Partnerships with FEDA support business
Local businesses and industries stepped-up in a big way through the past year to support and partnership with Fairfield Economic Development Association Inc., Lori Schaefer-Weaton said Monday at FEDA’s annual meeting.
“FEDA is very proud of partnering to bring a Career Academy to Fairfield,” she said. “It’s been a concern that all of our students have pathways to a career. Businesses and industries stepped-up and sponsored the Fairfield Teacher of the Year Award, which is a big deal.”
She went on to recount other economic/business highlights, including state economic development director Debi Durham’s two visits to Fairfield; “It was a great time to discuss economic development and build relationships,” she said, and Fairfield hosted Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and presented 23 expert workshops.
Businesses opening new in the past year include AmericInn, Family Dollar store and Squeal Good BBQ operating out of Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
MRC Recycling, which handles high-tech recyclables, will open in 2013 in Fairfield’s industrial park, a February start is planned for construction of Amherst Condominiums near Walton Lake and True Value Hardware is scheduled to open in March in the former Hy-Vee building.
Existing businesses that made changes include Pizza Hut, Walmart and Fairfield Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store, each building and moving to different locations and a Hy-Vee gas station and Caribou Coffee is under construction.
“Our manufacturing sector continues to thrive,” said Schaefer-Weaton, director of business development at Agri-Industrial Plastics Co., in Fairfield.
“Agri-Industrial expanded in a mutually beneficial move with neighbors Hawthorne Direct, and we continue to hire,” she said.
Creative Edge Master Shop made a substantial investment in new equipment, HCM Plastic Inc., will expand, as will TrafFix Devices Inc.
“The city and FEDA have invested a lot of effort toward restructuring Harper Brush and we hope to retain its 60 jobs here in Fairfield,” said Schaefer-Weaton.
“We made FEDA’s executive director a full-time position, and Tracy Vance has kept projects and momentum moving forward.
“We have 55 members in FEDA, four were new in 2012,” she said. “We consider 2012 a good year.”
Bob Rasmussen, speaking spontaneously from the audience, commented, “I’m so proud of the people here. A number of us more than 80 [years old] have worked hard the past 40 years and more,” to have a good community.
“We don’t give a damn about money, it’s about growth and quality of life,” he said.
Vance shared ideas from FEDA’s strategic plan.
“The base of our economic development is encouraging leadership,” he said. “City council, our mayor, the board of supervisors, school board, chamber of commerce all are community champions and partnering is vital.
“FEDA believes it’s important to inform elected officials about us.
“The days of just offering tax incentives to attract companies are over,” said Vance. “Tax incentives are still a part, but we need to build a brand. We need to differentiate our community from others.
“We’re working with our education sector — education is tied to business and students are taking tours of our factories and businesses. We’re talking about bringing a national certification program to Fairfield, not just for high school students, but available for all ages. With this national certification earned, employers know what skills you have.
“Our community is working to improve school infrastructure,” said Vance. “In the spring, the schools will be asking for a referendum to renovate our high school.
“Education is a very integrated component in attracting employers and employees.”
Arts and culture need to be a part of economic development, Vance said.
“Our infrastructure, such as our broadband throughout the community, is a strength for us,” he said.
“Business retention and expansion accounts for 85 percent of new economic growth,” said Vance. “Our growth comes from existing businesses. I have an acronym on my desk to see every day: KEEP — Keep Existing Entrepreneurs Profitable.
“The best way to keep businesses here is to have a succession plan,” he said.
Vance stressed that FEDA needs relationships with local business and all elected officials.
“Second only to growing existing business, entrepreneurship promotes economic development,” he said. “We have Project Grow Our Own. We have assistance from Indian Hills college partnering with business incubation.
“A need we have is capital and we’ll be working on that.
“My job is to attract businesses,” Vance said. “Everyone knows we’re a unique community and a diverse community. We’ll build on that. Our two-year strategic plan is very do-able.”
Mayor Ed Malloy highlighted Fairfield’s past 10 years of branding and uniqueness:
• 2003 Fairfield received the Grassroots Rural Entrepreneurship Award and the Community Vitality Center’s Entrepreneurial Community of the Year Award.
• 2004 Iowa State University named Fairfield most entrepreneurial city in Iowa.
• 2005 1st Fridays Art Walk was named Iowa’s Tourism Event of the Year. Mother Earth News also named Fairfield, one of the “12 Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of.”
• 2006 Fairfield was named an Iowa Great Place by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
• 2008 Fairfield Arts & Convention Center opened.
• 2009 Malloy was recognized by MSN.com as one of 15 “green mayors” for the city’s Go Green imitative.
• 2011 Oprah named Fairfield “America’s Most Unusual Town.” All of the Jefferson County Trails system opened.
• 2012 Fairfield received Blue Zone designation.
“We are pursuing grants for further restoration of downtown,” Malloy added.
As part of the business meeting for FEDA, Schaefer-Weaton was elected a FEDA board member.