Gov. Kim Reynolds told those attending the Lee County Economic Development Group annual meeting at Meyer’s Courtyard on Thursday, that the county, with the help of the group, has established a business friendly landscape in the area.
“Truly your success is our success,” she said.
The governor said the state has a diverse and growing economy, while there are still challenges, she said the state’s 2.5 percent unemployment rate and seven straight quarters of wage growth show the state is heading in the right direction.
“Your efforts are making things happen,” she said.
Reynolds said a lot of good things are happening in Lee County and that is a testament of the Economic Development Groups efforts. She said the group doesn’t just listen to the problems, but they get out and get results.
There are several programs started by the LCEDG that focus on partnerships with schools to help students prepare for what they are going to do for a career after school. The governor said planting seeds like that leads to a first class talent pipeline.
For years, it has been difficult to keep young people in the state and in rural areas especially, but some of the programs are helping young people decide to stay.
The governor has been working on STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEM also has been part of some of the LCEDG programs with schools. Reynolds said these programs have helped students in the state score higher in math and science recently. She said the data also shows students in these types of programs are more likely to stay in the state as well.
Reynolds mentioned that Richardson Elementary in Fort Madison received a $50,000 computer grant this year and was one of only 12 schools in the state that received that.
“It sparks a lifelong interest in the tech sector,” she said.
She encouraged the LCEDG to keep pushing forward with their programs, especially with partnerships with the school.
“You are a catalyst behind local development, by building a future ready workforce, you’re building an Iowa that will shatter expectations for the next generation,” she said.
Dennis Fraise, president and CEO of the LCEDG said the group has been growing for the past six years as a public/private partnership. He said about 40% of funds come from public money with 60% coming from private donations. He said a lot of businesses and sponsors step up to help keep their mission on track. The group just finished a successful campaign that raised more than $1 million for the group.
Fraise said economic development is like a duck. What we see on the surface looks smooth, but underneath, that duck’s’ feet are kicking, and that’s kind of what people don’t really see on a daily basis.
Fraise said there is a lot of that behind the scenes going on right now.
“I’ve seen more activity in the last three to four months than I have in the last six years,” he said.
One company a few weeks ago called and said they couldn’t talk about the project, but needed some specs on land available. The LCEDG group got with the Keokuk and Fort Madison groups and quickly put together a professional presentation for the company.
Fraise said in the past 40 years, the area has lost 21% of its population and often has the state’s highest unemployment rate, but we are also blessed with world class manufacturers and good employees.
“We have a great work ethic and unmatched quality of life,” he said.
He also said, however, that the next 10 years are going to be a challenge and LCEDG has to step up to keep the area growing.
“The future is now and we can’t wait on someone to save us,” he said.
Dana Millard, economic development project director also updated the group on several of its programs like the SCC Kids Tech summer camps and the Grow Lee and STEM programs.
She said Grow Lee started with about 45 students and last year had more than 4,000 participating, including 524 in the Grow Lee Lego Robotics program.
Gov. Reynolds also helped the group give three service awards to LCEDG members. The award winnerst’his year were Mike Klauser, Phil Hecht and Dave Schwartz. Klauser was not present, but Hecht and Schwartz were presented plaques and had their photo taken with the governor and Fraise.