Bringing economic development to a community requires a broad spectrum of programs and activity, if the Clinton Regional Development Corp. is any example.
Among new programs the CRDC brought to Clinton this year is the Manufacturing Roundtable, said CRDC Existing Industry Manager Andy Sokolovich.
“It is not strictly to manufacturing,” Sokolovich said. Local small businesses have attended the meetings.
Most recently the roundtable addressed employee engagement and employee retention, Sokolovich said. That included benefits, outside- of-the-box benefits to retain employees and simple communication, such as sending thank-you notes.
The Iowa Association of Business and Industry updated businesses about what’s going on in Iowa, and “We’ve also heard from Eastern Iowa Community College and Iowa Workforce Development,” Sokolovich said.
Some roundtable events are well-attended while others have small crowds. “It’s topic specific,” Sokolovich said. If the topic appeals to a broad range of businesses, the room is crowded. If the topic is industry specific, manufacturers are the only ones who attend.
“Home Base Iowa was a big thing for us (this year),” Sokolovich said. Though Clinton County has been a Home Base Iowa County since 2016, it has increased its marketing capabilities this year through a grant from East Central Governmental Affairs in Dubuque that allowed the CRDC to print materials, and purchase some collapsible banners and table top displays.
“Really what we were lacking in the program itself was marketing (material), Sokolovich said.
The activation of the Thomson, Illinois prison has brought veterans to Clinton County with the enticement of the $1,500 in closing costs offered through Home Base Iowa, Sokolovich said. Veterans approved for the program are also eligible for a $5,000 grant through Iowa Finance Authority if they are purchasing their first homes.
Clinton County launched its Community Student Loan Assistance Program this year, partnering with Clinton, Camanche and Central DeWitt school districts and the cities of Clinton, Camanche and DeWitt.
Sokolovich took the idea to the Clinton County Supervisors after reading about Peanut Butter in a trade publication. Peanut Butter is a company that helps employers offer student loan assistance as a benefit. Each of the seven entities in Clinton County’s program will pay a set amount toward student loans of new employees as an employee benefit.
Peanut Butter administers the program, and Clinton County is the Peanut Butter’s contact in the county. The county will host a formal press conference Sept. 11 to announce the launch of the program, Sokolovich said.
CRDC has focused on the development of a career education center for Clinton and Jackson counties. Some schools have training in vocations that others do not, Sokolovich said.
“Right now, we don’t have a very robust sharing program.”
A Career Tech Center through Eastern Iowa Community College would bring students from several schools together, sharing resources to provide training. Clinton County is trying to mirror the CTE in Monticello in Jones County, Sokolovich said.
EICC will have to issue the bonds to pay for the project.
“They have agreed to do so,” Sokolovich said. “I believe there is a tentative bond in 2020.”
The bonds would not be paid by Clinton County only but by the entire EICC area. One of their bonds is going to expire, Sokolovich said, so this bond won’t raise taxes.
At Clinton High School, Principal J.R. Kuch and Industrial Technology Teacher Ted Lamb have implemented a Department of Labor registered welding program with the help of CRDC.
The program will allow freshmen or sophomores who plan a career in welding to enter an apprenticeship program during their junior and senior years that will pair them with employers for whom they will work after graduation.
“They will receive a welding certificate and will be on their way to a journeyman certification, Sokolovich said.”
“This is a great opportunity to bring someone in who’s young and motivated and allow them to flourish within your company,” Sokolovich tells businesses when he recruits them for the program.
Though the public doesn’t see it, “The last year to 18 months have probably been the most active in my relatively short tenure with the organization,” Sokolovich said.
Despite the fact that Clinton County lost more residents last year than any other county in the state, companies are looking at Clinton County.
“They’re focused on workforce,” Sokolovich said, “but what we have found [is that] quality employers have been able to draw talent from as far as Cedar Rapids.”
Companies moving to Clinton will have 479,000 potential workers from Cedar Rapids, Sterling-Rock Falls and the Quad-City areas, Sokolovich said.
CRDC and other community organizations are trying to bring more workers to Clinton by offering incentives like Home Base Iowa and the Student Loan Assistance Program, Sokolovich said.
Population is not the only thing companies look at.
“While it’s important, it’s not the most important thing,” Sokolovich said. Some companies, after looking at Clinton, set up in a smaller community.
The explosion at the ADM Clinton site took the life of Clinton Fire Lt. Eric Hosette and critically injured Firefighter Adam Cain while the men were fighting the fire. OSHA opened an investigation into the incident Jan. 7.
Winona Whitaker is the Clinton Herald’s Associate Editor.