Supervisors unveil proactive economic development plan for county

“I was excited to see a new batch of people coming with different ideas.”

The Hamilton County Board of Supervisors unveiled a new economic development plan for the county at its meeting Tuesday at the Hamilton County Courthouse.

The economic development plan is the result of a strategic planning summit held by the Board of Supervisors and the University of Northern Iowa Institute for Decision Making in July that included 40 local leaders, business owners and community members from across the county.

“It was a vast variety of people,” said Rick Young, Hamilton County supervisor. “Probably 90 percent of the people that attended are people who have never been at the table with us for the past 10 years. So I was excited to see a new batch of people coming with different ideas.”

Young said the county really sought community members’ input for the project and to identify priorities.

“Everybody’s interpretation is different, we’ve come to find, of what economic development is,” he said. “So we came up with 14 different categories, realizing you can’t take off on an agenda of 14 different categories, we would whittle it down to four or five. There were four or five that clearly stood out amongst the others.”

The five categories the summit participants selected as the highest priorities are, in order:

• Workforce development;

• Housing;

• Downtown development and revitalization;

• Business retention and expansion;

• New business start-ups and entrepreneurial development.

Along with identifying priorities for the county, the summit members discussed actions and recommendations for addressing those top priorities.

Recommended actions for the workforce priority include creating a county-wide jobs board and addressing the lack of childcare available for working parents and guardians.

Another one of the top priorities, downtown redevelopment and revitalization, is an issue facing many areas.

“All cities since the early ’80s in Hamilton County and rural Midwest have faced challenges in keeping their Main Streets vital and that’s one of the goals that we want to face head-on in the future,” Young said.

Hamilton County is working closely with city leaders on this plan.

Lindsay Henderson, community vitality director for the city of Webster City, sees it as something that will bring the communities closer together.

“I just think the summit was an important opportunity for all the communities in Hamilton County to realize that we do share common challenges,” she said. “That what Webster City, being the ‘bigger sister’ in the county, still faces some of the same challenges as our smaller communities and we’re all going to be stronger if we start pulling in the same direction, working collaboratively rather than in silos, seeing each other as competition.”

Henderson said she’s received a lot of positive feedback following the summit and is eager to move forward with the economic development plan.

Young said he hopes the county will begin seeing results from this plan by next spring and that the Board of Supervisors plans to reconvene an economic development summit sometime in the next six to nine months.

“We have come a long ways and we have direction of where we want to go,” Young said. “And in the future, we will be seeking a countywide economic development person that will work with every city, including Webster City and the rural communities. We’re excited to finally get on this path and get going.”