IEDA Director Durham says Cedar Valley is “doing a lot of the right things”

posted on Friday, March 23, 2018 in Blog

EDA Director Debi Durham with Cary Darrah in Cedar Falls with Carol Lilly Mill Race kitchen

IEDA Director Debi Durham speaks with Interim CEO Cary Darrah and others at Mill Race in Cedar Falls on Thursday, March 22, 2018

WATERLOO, IOWA (March 23, 2018) – After touring several sites throughout the Cedar Valley, the head of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) told a group of community leaders, “I think you're doing a lot of the right things here.”

“I do not know where economic development and community development end because in my world they are one and the same,” Durham said. “As I drive through (the Cedar Valley), your community is doing that.”

But if she had one suggestion for the region, it would be this: “You just need to tell more people about (your community). You need to be bolder in your marketing.”

Debi Durham, IEDA Director, made those comments to the Board of Directors for the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber during a late Thursday afternoon presentation at the new Courtyard by Marriott Waterloo Cedar Falls on the TechWorks Campus in north downtown Waterloo.

Marketing Iowa, Cedar Valley

Durham claimed her number one role is to the state's cheerleader – “sell Iowa to Iowans” – and she took to that role when she bragged about U.S. News & World Report's recent Best State's Ranking that placed Iowa in its No. 1 spot.

Showcasing what Iowa has to offer is necessary because Iowa's population isn't growing and there just aren't enough workers to fill current and future jobs. Communities need to step up marketing to help workers elsewhere make the connection that Iowa is a great place to live and work, she said.

Standing in a renovated John Deere manufacturing site, Durham also talked about her passion for the historic preservation of buildings. “I consider myself a building-hugger,” she said borrowing and modifying a term for environmentalists. The return on investment for Historic Tax Credits used for projects such as SingleSpeed, the former Wonderbread factory turned-brewery, has a huge impact on revitalizing and transforming Iowa's downtowns, she said.

“These are all the storylines that you should be telling people,” Durham said.

Manufacturing as a Strength

“We are relevant, and we are relevant on a global stage,” she said. “Iowa, regardless of administration, we manage our fiscal house.”

To grow the state's economy, her office focuses on “playing to our strengths” of Financial Services, Biosciences, and Advanced Manufacturing. All three are mature platforms that need information technology's innovation.

About advanced manufacturing, she referred to the Cedar Valley, “This is who we are. This is our DNA … When I think of manufacturing, I think of this area.”

She feels that TechWorks Campus could become Iowa, and the nation's “go-to place” for additive manufacturing in the nation. “I think you have the ability to do that,” Durham said.

Manufacturing represents the largest industry type in IEDA's portfolio, with 83 percent of those incentives going to existing companies that are expanding, she said.

With Durham on a day-long tour of the Cedar Valley was Beth Balzer, Team Leader for IEDA's business development team. Balzer's team has a goal to visit more than 400 mostly small to medium manufacturers throughout the state this year “connecting them with the resources Iowa has in this space.”

Resources for Startups, Existing Businesses

Durham and Balzer began their day at Mill Race Coworking where they learned about local efforts to provide support to startup and existing businesses, including storefronts on Main Street Cedar Falls.

“It's interesting: I don't think I see any other community making the connection with Main Street,” Durham said.

She also toured University of Northern Iowa's Additive Manufacturing Center in Tech 1 on the TechWorks Campus before meeting with Hawkeye Community College's Dr. Linda Allen and Brad Kinsinger in the Alliance & Chamber boardroom.

Durham spent the day in the Cedar Valley at the invitation of the Alliance & Chamber's Interim CEO, Cary Darrah.