A couple of weeks ago Melissa Schwan, from Vinton Unlimited, and I wrote a story and helped the students of the Vinton Popcorn Company create a video to help tell their story. The story has been published in this week’s Iowa’s Creative Corridor Digest as the “Big Story”! Watch the video and read the story below!
The story of Vinton Popcorn is one that details a great deal of community history, mentorship, commitment and creative minds that have led to today’s success.
Vinton Popcorn was started in the 1940s and was sold several times before the end of operation in 1998. Although there were several different owners there were some things that remained consistent: the name Vinton Popcorn; and the reputation of this widely known, tasty treat. Vinton Popcorn was responsible for a number of jobs in the community as well as feeding many Americans a high-quality product that garnered attention from numerous news outlets throughout its years of operation.
It was not until 2011 that several community leaders and the Vinton-Shellsburg School District came together to bring this community staple back to life. It was decided Vinton Popcorn would live on as a project for local students involved in the entrepreneurship course at the Vinton-Shellsburg High School. The beauty of this partnership is the recognition of the strengths of the student body and the ability to transform aspects of our current educational model to focus on hands-on, project-based learning.
The unique advantage of this project is that Vinton Popcorn is completely run by the students. The students are responsible for the accounting, marketing, production, sales, and administration of the company. Having a completely student-run business comes with its challenges and opportunities. One of the most evident challenges is the cycle of human resources the company goes through. There is constant transition with each new trimester and work to get new students acquainted with the company, its practices, and its product. With this challenge, opportunity is quick to follow. Each new student that comes into the company has a different perspective and is another creative mind. These creative minds work together to provide top-quality service and new products. Most recently, the company had a yearning to provide a new variety to their customers. After a community and client survey, they decided to start production of caramel-flavored popcorn. This product hit the shelf in January 2016 and is now their top-selling product.
The enhancement and development of the participating students’ 21st Century skills is undeniable. Each day these students are faced with a number of issues or obstacles they must tackle with their team. They have gained experience managing and facilitating tough conversations with their peers, vendors, board members and clients. They have also gained the knowledge of the many steps it takes to have a compliant business and product, including navigating FDA regulations.
The hard work and dedication of these students does not go unnoticed. The Vinton Popcorn Board, which is entirely made up of business and community leaders, serves as a source of input and an outlet for the students to remain engaged within the community as well as other communities throughout the state. Recently, the board members made the decision to recognize one valuable student employee each year. This has resulted in a small cash award given to a graduating senior on their annual Senior Awards Night. This is a small token for this student to truly understand the direct value they had on the future of the company.
To order your Vinton Popcorn, please visit www.vintonpopcornproject.com.
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Available housing that is both adequate and affordable for all different income levels, directly influences population growth. For many years, Benton County has suffered from an aging population. Historical statistics will show some communities have remained stagnant in their population and other have experienced rapid growth, however, Benton County as a whole has lost population in both 2014 and 2015. This specific statistic is very alarming for both community leaders, leaders in our local school districts, our current downtown and industrial markets, our citizens, our region, etc.
When we assess this stat, as well as consider where people are migrating to, we find there is seems to be a lack of adequate housing available in some of our communities.
Why is this important? Many residents and community leaders recognize housing as an issue, but have different reasons it is an issue, including quality of life, quality/availability of services, etc. While all of these issues are very important, today, we are going to highlight two of the reason why it is important for economic development:
- As we all understand, our services are made available by the taxes our citizens pay. As our infrastructure continues to age and services continue to become more expensive, taxes will continue to rise. In order to help minimize the burden to these expenses, housing development and rehabilitation is an important issue to spread this among more tax paying citizens.
- Housing and expanding our industry base is a revolving cycle. At this time, businesses are forced to locate where they have an available workforce to fill their needs. In order to prove there is an available, growing workforce, we must have a growing population.
Several communities in Benton County are considering this issue and how we can overcome this this struggle by developing new housing area, housing rehabilitation projects, affordable housing units, etc. Benton Development Group assists in connecting communities to resource partners like the USDA, ECICOG, Iowa Finance Authority, etc.
Economic Development Week will be celebrated in Benton County and Iowa’s Creative Corridor May 8th – May 14th. Economic development happens year round in our communities, mostly behind the scenes. This will be a week dedicated to building awareness for the work of economic developers and the opportunities that are created through the work of community leaders and volunteers that contribute to greater economic development. The week will be highlighted by a social media campaign by using #CorridorEDWeek to be shared on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin accounts for economic development professionals and organizations throughout Iowa’s Creative Corridor.
Economic development outcomes are vital to our community’s success. “Economic development is the engine that drives community viability. As a business owner, I am most attracted to a community that consistently demonstrates the willingness to invest in itself,” recognizes President and CEO of Ideal Industries, Patrick Lyons. The Benton County Board of Supervisors have continued to show support and invest in economic development for the betterment of Benton County. Most recently, the Board of Supervisors showed their support by signing a resolution which commends the work of economic development organizations throughout the county (Benton Development Group, Vinton Unlimited and Belle Plaine Community Development) and in Iowa’s Creative Corridor, as well as recognizing May 8th-May 14th as Economic Development Week in Benton County.
Economic developers are charged with generating economic growth, creating better jobs for residents and facilitating an improved quality of life.“Generally speaking, developing anything energizes the community. New parks, trails, and public services are great investments in our community. Combine that with a growing business base and the jobs and services that those businesses offer and you have a thriving community. Economic development is important because it promotes these things and moves the community forward” In order to continue growing our thriving community that Mr. Guenther speaks about, Benton Development Group has established four priorities for the years to come: businesses expansion & retention, housing, workforce development, and entrepreneurial development.
In addition to following the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, please visit our blog on our website (www.bdgia.com/blog) to learn how each of our priorities will provide lasting results in our communities, in Iowa’s Creative Corridor and the State of Iowa. Additional organizations to follow in Iowa’s Creative Corridor include: the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), Jones County Economic Development Group, Marion Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), Washington Economic Development Group (WEDG).
National Small Business Week is a movement happening in every state throughout the county that is recognizing the idea of “Dream Big, Start Small”. Benton County is joining the movement by celebrating the entrepreneurship, risk-taking, diversity, and innovation that is taking place in our community that makes contributions to our local, state and national prosperity. Small businesses are a vital piece to the engine that keeps our Benton County moving forward. Each of these small businesses started with an idea and a passion for a product or service by an entrepreneur who morphed that passion into a vision. They turned that vision into a lifelong goal of creating a career for themselves, their family and their community.
As our economy continues to blossom, it is important for all to remember that small businesses are the backbone of our local success. Our small businesses include: our clinics, care centers and hospital who provide care; manufacturing organizations producing products for our global economy; our eCommerce and customer care organizations who provide the highest quality services globally; our personal care service professionals who assure we look and feel great; our restaurants and grocery stores who help feed world; and this is just to name a few. It is our local entrepreneurs who continually assess and consider how they bring their vision to life, how to create opportunities for our community, how to create new jobs. Each small business owner is faced with changes that create both challenges and opportunities. Each business owner face business owner faces these challenges by taking risk and making investments. With the advancement in technology, our small business owners are forced to think, market and provide globally.
We will utilize this week to build awareness around the value small businesses provide to our community. We challenge all to: remember that we have a strong local and state economy because of our entrepreneurs, employee and customers who have shown dedication and loyalty to our small businesses; remember why our small businesses exist; and remember why you choose to support a small business.
More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.
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 www.bdgia.com. 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.
ARE YOU READY TO TAKE ACTION?!
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.
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 YouTube.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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.
“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 (www.creativecorridor.co) 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.
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Benton Development Group | 811 D Avenue, Ste #30 | Vinton, IA 52349 | (319)-472-5545 | Email: email@example.com
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