As we hear, over and over again, workforce continues to be a large issue looming in our local, regional and national industries. Different issues we hear come up are that applicants are not prepared for the workforce, they do not possess this necessary soft skills (communication, problem solving, reliability, etc.) to preform the necessary duties, lack of applicants for skilled positions, etc. This is very alarming in the realm of economic development because it poses a risk to the sustainability of existing businesses. It is also very alarming to companies looking at relocating with the concern that they may not be able to find an adequate workforce.
Benton Development Group continues to look for ways that we can play a small part in correcting these issues. This summer, BDG had the opportunity to host 3 local students (one from each Belle Plaine, Benton Community, and Vinton-Shellsburg) for an internship. This was an effort to connect local students to local industry while gaining the soft-skills that we hear are of primary concern. Please take a couple of minutes and watch the video below to learn about the value the students found in the internship experience.
Perhaps a more exciting part, BDG is only one of the many organizations that have hosted or will host internships with our local students. See the attached document below for the numbers and interests from this Fall’s Workplace Learning Connection’s interns.
Benton County Teens Explore Careers
On June 17th, the Iowa Economic Development Authority Director, Debi Durham, will be visiting Benton County.
Ms. Durham was appointed by Governor Terry Branstad in January of 2011 as director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED). In collaboration with Gov. Branstad and Legislators, Durham worked to restructure the IDED into a public-private partnership to update and improve the way Iowa’s economic development programs and services are delivered. This partnership is now known as the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA).
As the director of IEDA, Durham plays an integral role in economic development initiatives across the state including: Home Base Iowa, High Quality Jobs program, New Jobs Training programs, site location and development, expanding Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, among others.
With this visit, Durham will get an insight to the needs of our business climate and communities here in Benton County. She will analyze the potential in our communities and talk about how we can implement the IEDA initiatives in Benton County. As we come together, we have the opportunity to ask questions about building upon successes and overcoming struggles that our communities are facing. The director will also have a more in-depth perspective of what we are doing to attract, expand and maintain business in Benton County, while providing feedback on what we can improve upon. It is very important for her to understand that we have many dedicated individuals and leaders that are taking an active role to bring new opportunities to their community.
Benton Development Group is hosting a luncheon for business representatives, local elected officials and community members to ask Durham questions about their business or community needs. Durham will also be speaking about helping position rural communities for continued growth and what resources are available to help. While this gives the attendees a better idea of what resources and knowledge are available, it also gives BDG the opportunity to collaborate with businesses and communities to identify solutions to each unique set of struggles.
The luncheon will begin at 12:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center. There is no cost to attend; however, BDG is requesting that attendees register for the event to ensure we are adequately prepared. To register, please visit the BDG homepage at www.bdgia.com or call the BDG office. Registrations are due by June 10th.
In recent weeks, Benton Development Group along with community and county leaders have attended several meetings with regards to the widening of U.S. 30.
In August, BDG and other leaders attended the Highway Commissioner’s meeting in Cedar Rapids. As a result of this meeting, it was expressed that a formal request needed to be written to have this project be put in the planning budget. BDG felt this was a great opportunity to partner with Tama County Economic Development Commission to write a request for the widening of U.S. 30 through Benton and Tama Counties.
This request was hand delivered Iowa DOT Director, Paul Trombino, and Governor Branstad. In both meetings it was clear that the issue is recognized. A major factor as to why this project is currently not in the program is funding. Because there is currently no “new” money coming into the system, they are faced with the issue of maintaining the current system or adding to they system (i.e. U.S. 30 widening project).
As we are aware, the Iowa DOT initially proposed a J-turn at the 218/30 intersection. They have since designed an alternate option for this intersection, a partial clover leaf. During the public hearing last Wednesday, Iowa DOT District 6 Engineer, Jim Schnoebelen presented both options to the almost 100 people that attended. He shared the pros and cons of each option, both focusing around cost and safety. The J-turn will cost quite a bit less and will also require less land to be acquired; however, the partial clover leaf is a safer option and provides higher flexibility to accommodate things in the future that might not be planned.
