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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Grau: Bright outlook for Northwest Iowa development

Thursday, September 11, 2008

As former U.S. deputy undersecretary of farm and foreign agricultural services, Newell native Tom Grau seeded the political fields of Washington D.C. for years.

When he returned to the area to take a job as Pocahontas County Economic Development director, it was a career sigh of relief.

"I love being back in northwest Iowa," Grau says. "I enjoy being able to work on a local level again.

"I faced a large bureacracy in Washington on every issues, and in northwest Iowa, I can tell you that you see more smiles when something gets done."

Although it was fascinating to work under Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, Grau sees the future in places like rural Iowa.

"The ambition and the work ethic is really a step above here as compared to the urban centers. The next generation appreciates what it has more. There is a much better sense of cooperation here. And a key thing is the incredible quality of our schools - I don't think we really realize what we have here, in terms of the fact that every child has an expectation to achieve and graduate, and good education is available to every man, woman and child."

The days of economic development amounting to smokestack chasing in the area are over, Grau believes.

"Once in a while a town will basically luck out and land a good-sized new industry, but the real growth in business today is coming from industry that is homegrown," Grau says. "It is coming from the local people starting a business with three, seven, ten employees that may grow into a bigger company one day.

"These companies tend to be really stable "The local people don't leave town on you, and the people who run them are interested in keeping money in the community and working to move the community forward."

With ethanol taking a back burner due to uncertainty overgovernment incentives, wind energy is again the hottest property in area development efforts, he says.

Speaking to officials of wind energy corporations in recent days, Grau said he is optimistic that additional windfarms and windfarm growth is on the horizon, particularly for Buena Vista and Pocahontas counties.

"It appears that we will continue to grow. Some testing has been done recently, and I am told that we rank extremely high - ridges in BV and Pocahontas as some of the best locations in the entire country," he said.

Grau has been working with both of Iowa's senators toward improving the transmissions grids - curently additional wind development is held back by a "bottleneck" in transmissions lines that can't carry any more power out from the region. "Both senators see the problem and promised to work with the regulatory agencies to resolve it," Grau says.

While Iowa towns and counties once threw out incentives to try to attrack any kind of plant to their areas, they are now more socially and environmentally sensitive in what they seek.

"One thing every rural county should be pursuing is identifying people who left their areas and are now starting families and thinking that they should leave the urban areas and the coasts and come back to the heartland," Grau says.

"We should also market our schools as development tools - attracting people who want a very high-quality public education for their families. Storm Lake is starting to show what can be developed in terms of tourism industry for a rural community, and we are just scratching the surface of what we can do in terms of recreation."

Local efforts will need to become more regional, he feels.

"Instead of talking bike trails in Storm Lake or in one county, we can be looking at how to hook up all the existing trails in our region to create an attraction," he said. "We could create tours of windfarms, or tours of all our area antique shops."

As a former Washington insider, Grau sees hope in the political campaigns this season.

"Listening to the various candidates, I think we might finally have reached the realization that no party can do it alone. Whether we are Republican, Democrat or Independent, we will have to work together if we are going to make our country better," Grau said. "If they follow through on that, there should be more opportunity for bipartisanship than there was in the time I was in Washington. I think that's the dream of everyone who will go to the polls."

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