BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Lee County Economic Development Group tore the seam off the group’s next five-year fundraising campaign with a goal of $1.6 million Tuesday morning.
LCEDG officials spoke to about a hundred attendees at a breakfast at the Quality Inn and talked about the importance of continuing the multi-faceted work of the economic development group.
Joe Steil, CEO of the LCEDG, gave the opening remarks and announced the next five-year campaign goal of $1.3 million to $1.6 million.
“We truly need everyone to own a piece of our future successes. Be a part of the momentum and action making a difference. Invest in Lee County’s future,” he said.
Jenny Steffensmeier of Steffensmeier Welding & Mfg., a gold division co-chair and secretary of the LCEDG board of directors, talked about her evolution with the LCEDG and how she’s made a commitment to economic development.
“I did not pour over my books before I came here and I can’t go down a list and tell you I’ve got x amount of dollars because of my involvement here, but I can tell you with certainty that I have developed relationships with people that created opportunity and I’m really, really grateful for that,” Steffensmeier said.
She said LCEDG puts people in the room to network and learn and problem solve.
“We all have lots of reasons to do what this organization is doing. Making us vibrant communities where our families want to live.”
Dennis Fraise, COO of LCEDG, said the world is changing around us whether we like it or not, and Lee County is no different.
He said said five years ago the staff was looking at a roomful of strangers. He said 37 investors took a leap of faith and wrote checks totaling $1.3 million.
Fraise said 1 in 4 jobs and $250 million in wages comes from industry in Lee County. Lee County typically leads the state in unemployment, despite the low levels now, and are typically in the top four in generational poverty, and he said workforce became a mantra for the group.
“You’ll see educators, stakeholders, and industries in the same room,” Fraise said. “We have tough conversations and we’ve taken schools into industries and industries into schools and mixed them up and we’ve worked to get them to speak a common language.”
He said Grow Lee has garnered state and national attention and Gov. Reynolds goes around the state and uses Grow Lee as an example.
“Grow Lee exists today because of you. We built a state and national award-winning workforce development program because of you and your hard work.”
He said 4,000 students participated in Grow Lee and STEM activities and five years ago that number was 0.
Scott Smith, of Frank Millard & Co., Inc., said the Iowa Fertilizer Plant came because Orascom, the IFC parent company, and the State of Iowa worked with a team at LCEDG.
“Within that team was the Board of Supervisors…within that team was the City of Fort Madison… within that team was the City of Keokuk,” he said.
Smith said the existing industries are growing and see more growth in the coming years and the influencers in the room are part of that growth.
“We have a great story to tell because everyone in this room is on the same page and you’re going to get the return on your investment,” he said.
Matt Morris, president and CEO of Connection Bank, talked about the relationships between the Fort Madison and Keokuk Economic Development corporations and the LCEDG and how that has improved over the past five years.
Morris said state officials and Lee County didn’t have a good relationship either, but over the past five years the group has taken large strides to improve the communication between all the organizations, including putting a member of both city economic groups on the LCEDG board.
He said he and Connection Bank chose to be involved in LCEDG because the group said what they were going to do and they did it.
Ann Menke, a co-campaign chair, then unveiled that $875,000 of the money has already been raised in the campaign through 24 private donations.