle. You have to have amenities, you have to have the infrastructure in place that people feel that it’s worth moving to that community and that has a lot to do with affordable, quality housing.”

One focus area will continue to be dilapidated or abandoned houses, Davis said.

“If they have to be taken down, that opens a lot for new construction,” he said. “As we continue, we are starting to open up more lots. All of the lots that have sold have had houses on them at one time. We are seeing the market shift where people want to purchase those vacant lots and do new construction on them.”

He said the addition of Prestage has had a positive impact on housing development.

“Before Prestage, what we saw is if you built a house the appraisal would come back lower than the cost of construction, because the comparables aren’t there in rural Iowa to justify giving that much money for a house unless you have the financial ability behind you.”

“So it’s harder for individuals to build a house because they have to have more equity into the project because of the appraisals,” he said. “Now we are starting to see more new construction happening, so we are hoping those comps go up which means banks are willing to finance more for new construction. People don’t need as much equity, so they can actually afford brand new houses.”

Davis graduated from Simpson College in Indianola in 2012 with a bachelor of arts degree. He has a master’s degree in management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and economics from the University of Lugano in Lugano, Switzerland.

Mayor Sandy McGrath said Davis’s knowledge in economic development is an asset.

“He has proven that he has the tenacity,” she said. “He’s also proven that he’s established here in Wright County and in Eagle Grove.”

She added, “I truly believe he has the best interests as a homeowner and a citizen of Eagle Grove that he has the best interest of Eagle Grove in mind. He has a lot of great ideas, just different viewpoints … great ideas. He’s familiar with budget. He’s familiar with management. And I think right now his expertise in economic development and funding are what we need the most.”

Davis said his new role will involve more oversight.

“There’s a lot more personnel involved,” he said. “A lot more departments with public safety, public works. We have a bigger budget than what I had. We have more funds and accounts to keep track of from an auditing standpoint.”

One of Davis’s first items of business will be the budget.

“Right now we are going through the budget process for the next fiscal year and amend our current fiscal year budget,” he said.

The budget will be voted on in March, he said.

“I am looking forward to implementing a vision, implementing a comprehensive plan, working on development that betters the city, provide more opportunities for residents, as well as working towards all the city requirements we have to do,” Davis said. “Whether that’s budgets, union negotiations, or capital improvements plan, working on infrastructure. I am just excited to get started. I think there’s a lot to get done, but I think with the amount of positivity in the community, there will be a lot of support for projects to go simultaneously.”


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