Storm Lake awakens a 'sleeping treasure vault' with developments
Mike Blouin, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, praised Storm Lake's efforts toward making Project Awaysis happen, noting that passage of the Feb. 8 bond issue is critical if Storm Lake is to get $8 million in Vision Iowa money.
Blouin make his remarks to about 60 government and business leaders Monday at the Lakeshore Cafe.
"You folks are involved in trying to recreate Storm Lake and move it to the next level," Blouin said. "You are to be commended."
Hoping for at least the 60 percent required approval in the Feb. 8 bond election for the aquatic center portion of Project Awaysis, Blouin said, "It will send a message to every other community in Iowa that people can grab ahold of their destiny and really made a difference,' Blouin said. "You're going to impact the quality of life for people all around here."
Blouin praised what he saw as the pillars of state economic development which he said included quality health care, highways, and education, the latter which is said is "our very highest priority in our state budget."
Unfortunately, not everyone stays in Iowa, said Blouin.
"As we've educated the very best people in the world, they've used the very best road system in the road to leave the state," Blouin said.
For that reason, Blouin called for support of Gov. Tom Vilsack's Iowa Values Fund which is said is "trying to create wealth in sections that have tremendous economic potential for this state."
Blouin said that through the Grow Iowa Values Fund 220 companies have moved to 68 Iowa counties. And of those companies, 78 percent have fewer than 100 employees. "This is not a big-company, big-city Iowa program," Blouin said.
Iowa has benefitted with 14,000 new jobs paying an average starting wage of $37,5000 Blouin said, noting that the biggest wage increase happened in northwest Iowa.
"It works," Blouin said. "It works beyond anybody's expectation."
Blouin finds a direct link between local economic development and business relocation to those areas. "Those are the ones that can deliver," Blouin said.
Blouin said that within 20 miles of any town in Iowa one can find the same features that area available in many more metro areas. "They have anything Des Moines has," Blouin said.
In an interview with the Pilot-Tribune Monday, Blouin reflected on Project Awaysis. As IDED director, Blouin sat on the Vision Iowa board that pledged the $8-million grant to the Storm Lake development. The grant award will be paid out in a step-down procedure as various components of the project are completed.
"It's an incredible project," Blouin said. "It's exciting. I don't think anybody would look at it as an increase in taxes. They should look at it as an increase in the value of their property."
Blouin, IDED director for the past three years, called Storm Lake and its lake recreation area "a sleeping treasure vault for decades."
Blouin said the Storm Lake area can retain the "It's ours" flavor that the community has and still have economic development. "So you can have it both ways," Blouin said. "Change is coming. You can either have it happen through decay or you can make it happen."
Blouin said Project Awaysis has received statewide attention, and quite significantly, the unequivocal endorsement of the Vision Iowa board.
"Vision Iowa gave Storm Lake the largest percentage of ask of any project that came before Vision Iowa," Blouin said. "That says legions about what's going to happen."
Of the 170 communities that received Vision Iowa and Community Attractions and Tourism funding, Blouin said, "It's awakened them to the possibilities. It's moved them on to second- and third-level projects without state help."
Blouin said Gov. Tom Vilsack has identified a $100-million a year funding stream from gaming revenues that would be available in two years. "I think he's going to say use it" for the Iowa Values Fund or a reincarnated Vision Iowa whose funds were tapped out with the Project Awaysis grant. "He'll want to spend it on something that's going to have a massive multiplier effect," Blouin said.
In other projects beyond Awaysis, Blouin said ethanol is "an industry that's tailor-made for Iowa. Nothing beats corn when it comes to production of ethanol."
Four-laning U.S. Highway 20 receives Blouin's endorsement as another development-related project. "I was pretty strongly associated with completing 20," said Blouin who made his feelings known regarding U.S. Highway 20 four-laning in a videotaped presentation at the Highway 20 Summit last fall at Buena Vista University.
Blouin said four-laning Highway 20 across Iowa impacts the entire state. "If you build it, they do come," Blouin said.
Today, business goes where potential employees want to live, he said.
Blouin sees some great successes for Storm Lake in handling the diversity issue successfully. He also sees greater involvement by Buena Vista University in the greater Storm Lake community. "Buena Vista University is becoming a major part of the community," Blouin said.