April 8, 2015
Janet Ady describes economic development in a way that hits home. Literally. It’s about family to her, the strength of generations in the rural counties she is visiting this week in a consulting swing aimed as boosting vitality in a vast swath of western and central Iowa.
“I define economic development as your children and grandchildren have the opportunity to live where they grew up,” Ady said.
Ady, the president and founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based Ady Voltedge, keynoted the Western Iowa Advantage annual banquet at the Templeton Community Center Tuesday night.
Western Iowa Advantage is a collaborative effort of economic development officials in Adair, Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie, Ida and Sac Counties. About 100 people attended the event catered by the Lidderdale Country Store in the renovated Sacred Heart School.
One advantage the region has now: companies are looking to eliminate risk, and rural Iowa is well-positioned where that is concerned, Ady said, adding that both potential sites for growth and the workforce are ready.
In touring all the counties, scouting available sites and developing information on how to retain and lure businesses, Ady said, she is encountering thoughtful community leaders who understand the long-term goals of growth in their areas.
“That’s not very common,” she said.
Ady added, “You all seem to have shared goals in your community.”
She urged rural Iowans to think regionally, to tear down county-line thinking, and leave town rivalries on the football field.
A question the veteran economic development professional says she often gets about regionalism: “Janet, is this just a trend, or are we going really going to have to get along?”
Ady said the regional approach makes more sense for business recruitment because it reflects the reality of a labor pool.
Town and county borders are often the product of historical decisions related to geography — such as where a river is located — not modern commuting patterns, she said.
Working together doesn’t mean small towns have to toss out their long-held identities, she said.
“Regionalism does not mean homogeneity,” Ady said. “It means just the opposite: celebrating the differences within the region.”
Some of Ady’s strongest advice: look out for the existing businesses, find what they need to stay and thrive in communities, because more than 90 percent of economic development will come from what’s already up and running.
Another key to promoting a town or region: get that “elevator pitch” down, and make it memorable, she said.
“You should be able to tell the story of the region in 30 seconds,” Ady said.