BDG launches new tool for businesses and job seekers

Benton Development Group is constantly looking for new ways to serve as a resource to our local businesses and communities.  With the recent release of the Benton County Laborshed Analysis and the ever tightening labor pool, we have decided to make a change to our website.


The results of the study show that over 70% of our Laborshed area is turning to the internet to search for job openings.  We are surprised by this result, but we did want to consider a way of how we can pick up some of that traffic.  Last Thursday, during a presentation of the Laborshed data with many local leaders, BDG announced that we have added a feature to our website where all Benton County businesses have the opportunity to post their job openings.  This is a free service to all Benton County employers and each posting will expire after 30 days.  We feel that with our tight talent pool and many additional jobs being created, this is a great opportunity for BDG to assist our local businesses in finding their next employee by pushing these opportunities out on more platforms.


While we are very excited to provide this tool for our businesses, we are also excited to provide this for our local communities.  We understand that we have many commuters in our area, but we feel that if we can communicate local opportunities, we may be able to capture a part o the commuter population to work locally.


To either post a job or search for a new career, please visit our webpage at  You will find the pages to both post your openings or find local openings under the Resources tab.  If you have any trouble navigating or posting on the site, please do not hesitate to let Emily at the BDG office know.



Local organizations collaborate with the SBDC to create opportunities for small businesses

Benton Development Group, Vinton Unlimited and Belle Plaine Community Development have partnered with the Small Business Development Center to bring a series of engaging educational opportunities to Benton County for our small business community.  The series will be made up of 9 sessions that focus on getting, keeping and growing customer bases.  “One of the most exciting elements of this project is that all of the sessions will be very interactive.  The ultimate goal of this program is to give leaders the tools they need to take action in their business, that is why we decided to call this the Action Academy.” said Emily Upah, Benton Development Group. Along with the series being very interactive, we also look for the series to be very high energy to help motivate our businesses to take action. “We can promise this won’t be a boring lecture series” states Melissa Schwan, Vinton Unlimited.
The big picture of the series is to provide different entrepreneurship perspectives to our local small business community.  Here in Vinton we’ve been talking with some of our local businesses and some common themes have emerged regarding their small businesses stated  Schwan. “Those common themes gave us a starting point and helped the SBDC prepare the series that best targets our needs.” The series will be based around the ideas of getting, keeping and growing customer bases by engaging in educational experiences.  When we break that down, we will really give our businesses the appropriate tools to think about their value proposition, who their key customers are, how their customers want to receive their services, what sets you apart from your competition, etc.  
The Small Business Development Center has really helped us narrow our ideas and put together a series that has greatly exceeded our expectations.  With their connections, the speakers coming to our local events have deep roots in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Their experiences range from leadership coaching, marketing gurus, customer experts, Iowa Venture School graduates, and much more.  The SBDC is also taking this on as somewhat of a pilot project which they hope to offer in Marion and other communities throughout their service territory.  
The Action Academy is open to all businesses in Benton County and free for those who attend.  Our kick off session is on February 16th from 5:30pm to 7:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center.  The remainder of the sessions will be held twice a month from 7:30am-8:30am, rotating between Belle Plaine and Vinton.  “We feel there is so much value in bring our business communities together for these events in order collaborate, learn from different business climates and experiences and to build an open network.” said Upah.  
Please visit the calendars on the Benton Development Group and Vinton Unlimted websites for dates and locations.  Feel free to contact the BDG, VU or BPCDC offices for more information regarding the Action Academy.  


BDG to elect officers and set 2016 action priorities

Benton Development Group will hold their monthly Board of Directors meeting on January 27th at 7:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center and you are encouraged to attend.


During this gathering, members will hold an election of officers for President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary. Each officer is elected for one calendar year.


Those in attendance will also be setting action priorities for 2016. Our vision is to create BDG action priorities with feedback from our communities to ensure our priorities fall in line with community initiatives. These priorities are ones that we will be able to make direct action and continue the progress in 2016. BDG executive director, Emily Upah, will also update members and attendees of projects that she has been working on over the past month, including: business development, small business development programs, workforce topics, etc.


Benton Development Group meetings are open to the public and community input is highly encouraged at each meeting. If you or someone you know is interested in being a leader and spokesperson for your community or has a general interest in economic development, please attend the meeting on the 27th or connect with Emily at the BDG office.

2015 – BDG Looks Back on a Successful Year


As we reflect on 2015, Benton Development Group is able to reminisce on the progress and preparation for future growth that has been established this past year. As our group continues to grow and assist our communities and businesses in unique ways, we find each project has its own set of trials and tribulations. In 2015, we were able to use our strategic partnerships and dedication to our businesses to tackle issues head on to ensure success for our communities, businesses and our organization.


Benton County experienced many milestones in 2015 that BDG was excited to be a part of. In total, Benton County saw approximately $22 million in new capital investment with approximately 180 jobs created over 18 months. The numbers are impressive, but all of this credit goes to those businesses that made these expansions happen. BDG was and is standing ready to assist those companies to assure the success on all fronts. Some ways that we played a role include connections to Kirkwood training programs, Iowa Department of Transportation resources, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) services, Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) grants and financing, Iowa State University resources, etc.


BDG and officials from Kirkwood Community College’s Benton County Center and Workplace Learning Connection came together to bring a new level of collaboration between our groups to create opportunities for our students, our educators and our businesses. Together, we found new ways to work with our local school districts in an effort to address the talent shortage that is being felt by our local, regional and state industries. While we cannot solve this issue on a local level only, it is our hope to bring awareness to our students that many opportunities lie within our local communities and educate our students on the 21st century skills our current industries are struggling to find. Our big success in 2015 on the workforce front, was an BDG internship that came from these collaborative conversations. Three students, one from each Benton Community, Belle Plaine and Vinton-Shellsburg, participated in surveys with our local industries from around the county. Each student gained further knowledge on communication, problem solving, time management, etc. To learn more about their experience, please view the video the students created by visiting and searching, “BDG Summer Internship 2015”.


In June, BDG hosted a visit with the IEDA Director, Debi Durham. During her visit, Director Durham was given a comprehensive tour of Benton County where she was able to visit Atkins, Van Horne and Wallace Farms. Director Durham also visited Clickstop, where CEO, Tim Guenther, announced the company’s $6 million, 100 job expansion. BDG also hosted a luncheon at the Van Horne Community Center that was attended by approximately 80 business and community leaders. These attendees were able to gain insight to the programs the state is working on and how the programs and activities of BDG fit into those state initiatives. Director Durham left with these words, “ We need to be prepared with housing, commercial buildings, utilities capacity & connectivity to become the site of choice for new businesses to locate in our community or for current businesses to expand. If we build capacity on all fronts, they will come.”


While BDG has been involved in many great activities this past year, something that we cannot neglect is the role our partnerships organizations have played in these events. The Benton County Supervisors have provided great support for BDG activities and continue to work with our organization to assure community and business needs are met. The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance team has provided great assistance and collaboration on business expansions projects and organizational goals. We continue to work with the Small Business Development Center and Iowa’s Creative Corridor to bring new programming and awareness to Benton County businesses and communities.


We have had an exciting year, but we do not plan on slowing down in 2016. We are planning programs with the SBDC to provide workshop opportunities in Benton County to address small business needs. We will be embarking on a top executive roundtable group to give top executives in our communities the opportunity to network and learn from other industry leaders with and educational piece on different business practices and resources. Also in early 2016, we have several events planned to give our local industry the opportunity to speak with our local students and educators to have a direct impact on students and the implementation of 21st century skills in our current curriculums.


We will have a busy and exciting 2016. To assure we are meeting all needs, we want your input at our monthly board meetings. Our first meeting of the new year will be January 27th at 7:00pm at the Van Horne Community Center. This meeting will be our kickoff to the new year with Executive Board elections and setting the stage for the year to come. Our meetings are open to the public and community input is encouraged. If you have any questions regarding board involvement or activities, please never hesitate to contact Emily at the BDG office at (319) 472-5545 or


Thank you to all of our community and business leaders for your support in 2015 and continued support in 2016. We plan to make it a year full of growth and prosperity for Benton County!