Schoebelen also expressed that “the DOT is comfortable with either one of theses alternatives.” He also stated, “We are really looking to have this be a local decision.” “We are looking for your input.” He opened the comments up to the public and would like all additional comments regarding the interchange to be submitted to the Iowa DOT District 6 office, in Cedar Rapids, by December 21st.
If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture will be in Benton County touring different businesses in the agriculture industry on Wednesday, September 24th. This tour is open to the public and everyone is welcome to join during the afternoon visits!
10:30am-11:30am — Kerry Foods
Kerry was established as Iowa Soy Specialty by three longtime Benton County farmers: Dan VanSteenhuyse of Mt. Auburn; Homer Showman of Shellsburg; and Marlyn Jorgensen of Garrison.
The plant was constructed to process soy beans into soy food and soy oils for human consumption. The plant operated successfully producing products into soy milk, textured soy flour, soy protein, and other soy ingredients.
In 1997, Iowa Soy Specialties was contacted by Kerry (formerly Kerry Foods) of Ireland, who wanted to establish a soy presence in the United States. The business was sold to Kerry in 2001.
Kerry is now a global company with about 30,000 employees, 21 of those in Vinton, IA. They now produce soy flour, soy grits, soy nuts, soy meat analogs and soy cereals, all of which are Kosher and all natural. Today they only package their product for wholesalers that include: Kraft, Nestle, McCormick, Mars, and other large corporations.
1:15pm-2:15pm — Old School Produce — 811 D Ave. Vinton, IA
Old School Produce was started in December 2012, by Mike and Cindy Elwick of Vinton, and is currently in its second season of produce.
The name Old School produce came from its location – the old school in Vinton. The land used to produced their product is the old football field so the land had never been farmed and was used as turf grass. This is why the soil is so rich. Their garden is surrounded by 6 foot of fencing to ensure the crop is secure and sanitized.
Old school produce is a truck farm that sells fruits and vegetables in a roadside stand where the produce is grown. Old school produce practices in Sustainable Agriculture techniques, only using chemicals as a last resort. They also grow vegetables throughout they year by practicing hydroponic gardening.
Elwick says they started Old School Produce as a way to make fresh local produce available to the community. They are currently selling to schools, stores, the Vinton Lutheran Home , Windsor Manner, and Horizon’s Meals on Wheels.
2:45pm-3:45pm — Pheasant Run Farms — 6925 19th Ave. Van Horne, IA
Pheasant Farms was started in the Spring of 1992 when Eric and Ann Franzenburg returned to Eric’s family farm, which was a traditional corn, soybean and hog operation. For the past 15 years, Franzenburgs have been producing specialty crops along with corn and soybeans.
Because of cash and land prices being high, Franzenburgs wanted to become more diversified and get as much income off of the land they already owned. Eric was approached by BDG to write a grant proposal and perform research for a SARE study on investigating cultural practices of culinary herbs. This is when Eric’s passion for producing culinary and medicinal herbs.
Pheasant Farms also has a large variety of produce, including their specialty grape tomatoes, along with fresh cut flowers.
Pheasant Farms sells to a variety of outlets. Their herbs are in the wholesale market and are being shipped worldwide. Ann says about 60% of her flowers are sold at farmer’s market and the last 40% is sold to local florist, including Nature’s Corner in Vinton and Timbergate Gardens in Belle Plaine. Most of their produce is in the retail market being sold or used at Hy-vee, the New Pioneer Coop, the Frontier Cafeteria and the Crooked Antler.
The farm has a staffed by the Franzenburg family with help from about four full-time, summer employees. A goal set by Pheasant Farms is to be able to keep a full-time employee year round.
