Board members from Benton Development Group and Iowa County Community Development met on Friday to celebrate their new partnership with a symbolic ribbon cutting. The two groups met at Hannen Park near the boundary between the counties on Benton/Iowa road.
The Benton and Iowa County organizations highlight the quality of life their rural counties offer, actively recruit new industry, and assist current businesses with issues ranging from expansion to workforce needs. The partnership’s goal is to compete more effectively for the attention of new businesses and potential residents. The current Benton Development Group Director, Kate Robertson, has been serving part-time in a sharing agreement with the Iowa county organization for several months and will be the director of the new joint organization.
“Members of both economic development boards understand that economic development isn’t a competitive, zero-sum game between our two small rural counties. Residents travel across the county line for employment, healthcare, and other services, and those interrelationships improve opportunity for everyone,” said Robertson. “If competition is the lens someone wants to use, then the leading competitors we should be concerned with are the larger, more urban areas of Iowa.”
Robertson is incredibly excited about a major initiative to acquaint high school students with career and lifestyle opportunities available when they choose to live in or near their home communities. “My office will continue submitting grant applications, responding to requests for information from developers, and providing resources to our businesses. But those activities are only the most basic requirements of the economic development role. A more critical role is to address the workforce shortage, the erosion of our tax base, and declining school enrollments caused when our young people choose to live somewhere else.”
Iowa County Community Development’s board president, Kristie Wetjen, said she is excited about the partnership because it will meet some key goals. “Iowa County Community Development is excited about this partnership because it allows us to have two full-time staff members promoting both Iowa and Benton counties and to present the two counties as a robust and appealing location. Benton Development has a great leader in Kate Robertson, and we welcome the expertise, energy, and enthusiasm she brings to the organization. She is a valued advocate for Benton and Iowa Counties.
“This partnership is about capturing the best of our counties and allowing both organizations to make better use of limited resources. I believe we are going to see results from the partnership that we wouldn’t have achieved alone, and I look forward to expanding opportunities for everyone living in our two counties.”
Dave Fish, the mayor of Belle Plaine and current Benton Development Group board chair, has similar expectations. “We live in a dynamic economy where the larger, urban counties are gaining population while the population of our counties remains mostly the same. The Benton Development board and I believe this partnership will be a driving force in coming years for growth across every measure.”
The two groups will remain independent and rely on Robertson and a yet-to-be-hired assistant to provide coordination. Each group consulted with donors and other stakeholders before entering into the partnership.