Attracting and retaining people in Buena Vista County was on the minds of the Board of Supervisors as well as the issue of attracting more tourists to the area, when they met Tuesday.
Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Vice President Shaun Arneson met with the County to present the results of an existing industry call program which includes Buena Vista County. He says the program is something they want to continue to grow as they strive for business retention and expansion. The program includes finding out the value of a business in a community and the risk the business may have of downsizing. In the second round of interviews, Arneson said they targeted six area businesses. Arneson says they are encouraged by the strong business climate of the Iowa Lakes Corrider region but continue to strive to identify ways to assist with growth and competitiveness. According to Arneson reports show that 70 to 75 percent of new jobs are created from existing businesses.
Corridor staff and other community leaders met and completed 25 in-depth interviews with existing employers, in the areas of manufacturing, agricultural and service related business sectors with a goal of interviewing 75 employers within the region every two years. The six employers interviewed in BV County employ over 1100 employees with 97 percent full time and the remainder are part time. Over the last three years the six employers added 84 new positions, however, they reported a total of 32 positions were left unfilled.Five of the six businesses did report difficulty in recruiting in the last couple years. Employers were also asked to rate employees on their availability, quality, stability and productivity. Arneson says the results for BV County are above average in all four areas.
Arneson also compared the results from the first round of interviews in 2007 revealing some strengths, weaknesses and barriers to growth in the County. Community strengths as a place to do business aspects noted by businesses included a good work ethic, good quality of life and a clean attractive community. Weaknesses included an aging population, long distance to metro areas and lack of initiatives and support for projects. Businesses also identified some barriers for growth including the unemployment rate, feelings that there is a lack of support for development and inadequate access to major roads.
Arneson says their goal in the program is to help counties not only attract more workers to the region but help retain them. "There are some things the employers have to do on their end," he said. He said the Corridor strives to be up to date on maintaining listings of sites and buildings available for business opportunities. Through the program he says they are able to develop working relationships with the businesses and understand their current needs, challenges and opportunities which are vital to the economic growth of each County in the Corporation's region. Arneson anticipates the third and final round of the calling program to begin later this fall.
Michelle Walker with Western Iowa Tourism also visited with the County to give a progress report and offer her thanks for the continued support from the County. Currently BV County is a contributing County and helps assist local tourism projects. Each County pays $500 annually to match the state grant. Walker says the grop came to the Board of Supervisors in 1986 to request the matching funds and over 30 counties jumped on board contributing $400 each. Walker says she feels a much of the reason for a lower rate of tourism in the past in western Iowa has been that they haven't done as much advertising as other parts of the state have. Walker says they been continuing to to do whatever they can to change that by including advertisements in some widely known publications like Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle; promoting western Iowa at the State Fair and placing advertising inserts in about 500,000 newspapers, keeping travel websites up to date and talking tourism with Iowa legislators. "The prevailing response was, I had no idea there was so much to do in western Iowa," she says. Walker says with tourist locations like King's Pointe it is a good opportunity to draw visitors in with what other attractions are available around the County. "You woudn't believe how many have called asking where is that park (King's Pointe)?"