State catalyst grants to Benton County cities now total $300,000

Benton Development Group worked with the cities of Atkins and Belle Plaine to submit applications for the most recent round of Catalyst Grants and each community received $100,000 in the most recent awards. The two $100,000 grants in the most recent round, and a previous grant award to Shellsburg, raises the Catalyst Grant total received by Benton County communities to $300,000. Catalyst grants are awarded to cities by the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the rehabilitation of unused or deteriorated buildings. The grants require cities to submit a plan for the project and to have a partnership between the city and a developer to carry out the work.

“So often the work Benton Development Group does on various projects must remain confidential because it involves the purchase or sale of real estate, or a business that wants to keep their plans under wraps until everything is final,” explains BDG Executive Director Kate Robertson. “Now that these two catalyst grants are official, we’re excited to share what the process involves and what it will mean for our communities.”



The grant for Atkins is for renovation of the property at 76 Main Street. The developers are  Brian Bock and Jeff Geistkemper of Solon. The project involves renovation of the first floor for a business, and two apartments on the second floor.

“The folks in Atkins were familiar with similar projects I have done in other towns,” says Brian, “and they asked if I would be interested in tackling a project they had in mind. As soon as I saw the building, I was very confident that we could create a great asset for the citizens of Atkins and the city.

“I’ve flipped a few houses and have always liked construction and remodeling. Bringing back old buildings to life is something I especially enjoy. Some people enjoy golf in their spare time and remodeling is what I enjoy.”

The prospective tenant for the downstairs space is Textile Brewing of Dyersville, Iowa. Textile Brewing Company is a microbrewery in downtown Dyersville offering drinks, food and entertainment from a 1906 building built to be a gasoline engine factory and later used as a sewing factory.

“I’m excited to have Textile Brewing in Atkins because I believe their business will be drawing lots of people from Cedar Rapids and all of Benton County. In addition to the commercial space on the first floor, I’ll also be renovating two, 900 sf apartments on the second floor. A project like this addresses two significant problems for small, rural communities. The first problem stems from a lack of amenities like coffee shops and stores, the second is providing affordable housing.

“Kate Robertson’s contribution was essential for driving this forward”, explains Brian. “She’s been fantastic at helping me find out what the community needs, what’s already coming to the community, and she reinforced my thoughts on what a great project this could be. It’s been an exciting collaboration between the City of Atkins, the Iowa Economic Development Authority and BDG.”

Windows were ordered immediately after notice of the award was received, the roof contractor has been selected, and the plan is for completion of the project in early 2022.



The developer of the Belle Plaine project is Jason Jasnos, who owns the Classic Deli in Brooklyn. Jason plans to open a new location with a different offering in Belle Plaine, and the second-floor renovations will create up to four upstairs apartments.

“I originally planned on this project as an investment property,” explains Jason, “but it snowballed into a much larger vision because the community badly needs another dining option. So now, instead of just a rental property, we’re going to establish a new restaurant. The plan is to put a lot of focus on pizzas and pies.

“Benton Development Group was a huge part of the project and very enthusiastic about the opportunities in Benton County. This has been an incredible experience that I’m extremely excited about. I’m renovating a building and establishing a business just a stone’s throw away from where my great-great aunt and uncle had the Herring Hotel, and that makes it even more exciting.”

Stephen Beck, City Administrator for the City of Belle Plaine, shared that the City was excited about the project because it will fully utilize the space and provide another dining option. “It’s going to give a nod to the past use of the building because it was originally a cafe, and the upstairs apartments will be renovated to reflect the craftsmanship and materials used to construct the building many decades ago.

“I’m a lifelong resident of Belle Plaine who went back to college to earn a degree and I’m putting it to use in my community. I now work as the city’s administrator and I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Belle Plaine. Our partnership with BDG, and my close working relationship with the BDG director, Kate Robertson, is a tremendous asset for us. I routinely work with Kate to bounce ideas around and to get guidance on how to keep projects moving forward.”

For Kate Robertson, BDG’s director, the three Catalyst Grants received by Benton County communities highlight how important BDG/City partnerships are. “BDG frequently responds to requests from industry about locations for major expansions or investments, and that’s an important part of what we do. But the most important work that has immediate impact happens when BDG works closely with our city governments to uncover and take advantage of the home-grown opportunities to improve our tax base, our employment opportunities, and for improving amenities in every community.”


Three Reasons to be a member of the Benton Development Group Board of Directors

Benton Development Group, Benton county’s official economic development organization, is looking for energetic and talented people to help guide Benton County’s future. That’s why we’re sharing three reasons you should volunteer for BDG. Don’t wait, applications are due December 28th!


The quality of life we enjoy in Benton County depends on jobs and property taxes but also on great schools, quality healthcare, public safety, and our feelings of being connected to others in our community. BDG is a key organization strengthening the county’s economy and is also involved in programs and activities to improve the quality of life in all we do.


You’re committed to giving everyone a shot at success, and you want to make more opportunities available for everyone. Young people can have success at school, on the sports field, or at work. Retirees can find success in the new challenges of post-retirement careers, as volunteers, or in finally experiencing more leisure time. Opportunities for success come in many flavors, and as a BDG board member, you’ll be striving to make sure everyone in our county has a chance to succeed and flourish.



One-size-fits-all doesn’t apply to economic development. That’s why it’s essential that BDG is guided by board members from the entire county. Histories, local economies, community institutions, and social networks determine what communities can contribute and what they need. No one understands that like someone who lives in the community.

BDG employs a full-time executive director to accomplish goals established by the board of directors. Benton County funds the work of BDG, and members of the BDG board participate in business meetings once each month. Applications submitted clicking this link will be forwarded to the Benton County Auditor, and the board of supervisors will choose new BDG board members at their meeting on January 4th.

For more information, email Executive Director Kate Robertson. Her email address is

Apply by clicking this link or send your information to:

Benton County Board of Supervisors, P.O. Box 549, Vinton, IA 52349

phone: 319-472-4869


The deadline for applications is 4:30 p.m., December 28, 2020.

NOTE: In accordance with state and federal laws, Benton County does not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, religion, creed, color, national origin, marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability in appointment, employment or the provision of services.

A Banner Day for Benton County’s Economic Progress

Benton Development Group announces new projects in Benton County receiving support from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Tax credits under the High Quality Jobs (HQJ) program were approved for Frontier Co-op in Norway and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School property in Vinton received $200,000 in redevelopment tax credits through the Brownfield/Grayfield program to repurpose the 1905 Hospital building into a brewpub.

Frontier is one of Benton County’s major employers and a leading supplier of organic herbs and spices. The company, founded in 1976, offers high quality, competitively priced products that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Frontier Co-op products can be found in grocery stores and specialty shops throughout the United States and Canada.

To meet an increasing demand, the company will add bottling lines, fillers, and expand warehouse capacity by 22,000 square feet. The project was awarded tax benefits through the HQJ program and represents a capital investment of just over $7.3 million. It is expected to create 24 jobs, of which four are at a qualifying wage of $27.84 per hour.

Hobart Restoration received $200,000 in tax incentives for the $1.3m redevelopment of the 1905 Hospital at the Iowa Braille School site. This is the first part of the $20m project by Hobart Historic Restoration that will develop the entire former Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School campus in Vinton. The school was founded in 1852 but closed in 2011 after enrollment declined. The 3,200 square foot brewpub will have indoor and outdoor seating and offer locally brewed beers and smaller menu items.

“For several years, the Iowa Braille School project has been an important part of our work with the State of Iowa,” said Kate Robertson, Benton Development Group’s Executive Director. “We worked closely with state and local governments to facilitate redevelopment of the facility on behalf of Vinton residents and the entire county. On the other side of the county, we worked with Frontier Co-op and the Iowa Economic Development Authority to gain approval of tax incentives under the HQJ program. Our focus is on developing every community in Benton County, and we’re pleased by the opportunity to help both these projects.”

Robertson also noted the importance of regional economic development relationships, specifically with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. “Economic development depends on cooperation across the boundaries of cities and counties. BDG has helped secure investment in many Benton County communities and continues to work on important projects across the county, but major initiatives like these benefit because of strong partnerships, like the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.”

To learn more about what Benton Development Group can do for your business or community, visit

Laborshed study to be conducted in Vinton

The Benton Development Group is partnering with Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa Economic Development Authority to complete a Laborshed employment study for the Vinton area. This study will geographically define which communities contribute to Vinton’s workforce, regardless of political boundaries. This defined area is called a Laborshed area and is based upon commuting patterns.

For the success of this study, we will be sending letters to employers in Vinton asking that they provide us with aggregate counts of their employees’ residential ZIP codes. This will allow us to determine what the scope and scale of Vinton’s Laborshed area is and better understand where Vinton’s workforce resides.

Once that Laborshed area is determined, a confidential residential telephone survey will be conducted to collect workforce characteristic information specific to the area. The survey call originates out of Cedar Rapids, IA, therefore, the incoming number will have the 319 area code. It is possible that you may receive a text message from their 888 number as well, alerting you to expect a call from them to take the survey. Survey questions will cover topics such as: employment status, current and desired wages, current and desired benefits, education level, and type of occupation among other things. However, Iowa Workforce Development will not be asking survey takers identifiable information such as: name, social security number, or date of birth.
Your participation in this study will help economic development efforts and support both current and potential employers in your area.