4:00pm-5:30pm — Wallace Farms — 1531 74th St. Keystone, IA
Wallace Farms started direct marketing grass-fed beef in 2000 to just a few customers. Since then, they have expanded their deliveries to 8 locations in Iowa and Chicago and opened a store/warehouse in Naperville, IL in 2010.
They have reached thousands of customers over the years as the demand has grown for grass-fed and organic food. Their offerings now include fish from Alaska, organic chickens, free-range turkey, grass-fed lamb and “fresh-air” pork.
The home farm of 160 arces, just south of Keystone, has been in the family since 1894 and has been transitioned back to pasture, hay, organic corn, wheat and oats. They raise grass-fed cattle and pastured laying hens for eggs.
In 2012 they started Nick’s, a grass-fed beef and free-range turkey snack stick company. They market via wallacefarms.com, Amazon, and grocery stores across the country. The latest notable customers have been both the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclone Football programs.
Their family’s missions is to restore diversity back to the rural farming landscape and to provide their customers the highest quality food they can raise off of the land.
Please remember, the public is welcome to join the tour with Sec. Northey at Old School Produce, Pheasant Farms and Wallace Farms. If you have any question about the tour of would like to join the tour please contact Emily at the Benton Development Group office.
Please remember, the public we welcome to join on the tours of Old School Produce, Pheasant Run Farms and Wallace Farms. If you have any questions, please call Emily at the BDG office.
Benton Development Group held their monthly Board of Directors meeting on August 27th in Urbana.
A fundraising update was presented to the board by Vice-President, Kristina Kremer and Director, Emily Upah. At the time of the meeting, four communities have donated to BDG. Together they explained when leaving business meetings they do not have definite donations because of the need to consult presidents or boards. They expressed with most conversations they have had thus far, they have received overwhelmingly positive feedback and our community leaders seem to be very excited with the direction BDG is taking.
Fundraising discussion led to how BDG was going to utilize part of the funds to be put back into our communities. The board unanimously agreed to contribute $300 to each community to be used for website creation, development, maintenance, or management.
Board member, Nathan Hessen, and Upah gave an update on the groups marketing strategy. The new website is live and they encouraged the board to once again visit bdgia.com to become acquainted with the site. They also encouraged attendees to spread they word about the calendar feature and blog pages. Examples of the beginning stages of the logo redesign were presented to the board. Their conversation contained great feedback for Hessen and Upah to take back to the graphic designer.
Highway 30 Commissioners Meeting
A report was given to update the board regarding the highway commissioners meeting in Cedar Rapids by Mayor Dave Fish and Upah. Fish, who was a presenter at the meeting, reported he felt the commissioners saw the problem with the highway and also saw the importance of getting the project back on schedule. He informed the group that discussion of the 218/30 intersection was not discussed but the commissioners would have a public meeting at a later date to discuss this interchange.
Upah updated the board on feedback she had received from Mary Jo Hainstock, also a presenter at the meeting. Hainstock felt the commissioners were very engaged in Benton County’s presentations and the commissioners also made it a point to have discussions with the Benton County group during their breaks. She felt it was very clear to the commissioners that Benton County was speaking in one voice and that voice primarily focused on economic development and the safety of the highway.
Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, will be visiting the county of September 24th. He will be touring the Old School Produce in Vinton, the Franzenburg Farm in Van Horne, and Wallace Farms in Keystone.
BDG has invited the USDA to have a countywide meeting in October. The USDA suggested it would be most beneficial for Benton County to first have a general housing meeting to cover topics including: direct loan programs for purchasing homes, home repair programs, etc. This meeting will be held October 8th at 7:00pm in the Van Horne Community Center.
BDG will not have their monthly meeting in September, due to Sec. Northey’s visit. The next Board of Directors meeting will be held on October 29th, at the Van Horne Community Center.
Please remember all meetings are open to the public and community involvement is encouraged. Please contact Emily Upah at the BDG office if there are any questions.