Following the departure of Maytag, Newton and Jasper County officials had to take a hard look at the local economy and come up with a strategy to move forward, attract new businesses and secure jobs for residents. Now, after seven months of planning and hard work, officials in the city and county have a strategic 160-plus page plan to do just that. The strategic plan focuses on four areas including regionalization and acting from a regional perspective, developing a worker pipeline to provide companies with skilled laborers, developing infrastructure to support new and expanding business and foster a culture of entrepreneurism. Local officials didn’t develop the strategic plan on their own, they collaborated with 80 regional leaders as part of a seven-county region working to improve the quality of lives for everyone in Jasper, Poweshiek, Tama, Marshall, Story, Marion and Mahaska counties. The collaborative effort will enable the seven counties to work together rather than against one another, and compete in a global economy. “In the context of the global economy, it’s a very good thing,” said Kim Didier, executive director of Newton Development Corporation, who worked on the strategic plan. “When economies were even small we could compete, but today in the context of a global economy our competition is not Marshalltown. Our competition is Reynosa, Mexico, which was literally our competition for TPI.” Didier said working together in the region will allow for smaller communities like Newton, Marshalltown or Grinnell to land large employers and be able to supply the skilled laborers necessary to run the company. “In Iowa, we don’t have enough skilled laborers so we have to pull in those skilled workers,” Didier said, explaining that had always been the case even with Maytag. “For a long time our workforce has been regional because of Maytag. There were workers from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids and even stories of people from the Missouri line. We’ve long been regional and we’ll continue to be regional.” Along with supplying workers, Didier said working together as a collaborative group will help manufacturers and other companies find suppliers they need to make their products. “Fortune 500 companies have to have suppliers and those suppliers often come from surrounding communities,” she said. Didier also said pooling resources from seven counties and surrounding communities allows the region to better compete for new employers to locate or relocate to the area. “This allows us to take our resources we each have and better utilize them in a more effective way,” she said. Funding for the development of the strategy was paid for through a $250,000 Regional Innovation Grant awarded by the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor. The grant is the first of its kind in the nation developed in response to requests planning for support with the loss of Maytag. With that distinction of first in the nation, Didier and other members of the leadership team celebrated the completion of the strategic plan with a special ceremony in Marshalltown in June. In attendance was U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who congratulated the team on their collaborative efforts. “The work thus far will have laid the groundwork for the ongoing efforts to help prepare workers and businesses in this region to compete and succeed in a global economy. I know the people of these communities have the innovation and drive to put this plan into action,” Grassley said in a released statement.
Jessica Lowe can be contacted at 792-3121 ext. 426 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.