“The data from the laborshed survey is an extremely important tool for all of us concerned with economic development,” says Kate Robertson, Benton Development Group’s director. “The information gives existing and potential businesses a window on how available labor is, what current wages are, how many hours are worked, and vital data about commuting patterns.”

Every year Iowa Workforce Development conducts Laborshed studies across the State. The results of each analysis are publicly available online at If you have any questions about the Laborshed project, please contact Katie Lippold at 515-281-3035 or Kate Robertson, with Benton Development Group at 319-472-5545.

Public meeting reminder for Vinton residents

BDG is encouraging Vinton residents to attend the Vinton Municipal Electric Utilities Public Meeting on the subject of forming a local telecom utility that would bring fiber to the community. The meeting will be held starting at 6:30 pm on August 16 at the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District’s Administration board room, 1502 C Avenue, Vinton beginning. Enter the south door across from the ball diamond.

Both the Vinton-Shellsburg School District and Virginia Gay Hospital have given their support to forming the telecom utility. Those letters of support can be read below:

• Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District Letter of Approval

• Virginia Gay Hospital Letter of Approval

Ideal Industries Named to Inc. 5000 List for Third Consecutive Year

Exciting news from Ideal Industries, Inc. on being  named to the Inc. 5000 list for the third year in a row! Congratulations to Pat Lyons and everyone at Ideal Industries, Inc. Please read the press release provided by Mike O’Connor.

Vinton, Iowa (August 15, 2018) — Ideal Industries, Inc., headquartered in Vinton, Iowa, was named today to the 2018 Inc. 5000 list, marking the third-consecutive year it has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in America.

The Inc. 5000 list showcases some of the top privately held companies in the country. Patrick Lyons, president of Ideal Industries, talked about what this special recognition means from a practical perspective.

“Making the list isn’t really the goal, but the recognition is gratifying in that it speaks to the fact we are achieving our goal of sustained growth,” Lyons said. “Manufacturing can be challenging in times of economic predictability and this certainly hasn’t been the case of late. Continued inclusion on the Inc. 5000 list is a direct reflection of the quality, creativity, and overall work ethic of our employees.

One of the hurdles all manufacturers face in regard to sustaining growth is attracting, hiring, and retaining quality employees. Lyons spoke to Ideal’s strategy for growing the company’s workforce as part of an overall plan for continued success.

“We are experiencing challenges in attracting qualified applicants in manufacturing,” he said. “In order to stay on our planned growth trajectory we must be able to fill the gaps created in production as we expand. We are establishing partnerships with area high schools and community colleges to build awareness of career opportunities in advanced manufacturing, while at the same time enhancing internal training and employee retention programs.”

In closing, Lyons commented on how Ideal plans to approach the marketplace moving forward.

“We have shifted our business development focus from quantity to quality,” he said. “We want to create strategic partnerships with our customers, while moving away from transactional relationships.”

For more information on Ideal Industries, Inc., go to For more information on the Inc. 5000, go to

BDG Welcomes New Executive Director, Kate Robertson

Kate Robertson

Benton Development Group, the economic development resource for Benton county, has announced the selection of Kate Robertson as its new Executive Director.

Kate will fill the vacancy created by Emily Upah’s departure in June to join Alliant Energy.

“We are excited to have Kate join our organization. Kate’s experience in sales and marketing and her love for Benton County made her a great match for our open Executive Director position,” says Kristina Kremer, president of Benton Development Group.

“Kate will begin her role of Executive Director on October 2nd and will be in contact with many of our local partners in the next few weeks”

CIPCO brings first of 5 solar sites online

Information was originally published by Dar Danielson on October 24th, 2016 to


That state’s largest solar energy project is on its way to turning the sun’s rays into power.

Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) spokesperson Kerry Koonce says they recently flipped the switch on the first of 5 sites for the solar array that’s eventually expected to generate 5.5 megawatts of electricity.

“It’s producing electricity through the solar system — which is a benefit to all of our members. All five sites will be up and generating through the end of the year,” Koonce says. The first site has some 3,700 solar panels on that site in Urbana, which is within East-Central Iowa REC’s territory. Other sites are in Wilton, Pella Osceola and Marshalltown.

Koonce says the solar power adds to what the coops already produce. She says outside of some purchased wind generation, they generate their own power and she says this will increase their general power capacity to meet new growth.