SBA Boots 2 Business

Are you a Veteran, in the National Guard or Reservist? Are you also interested in starting your own business?!  If you answered YES to BOTH of those questions, the Small Business Administration has an upcoming education and training program for YOU.

During this one day, three part program takes place on Monday, October 26th, 2015 from 8:30am to 5:30pm at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. You will learn about the entrepreneurship track, foundations of entrepreneurship, etc.!  You will also learn about SBA collaborators who are able to assist with your business!

Click HERE to learn more about the program.

WE are Iowa’s Creative Corridor

“Iowa’s Creative Corridor is home to a half million creative residents and covers 4400 square miles in eastern Iowa including Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties.

It is a shared identity that represents the people, places and ideals of the 7-county region which encompasses the entire Kirkwood Community College service area. It represents the pride and actions that make our region prosperous and vibrant. It pays homage to our region’s historical strengths in art, science and technology, and captures our aspirations for an even more collaborative, innovative and imaginative region.

Everyone in the region is welcome and encouraged to use this shared identity proudly in community, corporate and non-profit communications. It’s a way to show what we all work together to strengthen and celebrate this place that we love.”


The above information is taken right from the Iowa’s Creative Corridor ( website.  How many people actually knew Benton County was part of Iowa’s Creative Corridor? or maybe thought Iowa’s Creative Corridor was just the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor?  It is much broader than that; but to make our mark, we can’t be humble! It is our effort moving forward to push our unique stories and our local events to the Creative Corridor.

In this effort we need YOUR help:

1.) when you hear of a unique business or community story, let BDG know.  We will do our research and push the information.

2.) The BDG calendar serves as a tool to push local events to the Creative Corridor calendar of events.  We need your help by posting your community event on the BDG calendar.  Let’s show people what a great place Benton County is to live, work, shop and play.

Here is the first of many stories to be published on the site.  Thanks Jim Morrison for running it in the Vinton Newspapers.

If you haven’t done so already, please take 30 seconds and subscribe to the Digest.  This is a weekly blast that shows the upcoming events and featured stories for the week!



Let’s Help Connect our Students to Our Local Opportunities

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

IEDA Director to Tour Benton County

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 or call the BDG office. Registrations are due by June 10th.

Proposed improvements to U.S. 30

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.

Schedule for Secretary Northey’s Visit

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, 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.

Upcoming Events

9:00 am Urbana Farmer’s Markets @ Urbana Community Center
Urbana Farmer’s Markets @ Urbana Community Center
Jul 14 @ 9:00 am – 11:00 am
When you buy locally in Urbana, IA, directly from Urbana area markets and farms, you help support your local Urbana economy. In return, you will get the freshest, best-tasting food available and help reduce the[...]
9:00 am Urbana Farmer’s Markets @ Urbana Community Center
Urbana Farmer’s Markets @ Urbana Community Center
Aug 11 @ 9:00 am – 11:00 am
When you buy locally in Urbana, IA, directly from Urbana area markets and farms, you help support your local Urbana economy. In return, you will get the freshest, best-tasting food available and help reduce the[...]
9:00 am Urbana Farmer’s Markets @ Urbana Community Center
Urbana Farmer’s Markets @ Urbana Community Center
Sep 8 @ 9:00 am – 11:00 am
When you buy locally in Urbana, IA, directly from Urbana area markets and farms, you help support your local Urbana economy. In return, you will get the freshest, best-tasting food available and help reduce the[...]

Benton Development Group
303 1st Ave
Vinton, IA 52349

Benton Development Group | 303 1st Avenue | Vinton, IA 52349 | (319)-472-5545 | Email:

© 2018 Benton Development Group | Website Design by Three Rivers Promotions, LLC