By Brenden West
Somewhere in the murk of politics and job creation local leaders feel there's ground with footing for the Gateway region to re-emerge as a vibrant community.
When Iowa State Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, hosted an economic development town hall meeting Friday at the Clinton Community College Tech Center, some of the roughly 40 observers came away optimistic that Clinton and surrounding communities will get what they need from the Capitol to progress toward that goal.
"This is a process, communities need to have continual dialogue to move forward," said Nathan Sondgeroth, president of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce. "A meaningful public debate that leads to the best result for the population. It was a great chance to be part of it and the Chamber was happy to do so."
Joining Hart were fellow Senators Bill Dotzler of Waterloo and Steve Sodders of State Center and State Reps. Mary Wolfe of Clinton and Steve Olson of DeWitt. For roughly two hours they advised ways Clinton can improve and spelled out a few misnomers from Des Moines.
Economic development in the area is a particularly hot issue with the Clinton City Council set to vote on a revised Lincolnway Railpark Urban Renewal Plan on Tuesday. However, Hart and company's arrival to talk business growth, she said, was a coincidence.
"I decided to host this because I am really interested in what's going on in Clinton particularly, but the county in general," Hart said. "As a senator I feel it's my job to try to move the county forward as far as economic development is concerned."
The meeting also came less than a day after most people in the room returned from speaking before Gov. Terry Branstad at the Capitol. Sondgeroth — who was among that group — said a lot of that discussion carried over into Friday's meeting.
"Economic development is not a discreet thing," he added. "It takes an educated work force. It takes a healthy work force. Education, health care, transportation — they all drive economic development."
As chairmen of two separate senate economic committees, Dotzler and Sodders did most of the talking. They explained their wishes for the direction of Iowa in the coming years, and shed light on some bills that are still up the funnel.
Micropolitans like Clinton, Dotzler said, should strive to entice young people in the work force, be it through business, entertainment, high-paying jobs and recreation.
"We are finding out more and more as years go by the type of community you have, the amenities you have, the heart of the culture you have in your city is just as important as the economic development incentives you offer," he said. "I tell people everywhere I go that you're in a war for talent. We are competing with the surrounding states, and you know more than any — being a border city — what that competition's about."
The discussion also centered around opportunities Clinton has for these growths. Mike Kirchhoff, CEO of the Clinton Regional Development Corp., said the Lincolnway Industrial Railpark is one of the areas best prospects.
"One of the things that so impressed me about coming to the Clinton region," Kirchhoff said, "was how proactive the region was and the moxie the community showed in developing the railport in the middle of a recession. And now, coming out of the recession, the community and the region are in a position to take advantage of the investment of that product."
Audience dignitaries included elected officials from across Clinton County, local school administrators and business owners. The meeting concluded with a series of questions ranging from the Road Use Tax debate to how various enterprises can tap into resources from Legislators.
Hart said she brings this feedback with her to the Capitol, which helps her address constituent needs for law-making. She was proud of the turnout.
"I take the feedback here to help edit those bills and make changes in the bills to help circumstances back home," Hart added.
She encouraged audience members to visit with her again during today's Legislative Coffee Session at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce.