Governor says she’s not giving up on more rural broadband funding
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
KEOKUK – With Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds seated in the front of the room, Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise compared economic development – to a duck.
Reynolds was in town, as has been the case with several of the LCEDG efforts, to help celebrate the group’s accomplishments in the past six years.
Earlier this week, the LCEDG board announced that Fraise had been named president of the group, and Dana Millard had been promoted to Economic Development Project Director.
Fraise started with recognizing the successful programming of the private/public partnership LCEDG has created since being fully funded by Lee County Supervisors just six years ago. That funding formula now is 40% public and 60% private investors.
LCEDG just wrapped up its second capital campaign and raised close to $1.3 million, including a 36% increase in investors.
“That’s the best score card for us. When you see a 36% increase in investors that tells you – I think we’re doing some good stuff,” he said.
But he said a lot of the work being done can’t be seen by the public, similar to all the work a duck does to move gracefully across a pond.
“Economic Development is lot like a duck,” Fraise said. “But like that duck we’re always moving forward and unrelenting in our drive and passion to move Lee County forward.
“What you see is the rather serene, beautiful creature sailing across the water without a care in the world, but what’s happening underneath is this frenetic amount of energy and all these things going on.”
He said the pace of information and opportunity is at a level never seen before, and said lines of communication between the public and private entities embroiled in economic development has to be clean and effective.
Fraise mentioned a request that was in front of the LCEDG several weeks ago with a company that couldn’t email information about the project, but needed a proposal packet in four days.
“I’m proud to say we sent them a very professional, polished presentation with the economic development groups from both cities coming together. That’s what you don’t see…that frenetic pace with our legs going like this underneath – that you don’t see,” Fraise said.
Newest LCEDG Chairman Jamie Baier thanked Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for coming to the event.
“Not just for being here, but for caring about southeast Iowa in a way that makes us feel like we’re part of your team,” he said.
“We’ve added many wonderful people with diverse backgrounds to the board, which excites me because I like watching boards work and interacting with people,” he said.
Baier said he also knows how businesses in the area feel giving 1,000s of dollars a year to the LCEDG.
“You make a decision to reduce your bottom line by thousands of dollars a year. That’s sacrifice and we will honor that in all we do as an organization,” Baier said.
Reynolds said she talks about the Grow Lee program and LCEDG when she travels the state.
“What there doing in Lee County is phenomenal. They really, really have focused on working with their business and industry and tying that to high schoolers and that’s what we want to do,” Reynolds said after the meeting.
She pointed to seven straight quarters of wage growth and said 96 of the state’s 99 counties are showing wage growth, and the state has jobs looking for people.
“What an amazing opportunity for Iowans to get them the skills to fill the careers that are available,” Reynolds said.
She also addressed high speed Internet and the problems facing rural Iowa, including Lee County.
“So connecting rural Iowa I asked for $20 million over two fiscal years. I was able to get five and we’re hoping to allocate that,” she said. “My hope is that we’ll allocate the entire $5 million and have a waiting list and then I’ll go back to the Legislature and ask for the additional $15 million.”
She said with the $20 million she would have been able to leverage $120 million from the private sector funding.
Recent federal data on broadband coverage for Lee County shows strong coverage throughout the county, but officials and residents have said coverage is weak and in some cases is not available at all.
“We can’t expect young people to stay in these communities if they can’t connect,” Reynolds said.