Bringing Business to Rural Iowa through Pilot Launch of Green Certification Project

For many rural communities in Iowa, attracting new business isn’t easy. Many want to further develop their communities, but lack the financial and technical assistance needed. With support from Ripple Effect, a joint venture between Iowa Network Services (INS) and Iowa Area Development Group (IADG), along with the development of Iowa’s Certified Site Program, they now have the opportunity to explore new options for growth as Woodward, Iowa recently did.

While neighboring communities had been working on becoming development-ready sites, a typical industrial park just wasn’t quite right for Woodward. But, an eco-friendly business park seemed like a perfect fit with their culture and community, which is famous for a thirteen story, half mile-long bridge above the Des Moines River between Madrid and Woodward on the High Trestle Trail.

Going Green

Deb Lucht, General Manager of Minburn Communications and a member of the Greater Dallas County Development Alliance and Woodward Development Group, said, “Both groups had been collaborating on other projects when we had this idea of taking the site certification program one step further by developing a green business park. By being an eco-friendly site, we hoped to attract businesses that may not have considered relocating to Iowa, let alone Woodward!”

The Woodward Eco-business Park which is the first in the nation got underway in 2015, with a $50,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Energy and the Iowa Economic Development Association (IEDA), which also required a 20 percent match. Additional funding was acquired from local businesses including Minburn Communications, Guthrie County Rural Electric Cooperative and the City of Woodward. The project also received a $3,500 grant from Ripple Effect.   

“Support from INS and other businesses helped our City Council become more comfortable taking on this initiative,” Lucht says. “It took a long time for people to understand the vision of what an eco/sustainable park would mean. When companies like INS get on board, it lends a sense of credibility and validation to the idea. As Woodward continues to grow, it’s a win-win for our initiative and those organizations that support our economic development.”

Fit for Fiber Connectivity

While working on the Woodward project, The IADG Telecom Advisory Panel led by Susan Cosner, IADG Vice President of Community Initiatives, and Lucht found the site certification criteria lacking in proper telecommunication service requirements.

“They only required a DS1, which is comparable to a 1 MB Internet connection,” Lucht says. “Electricity, water and sewer have a substantial amount of requirements, as they’re based on site size. Telecom is often overlooked because it can be difficult to understand.”

Lucht contacted the state’s cite certification consulting firm, McCallum Sweeney Consulting, to set a meeting with the Telecom Advisory panel  which included eight Independent Telecommunications Company (ITC) representatives, Sue Cosner and several INS representatives. The advisory panel worked with McCallum Sweeney Consulting to further educate them on how existing telecom requirements did not allow for enough bandwidth to sustain a business park. The panel submitted a modified recommendation to the consulting firm which resulted in McCallum Sweeney modifying the requirements and the State of Iowa accepting them into their site certification criteria. Today, the minimum requirement for all new certified development sites in Iowa now includes fiber connectivity.

Leveling the Playing Field

Site certification is one of the fastest-growing trends helping smaller communities level the playing field by attracting large-scale business development projects. This stimulates growth and creates jobs. To date, the IEDA has certified ten Iowa communities as “development-ready” through their Iowa Certified Site Program. As part of this program, Woodward was recently announced as the pilot launch of a new Green Certification classification. Through these types of forward-thinking, sustainable options available through Ripple Effect, INS and other entities; we hope to continue to bring business to rural Iowa.