Things are humming again at the old Maytag headquarters in Newton. While plenty of space remains unfilled at the 472,000 square foot facility just two blocks from downtown Newton, organizers are confident they can continue to attract new businesses to the area. Located on the northwest side of town, the former Maytag site is undergoing a renaissance thanks to a collaborative effort between the city of Newton and Des Moines Area Community College. The community college is working to attract new tenants to fill out Maytag’s former office space.
When Maytag, ne Whirlpool, pulled up stakes and left town, developer Reza Kargarzadeh bought the Maytag campus for $1. After maintaining the buildings for years, Kargarzadeh donated the buildings to DMACC.
The donation is worth about $9 million in real estate, structures, utilities and furniture and includes about 472,000 feet of office, industrial and residential space. Buildings 1, 2, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 50 joined the main DMACC building and the Career Academy as part of the college’s Newton presence.
This month will mark the one year anniversary of that donation, and Kim Didier, the Executive Director of DMACC’s business resources division, is tasked with the challenge of finding new tenants to occupy space at the former Maytag location. Didier has a long history with the location, having previously worked for Maytag, as well as heading up the Newton Development Corporation, an organization which works to attract businesses to Newton. All told Didier has spent more than 18 years in Newton.
Didier envisions striking partnerships between DMACC and local businesses that will give students an opportunity to “earn and learn.” She’s hoping to attract tenants like a restaurant or brewpub into the former Maytag company store that will give students in Newton an opportunity to participate in DMACC’s culinary programs without having to make the drive to Ankeny.
“There’s plenty of space here, we’re hoping to collaborate with future tenants,” Didier said.
Frank Liebl, the director of the Newton Development Corporation, share’s Didier’s vision. When Didier left to take her current position at DMACC, it was Liebl who stepped into her former role as head of the NDC. Liebl said he believes the community has made tremendous progress since Maytag left town, and he pointed to all of the changes that are happening at Maytag’s former headquarters. Occupancy at the former plant, which is not part of the headquarters complex that was donated to DMACC, is at 60 percent now, and Liebl says he’s confident that Newton will continue to attract new employers to the community.
“It was a blow to the community, we had three generations of families that worked at Maytag, but with the effort of a lot of people in the community we’ve been able to get those jobs back,” Liebl said.
Citing current unemployment figures Liebl said with an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent in Jasper County, Newton and its surrounding area is doing better than the statewide unemployment of 3.2 percent. When Maytag left, unemployment hovered around 9 percent, but Liebl said now Newton has replaced every single one of the jobs that were lost following the closure of the plant.
“When the plant closed 1,750 jobs went away, and since that time we’ve attracted 12 new businesses to the community and added over 2,000 jobs,” Liebl said.
Attracting new businesses to Newton is a multifaceted project Liebl said. One of the biggest concerns for businesses looking to relocate to Newton is the availability of quality housing in the area. After an economic downturn following the closure of Maytag, the community entered a period where no new homes were built in the city. Liebl worked with the city of Newton to create an incentive plan for builders, and this year, more than 60 new homes were constructed in Newton.
The city of Newton and the state of Iowa have different options to offer businesses looking to relocated to Newton, Liebl said. When a business contacts Liebl about moving to Newton, he has them fill out the Iowa Project Review form. After they’ve completed the form, Liebl works with each business to figure out what the state and the city are able to offer. Often, the city will match the state dollar for dollar in the form of tax rebates or tax abatements.
“The state has certain incentives, depending on certain thresholds, it all depends on how big the project is,” Liebl said.
Businesses may also qualify for assistance if they meet the qualifications of the Iowa High Quality Jobs Act, another program the state of Iowa offers. If a business looking to relocate to Newton agrees to pay employees the average Jasper County wage or higher, they will meet the guidelines for state assistance. Liebl lauded the program, which helps encourage job creation that meets the needs of Jasper County residents. Ultimately, Liebl’s job is to help guide businesses as they look to set up shop in Newton.
“There are so many programs available,” Liebl said.
While DMACC has made impressive gains in their utilization of Maytag’s former headquarters there’s still plenty of space to fill. Only two retail businesses, DeVyne Solutions, a hair salon and tanning business, and Compass Mortgage have filled spaces on the lower levels of buildings 17 and 18, where Didier hopes to attract more retail tenants.
To avoid costly remodeling Didier said DMACC is looking primarily for tenants who need a “turn-key” solution, but depending on interest, DMACC may consider making some changes.
“We’re trying to be mindful of the best uses of the space,” Didier said.
On Saturday, Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-IA, stopped in Newton to tour the facility. Loebsack has been a strong supporter of DMACC, and he’s thrilled to see the progress being made on the Newton campus.
“This is really fantastic, there’s so much potential here,” Loebsack said.
While this is the first time that he’s toured the entire facility Loebsack said he’s had his eye on DMACC in Newton for quite a while. Filling these retail spaces, and attracting new jobs to the community are an important part of Newton’s economic recovery as the city looks to move beyond Maytag. While admitting there are some parts of the campus that are due for upgrades, Loebsack said he saw “tremendous potential” at the site.
Recently Didier has had discussions with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy about the possibility of relocating to Newton and sharing space with DMACC. The ILEA, which is operating out of a facility in Johnston located on the grounds of Camp Dodge, has struggled with facilities issues recently, including an infestation of black mold. Judy Bradshaw, the director of the ILEA, said the organization has looked at the space in Newton, but any potential move is still in the early planning stages right now.
“We’re exploring our options at this point, we’ve had some conversations with the president of DMACC and city officials,” Bradshaw said.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register this summer Bradshaw said DMACC’s Newton campus would be an “ideal” location for the ILEA, which has outgrown its current location. The ILEA’s Johnston campus, which was constructed by the legislature in the late 60’s represented an attempt to professionalize and standardize law enforcement training Bradshaw said, but now the organization has outgrown the space and the number of students they can train each year is limited. Bradshaw said she plans to ask Governor Reynolds for funding to study possible alternatives to the Johnston campus, including possibly relocating to Newton, but she cautioned that the process is still in the very early stages of development. The state’s budget woes, including a just announced $130 million shortfall are weighing on Bradshaw as well.
“I’m very much aware of where the state’s at as far as the lack of dollars and money for a new facility, I’m going to be mindful of that direction based on where the budget numbers are,” Bradshaw said.
For Didier and Liebl, landing the ILEA would be a feather in DMACC’s cap. Liebl said he envisions the relocation of the ILEA as a magnet that would draw in other associated industries to Newton, to collaborate and share resources with the ILEA. The ILEA and other state agencies practice defensive driving training at the Iowa Speedway, and Liebl said he believes that Newton has a lot to offer other state agencies that would be interested in moving to Newton as well.
“We think this would be an excellent place for them to locate, we’ve had several conversations with them over the last couple of months and those are still ongoing,” Liebl said.
As he finished his tour Saturday morning Loebsack said he’d do his best to help the project along any way that he can, including adding his support to the proposal to bring the ILEA to Newton.
“I’ll be happy to put in a good word, this would be a shot in the arm for the economy,” Loebsack said.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org