Done deals.

Webster City will join Ames Economic Development Alliance with Hamilton County

Dan Culhane, left, CEO of the Ames Economic Development Alliance, and John Harrenstein, interim city manager Webster City, are all smiles at the prospect of Webster City and Hamilton County joining the Alliance. The organization manages economic development in Story, Boone, and now, Hamilton counties.

In the last year there have been promising signs of greater cooperation between Hamilton County and Webster City, but it burst into full bloom last night at the regular meeting of the City Council of Webster City.

In what can only be described as a landmark initiative, the Council unanimously approved joining the Ames Regional Economic Alliance, which manages a broad spectrum of economic development activities in Ames proper, as well as much of Story and Boone counties.

As previously reported in the Daily Freeman-Journal, the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors approved joining the Alliance at its April 23 meeting.

The idea of Webster City and Hamilton County joining Ames in a regional approach to economic development isn’t a new one. The Alliance proposed the idea to both city and county in 2019 and 2022.

Most recently, in January, 2024, county Supervisor Rick Young and Webster City Interim City Manager John Harrenstein, accompanied by Webster City Mayor John Hawkins, approached the Alliance to actively explore the possibility of membership.

Harrenstein calls the move “an exciting step in economic development in Webster City and Hamilton County. This is our opportunity to join the booming development we see across the entire Des Moines metro/Story County region.”

He called the cost of Alliance membership “affordable,” saying funding to cover first year membership is included in the recently-approved city budget.

Employing a model, and utilizing an experienced staff who have achieved success across Story and Boone counties — most recently in the announcement by Daisy Brands of Dallas that it will build a dairy plant in Boone — the Alliance will assume management of economic development in Webster City and throughout Hamilton County.

As described in a Council memorandum, the ultimate goal of the partnership is “creation of a self-sustaining countywide economic development organization.”

The last word — organization — will play a key role. The agreement with the Alliance calls for establishment of a new executive committee responsible for economic development in Hamilton County within 30 days of signing. It will be made up of two representatives from Webster City, two from Hamilton County, and a fifth appointed jointly. Formal articles of incorporation and bylaws are to be in place by July 30.

Existing city and county economic development staff will “participate on an as-needed basis, as requested by the executive committee in a non-voting role.”

Services provided under the agreement are extensive, and include organizational support; leadership of monthly executive committee meetings, perhaps even by Dan Culhane, president and CEO of the Alliance; development of an “organizational scorecard;” monthly progress reports; and most importantly, creation of a three-year strategic plan for economic development in Hamilton County. Business retention and expansion, and marketing outreach to attract new business are also included.

But the arrangement isn’t just a provider-client relationship. To cement their membership as full partners in a regional network of economic development, both the City of Webster City and Hamilton County will each be allowed one seat on the Board of Directors of the Alliance. This ensures matters of importance to Webster City and Hamilton County will receive executive-level consideration from the start.

Eric Smidt, vice president Marketing for the Alliance, commented, “Hamilton County is right in line with our activities in Story and Boone county. A lot of great work can happen by joining our collective forces.”

Those forces include a full-time staff of 18 with experience in such fields as administration, marketing and communications research, workforce development, governmental relations and event management. Importantly, the Alliance works closely with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority.

The Alliance also manages Ames’ Young Professionals Program, Downtown Ames Alliance, Ames Farmers Market, Campustown redevelopment, and other programs that contribute to economic activity and vitality in greater Ames.

Hawkins said, “It’s a joint effort of the city and county; that’s what will make it successful. In Hamilton County, we have real estate, and we’re lower-cost than some other areas; these are real advantages for us. New housing is a big opportunity for us to stem the loss of population in the county. All this can happen through our membership in the Alliance.”

The cost of membership is $145,000, split evenly between the city and county, in year one — May 2024 to April 2025; $160,000 in year two — May 2025 to April 2026; and $175,000 in year three — May 2026 to April 2027.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $3.46/week.

Subscribe Today