Koonce says the solar power adds another option to the power they produce. “Customers won’t notice anything as far as their bills, there’s no increase in cost or anything like that. Solar is a very cost-effective utility for us,” Koonce says. “The thing that they can notice is that the generation company that provides their energy will be increasing our ability to provide emission and carbon-free energy, which is something that is very important to a lot of our members.”

Koonce says the solar site will eventually pay for itself in the energy it produces. She says the total cost of the project is about $9 million and is spread out over 20 years to take advantage of some the federal solar tax credits. Koonce says the cost of all five solar sites is significantly less than what it costs to build a new coal-fired electric plant. She says the time of payback is not exactly known.

“It’ll depend on how much electricity actually gets generated through the system each year,” Koonce explains. “On average we are expecting it to generate enough to power over 700 homes. Assuming that, we will have a nice playback well before that 20 years is up.”

CIPCO is Iowa’s largest cooperative energy provider serving 13 electric cooperatives and associations spanning 58 of Iowa’s 99 counties. It’s territory stretches 300 miles diagonally across the state from the Mississippi River on the east to Shenandoah in the southwest.

Photo courtesy of the East Central Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative.

Celebrate Manufacturing


October marks a time to celebrate our manufacturing organizations who are creating many great things and tremendous opportunities our local, regional, state and national economies.  Manufacturing is not what it used to be.  The manufacturing industry has transformed into an innovative and technology driving industry which paves the path for feeding and serving the world.  Today’s manufacturing organizations offer high skilled positions allowing for a great deal of future potential.  Career opportunities in manufacturing are diverse with varying levels of education required.  Examples of career paths include production, engineering, operations, human resources, sales and marketing, quality improvement and beyond. 

Manufacturing is essential to the economies in both Benton County and the state of Iowa. This industry is the largest economic sector in the state contributing $31 billion annually to Iowa’s economy and represents 18.8% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This industry is also responsible for providing jobs to over 215,000 workers (13.5 % of Iowa’s total employment) and is offering some of the highest paying jobs available.

We want you to help celebrate and bring awareness to the importance of manufacturing locally.  Kirkwood has teamed up with several manufacturing organizations around Iowa’s Creative Corridor to create Advancing the Future Manufacturing Tours.  These tours are an opportunity to get our current and future workforce excited about manufacturing and build awareness around what is created right in our backyard. 

Clickstop, in Urbana, is one of the organizations that will be opening their doors for visitors.  They will be offering tours from Monday, October 17-Friday October 21 at 10AM AND 2PM.  Clickstop representatives explain, “The Advancing the Future Tour is a unique opportunity for us to connect with community members and share the accomplishments of our Manufacturing Team, the innovative pieces of our company culture and variety of careers we have available.  We’re excited to host public tours alongside local manufacturers in the Corridor to inspire the next generation of talent.” 

All Advancing the Future tours are free to attend.  Please visit for a complete list of participating locations, times, and appropriate apperal.

The above facts were gathered courtesy of Iowa Economic Development Authority and Kirkwood Community College. 

GUEST POST: Friends of the Herring

Non-profit Extravaganza

  Over 20 nonprofit organizations from Benton, Tama, Poweshiek, and Iowa counties are joining to celebrate the first day of autumn at the 2016 Fall Treasure Fest in Belle Plaine, September 24, 8:00 – 2:00, at 1523 Sunset Drive.

   The fest will have something for everyone, with live entertainment and great buys on fresh produce, baked goods, nuts, graphic T’s and sweatshirts, household goods and other rummage sale items, and much, much more. Raffle tickets will be on sale for chances at original art and other great prizes, and there will be hot dogs, brats, and chips on sale for lunch.

   Participating organizations include Belle Plaine After Prom, the Belle Plaine Ambulance Service, the Belle Plaine Legion Auxiliary, Belle Plaine Music Boosters and Athletic Boosters, Benton County Community Foundation, the Blairstown Library, Drake Library, First Lutheran Preschool, Herring Hotel Building Alliance, HLV German Club, Hope Lodge #175, Iowa County Historical Society, Marengo Memorial Hospital Hope Project, Tama County Community Foundation, Virginia Gay Hospitals and Clinics, the Wallace Winkie Foundation, and the Youngville Historic Association and more.

  More on participating nonprofit organizations, sales, entertainment, and schedule, can be found at belleplaineeventsplanner.weebly.comor the Fall Treasure Fest events page on Facebook.

Benton Development Group
811 D Avenue, Ste #30
Vinton, IA 52349

Benton Development Group | 811 D Avenue, Ste #30 | Vinton, IA 52349 | (319)-472-5545 | Email:

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