If you pick a random person on the street and inquire about his or her definition of “economic development,” you will likely get a variety of answers.
To some, economic development is about the creation of jobs and attracting all types of businesses to a community, whereas others may feel there should be more of a focus on attracting certain types of industries, like technology or manufacturing or financial services. And then others might say economic development should be a combination of all of the above, including efforts to enhance the overall quality of life for residents and employers alike.
In the end, though, how economic development is defined is really up to the individual, community and/or business, thanks to a wide variety of factors. And it’s no different in Urbandale, where a great deal of economic development success has occurred over the last few years because city leaders have taken the steps necessary to make Urbandale an attractive place to live, work and play.
The main players
Economic development doesn’t just spontaneously happen, nor does it occur without the involvement (and input) of many different people and/or entities. This is why it’s important to know that a number of parties have played key roles in Urbandale’s economic development-related successes — and will continue to do so in the future.
“The Uniquely Urbandale brand and logo is shared by the city, the school and the chamber because we’re all working together toward a common goal,” explains Tiffany Menke, executive director of the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce.
According to Menke, this collaborative approach helps make Urbandale’s economic development efforts “unique.” As an example, she cited the ongoing work of many to increase broadband access in Urbandale, which would allow the city to be a certified community through the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Connect Iowa program.
“We’re working together to become a Connect Iowa community,” says Menke. “It sends a message to businesses that we’re ready and willing to help meet their technology needs.”
Urbandale Mayor Robert Andeweg agrees there’s a team effort when it comes to economic development, but he believes a recent addition to the mix of players has helped strengthen things.
“Our biggest advancement in economic development this past year has been the implementation of an economic development advisory board,” says Andeweg, who has been Urbandale’s mayor for nine years.
Advisory board members, all of whom either live or work in Urbandale, are appointed by the mayor to staggered terms and represent a number of different key industries in the community. Andeweg says the initial task of the 10-member group was to come up with an economic development plan, but moving forward they will play a role in different projects. He also noted the hiring of a full-time economic development professional and the addition of another person in the economic development department as other key moves by the city.
“When you look at what we’ve done this past year, we’re light-years ahead of where we were in the past,” says Andeweg. “It was time for us to get serious about economic development.”
Measuring economic development success is all relative to a number of variables. So success may look different depending on where you are, but whenever a community attracts new business, it’s generally considered a positive.
Urbandale has certainly opened its doors to many new businesses, but city leaders say building strong relationships with existing businesses and working on retention efforts is just as important as trying to attract new ones.
“Our biggest economic development successes lately have come from working with existing businesses and getting them to expand in Urbandale,” says Andeweg.
In fact, the Urbandale City Council has even approved assistance for three major economic development projects so far this year. They are:
Delta Dental of Iowa’s 30,000-square-foot expansion, which doubles its Urbandale office presence and allows the addition of 15 more employees over the next three years.
IP Pathways’ moving into a currently vacant 14,000-square-foot data center/office space and retaining its headquarters in Urbandale, which includes adding 53 employees over the next three years.
Bluestone Engineering & Project Management’s expansion of its office space by almost 80 percent, which includes plans to add 12 more employees in the next three years.
The above projects, however, only represent a portion of the overall efforts underway in Urbandale, as attracting new businesses and even new residents all play an important role in the city’s economic development efforts.
“The Delta Dental expansion is a big project, as was the addition of Lifetime Fitness, but in the north central area of Urbandale alone there are roughly 700 acres of commercial/industrial land available for development, not to mention a number of re-development areas along Merle Hay Road,” says Curtis Brown, Urbandale’s new director of economic development.
Given this, Brown and others say the opportunities for much more growth exist, especially given the many positives the city can bring to the table when working with businesses looking to expand or relocate. The availability of land for future residential growth is also important, because making the link between living and working in Urbandale is another key part of the city’s overall economic development efforts.
“We’re poised to do a lot of home development over the next few years,” says A.J. Johnson, Urbandale’s city manager. “We’re a little behind right now in single family permits compared to last year, but probably by the end of the year we will see between 200 and 225 new single family home permits in Urbandale.”
Economic development will continue to be a focal point for city leaders and partner organizations through the rest of this year and beyond.
As a part of the City Council’s 2014-2016 Strategic Plan, economic development was one of the top three priorities listed, along with the development of more affordable senior housing and planned improvements to the I-35-80 / Highway 141 / 100th Street interchange. In addition, the council over the past year or so has emphasized a commitment to business investment and job creation and has identified a number of other economic development-related focus areas. These include building partnerships with economic development stakeholders, engaging Urbandale’s business community and citizens, and more — all of which are part of a proactive effort to raise the profile of Urbandale and what the community has to offer.
“The big thing is preparing our infrastructure for the anticipated growth,” explained Andeweg. “But our location is one of our best advantages given that we sit on the crossroads of I-80 and I-35.”
Andeweg also cited good city services and low tax rates as being two other key elements to the economic development equation.
“We work very hard with our chamber to provide a business-friendly environment, so we listen to our businesses and try to minimize the red tape and regulation as much as possible,” he explains.
Besides the importance of creating a favorable business climate, Brown believes the way everyone works together on economic development will continue to play a role in the city’s growth.
“Every department in the city contributes to the overall value proposition when it comes to promoting the city — everything from parks and rec to public safety and public works,” says Brown. “But our existing workforce and residents and schools also play an important role in economic development.”
However, most economic development successes don’t happen overnight. In fact, they often take years to develop, which is why long-range planning and thinking multiple steps in advance are necessary parts of any efforts to attract businesses and people to a community. Nonetheless, the current climate for economic development in Urbandale is positive and city leaders are encouraged by what they see.
“I’m extremely optimistic for the rest of 2014; and moving forward, we have a lot of projects on the horizon that are going to be good for us,” concluded Johnson.