Corridor may expand to SL
A not-so-subtle shift in public opinion both regionally and throughout Iowa happened Tuesday when 74 percent of Storm Lake voters approved a $3.5-million bond issue, the final linchpin in the $29-million Project Awaysis destination park.
"I was so happy for you folks," said Iowa Dept. of Economic Development Director Mike Blouin Thursday. "I spent a lot of time around the state pointing to Storm Lake as a community with a can-do attitude."
Storm Lake, not long ago generating only negative press from outside media, has given itself an image adjustment by embracing diversity and Project Awaysis to become the model of what can be done, Blouin said.
"People are opening their eyes," said Blouin. "I hear it from your neighbors in Spencer. I hear it from Carroll."
About 1,100 Spencer residents turned out for a public hearing in June 1995 to protest plans for a meatpacking plant, some saying they did not want Spencer to turn out like "Worthington or Storm Lake," or to take on the social burdens of immigrants.
Blouin said those attitudes have since changed.
"All of a sudden, they're saying maybe we should work with Storm Lake on some things," Blouin said of Spencer. He said Carroll is now discussing developing Highway 71 corridor tourism in conjunction with Storm Lake.
Blouin agreed that Awaysis could spark interest among Iowa Department of Transportation commissioners to reprioritize Highway 20 four-laning from Moville to Fort Dodge.
"The more traffic builds up the more you can argue from a count perspective," Blouin said.
While the Storm Lake experience has been an inspiration to the rest of the state, Blouin was quick to discourage a 'cookie-cutter' approach to economic development.
"I tell communities to look to other communities for ideas but always adapt to your own community," Blouin said. "You've embraced diversity. You've found a way to embrace the university. It's your model. What it does is give other communities something to strive for."
Several people exiting Storm Lake polls Tuesday said they voted for Project Awaysis to show that Storm Lake was capable of changing its image.
"I would say that the general impression of Storm Lake from people in Spencer is that it's a good community," said Spencer City Manager Dean Torreson. "It's a community on the rise. I personally see Storm Lake that way."
Torreson said Project Awaysis "shows a huge initiative on the part of the community. We hope it will pay dividends. We believe that anything that helps Storm Lake helps Spencer."
Torreson said Spencer attitudes about Storm Lake have definitely shifted.
"The general impression about Storm Lake is that it's a community on the rise," Torreson said. "I think Spencerites feel good about that. As rural communities, we're fighting a population battle as a region."
Torreson said Storm Lake has turned outside views of the community's growing pains with immigration and turned diversity into a positive aspect for the community.
"I think Storm Lake has definitely built off of its immigrants in the community," Torreson said. Part of that reason could be that Spencer itself finds itself with a significant Hispanic population that works at Quality Processing Services and in the poultry, pork, and construction industries.
"Spencer wishes the best for Storm Lake," Torreson said. "We're sister cities here and our futures depend on each other."
The Iowa Great Lakes Corridor Of Opportunity, of which Spencer is a member, may now look beyond to Storm Lake, Torreson said. "There has been some talk in the past that the corridor should be extended to Buena Vista County, to Storm Lake," Torreson said.
Tim Steffen, owner of Steffen Furniture in Spencer, reacted very positively about Storm Lake's 74 percent approval of the Project Awaysis bond issue. "I think that's great," Steffen said, adding that Spencer attitudes toward Storm Lake are very positive.
"There's a very positive attitude as far as lake dredging is concerned," Steffen said. "I also have to give you some credit for Vision Iowa. I was very impressed."
As to whether Spencer is taking a cue from Storm Lake for its innovative efforts at community development, Steffen said, "We just wish we had a lake."
Steffen lauded Storm Lake's efforts at developing what will become the Project Awaysis corridor, starting with the lighthouse at the intersection of U.S. 71 and West Iowa 7.
"I really applaud that lighthouse," Steffen said. "I think that is one of the most attractive things."
Like Torreson, Steffen sees opportunity for more partnerships between Spencer and Storm Lake, noting the progressiveness of both communities.
"This Highway 20 thing is important," Steffen said, hoping that four-laning Highway 20 could tie in with a four-laned Highway 71. "I would love to see Highway 71 four-laned all the way from Highway 20 to Interstate 90 in Minnesota," Steffen said.