Earlier this month the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) proclaimed the first week of May Economic Development Week to highlight the importance of a coordinated economic development effort in communities. When groups work in unison in the pursuit of economic development, new jobs are created and businesses are successful which ultimately supports a wide array of community amenities that are important to quality of life.
There will always be differing opinions on what economic development means for a community, but things like parks and trails, a well-funded United Way, little league teams, community art, well-maintained roads and a bustling Main Street are easy to agree on—they all improve our quality of life by making our community a more vibrant place to live. And for all those things, we have economic development and a thriving economy to thank.
Consider the example of a firm establishing itself in Ames. Let’s say it will add five jobs to our community, which is hardly a drop in the bucket with a population of over 65,000. However, with the average salary in Ames at around $46,000/year, there will be an additional $230,000 injected into our economy. This helps other local businesses grow, which in turn puts money in business owners’ pockets. That business may decide to hire additional staff to keep up with the increase in demand, which will inject more money into the local economy, possibly a child that will enter one of our school systems, or a spouse/significant other that follows to Ames looking for employment. This bustle of economic activity is what makes Ames an attractive place for new business to grow, thus continuing the economic development cycle.
Another real-life example is the renaissance Campustown has recently undergone. The tall office spaces and apartment buildings for students increase the commercial tax base. Those new property taxes help ensure the City of Ames has money to fund the essentials as well as help support the amenities that make Ames an attractive place to live, bringing in new businesses. In this way economic development serves as a catalyst for community betterment.
It’s important to emphasize that economic development doesn’t happen in a single office. Someone here at 304 Main Street may pick up the phone and make a call or respond to an email inquiry from a business looking at Ames, but when a company is vetting Ames as a place to expand their company or start a brand new one, it’s the network of resources that we can offer that makes the difference. Ames is fortunate to have a wealth of partners in its economic development arsenal. The City of Ames, Iowa State University, Des Moines Area Community College, Alliant Energy, the Iowa State Research Park and many private sector industries all help set the table for economic development. Without these partners working together the efforts of the Ames Economic Development Commission would be futile.
Additionally, expansion of the ISU Research Park, the potential eastern industrial annexation, and the ongoing airport improvements all make the AEDC’s efforts highly efficient. With these offerings, we can provide not only a strategic location, but a highly responsive and vibrant community.
A very important project is currently being pursued in our community. A Miracle Park is on the drawing board which would provide an all-inclusive playground to welcome children of all ages and abilities for play. This will be a great addition to Ames and will ultimately be developed through a partnership of funders, both public and private. Ames is forward-thinking when it comes to projects like this and others—the renovated Public Library, the modernized Mary Greeley Medical Center, new elementary schools, a possible Miracle Park and more would not likely be possible if our citizenry did not have meaningful jobs and our community did not have successful businesses in place to support such offerings.
Ames is fortunate! There are a number of things we get to do and get to pursue that many communities simply cannot fathom because they are not in the same economic position as our community. While other communities are faced with trying to determine how to fund the essentials, our community is able to fund the essentials and also have the good fortune of tackling other, technically non-essential, amenities that make our quality of life exceptional.
The next time you ride your bike on a trail across town, visit a park to walk your dog or watch your child play a baseball game, I urge you to remember that economic development, its numerous partners, and the many businesses in our community is what makes it all possible.
-Dan Culhane, President & CEO Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission