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Local Editorials

Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees

Fourteen years ago, I sat in on a city council meeting in which the mayor used a portion of his part of the meeting to publically berate the city’s economic development director.

A neighboring town had just announced it was going to have a major development, but the deal was very preliminary. This community had a site of its own, twice the size for the same price, located on prime real estate just off Interstate Highway 80.

So, the economic development director took the approach that nothing’s a done deal until there’s ink on paper. The mayor, instead, thought it was a less-than-neighborly approach, particularly when the neighboring town was both bigger and far more aggressive about economic development.

“Besides,” he said, “that development is going to be the biggest boondoggle we’ve ever seen.”

Under pressure from the mayor and his supporters in the community, the economic development director backed off on his offer. And, unbenownst to many, the deal that was “preliminary” at the time of the announcement quickly became far more formalized.

Personally, I thought the mayor and his folks were being horribly shortsighted. But, I also thought the economic development director was being less than neighborly, too. I kept my opinions to myself at the time, because I didn’t feel it would help the situation in any way to express them.

The economic development project I’m talking about is the Jordan Creek Town Centre in West Des Moines. The $200 million, 200-acre mecca of retail shopping, dining and entertainment took five years to complete, but it was everything it had been billed as, and then some.

Think about how things might have been different, if it had been built on twice as much land five miles to the west in Waukee, instead of West Des Moines. Fourteen years ago, that would be like telling a man headed off to fight in World War II that men would soon be setting foot on the moon.

At least it seemed to me that was how the mayor of Waukee was seeing it. Needless to say, he’s not the mayor there anymore.

So, why am I talking about something so old, and seemingly so unrelated to Jasper County? Because, the same kinds of moments are going to be in our future. Don’t believe me? Just look a little ways down the road to Altoona and Bondurant.

The western expansion of the Des Moines metro is over. It has been for nearly five years. But eastern growth is just getting started. It’s already begun knocking on Jasper County’s door.

Sure, it hardly seems like Colfax, Mingo or Baxter are ready for that kind of development — right now. The economy isn’t great, jobs aren’t plentiful, and we’re having difficult conversations about consolidating resources at a time when revenues aren’t keeping up with our expectations of our schools and local government.

But the day will come when the developers will come calling. And when they do, I hope we’re able to greet them with a sense of optimism.

There’s actually quite a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to western Jasper County.

We’re linked to Des Moines by three major roadways, meaning you can get to downtown Des Moines quickly, a key selling point to real estate developers. The average commute time to downtown is about half that of those trying to get in from places like Clive, West Des Moines and Waukee.

Land prices in Jasper County remain relatively low, as well, which is another magnet to potential developers. Of the nine counties that comprise Polk County and its contiguous neighbors, Jasper County’s land prices are the fourth lowest, nearly 25 percent lower than that of either Polk or Dallas counties.

In 1999, Waukee consisted of about 5,000 citizens. Its school was a Class 2A school, and the district featured two elementary buildings, a middle school and a high school. Today, the district boasts seven elementary schools, two middle schools, a ninth-grade center and its Class 4A high school is reaching its maximum capacity — they’re talking about the need for a second high school.

The population of Waukee proper is about 14,500 today. What’s even more amazing is that Waukee’s population in 1979 was only about 700.

I’m not going to suggest the growth will happen at necessarily that grand a scale, because the economics of Central Iowa have changed a great deal. But, I am willing to stick my neck out and say that I truly believe growth will come, whether we’re ready for it or not.

I’d prefer to be ready. How about you?

• • •

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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