Mohrfeld said it will take a comprehensive look at housing, curb appeal, targeted marketing and stakeholders
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – He said if you don’t put a target on the wall, you’ll never hit it.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld put a big target on the wall Tuesday night, right next to the target he put up for the new Fort Madison Marina.
Mohrfeld told the Fort Madison City Council Tuesday night he wants to add 1,000 residents to the population of the city in the next four years.
“When we look at Fort Madison and the last census we see our population is slowly being undermined and slowing down and that is not healthy for our community,” Mohrfeld said.
“What were really talking about with a better town is we need to grow our town and it’s time to put that bullseye on the wall. And we need to say that out loud. In four years we need to add 1,000 people to our town.”
Mohrfeld that will require some very specific strategies. First of which he said was adding 400 units of housing in four years.
“This is aggressive and will require some developers. Some that we have – some that we’ve already been working with – and some that we don’t even know,” he said.
He said it would require adaptive rehabilitation and new construction in a wide range of housing markets.
Mohrfeld said the job market will also be a factor, but said this is a rare time in a rural part of Iowa with traditionally high unemployment rates where open jobs outnumber the jobless.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker said there are currently 600 jobs in the county that are unfilled.
“Jobs are not our limitation on growth.” Mohrfeld said.
He said the city has done a great job on improved infrastructure including roads, sewer and water and doing things that can accommodate. He said the city also needs to clean up their curb appeal and Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker quickly pointed to downtown sidewalks.
Mohrfeld said the city’s public safety is a “shining star” for Fort Madison. He said projects like the Marina, the relocated Depot and the new highway are also hallmarks for the city, but projects like sidewalks need to have a goal addressed.
“These are all cogs in the wheel and we need to look at that wheel as growing our town,” Mohrfeld said.
He said it’s a goal that needs to be put together in a way where the 1,000 people can prosper and then choose to stay.
“The easiest way to grow a business is to retain a customer. The easiest way to grow Fort Madison is to keep people,” he said.
There are also efforts underway to reach out to people who have left and start to understand why they are leaving.
Mohrfeld said he and Bowker will be meeting with Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham in February to talk specifically about targeted marketing for Fort Madison and what options are available.
“This isn’t about running ads, “Come to our Town”, this is about reaching out,” Mohrfeld said.
He said a Visioning Group could be formed similar to the one put together to start the renovation of the marina. He said that would include businesses, existing economic groups, youth, and city staff.
Mohrfeld said conversations with economic development people has revealed that this is one of the first times that people from outside the area without connections are applying for jobs in Fort Madison and rural America.
“We have two school districts with new schools, we have a progressive bunch here. A community college here, and we have the Mississippi River which is a heck of an asset,” he said.
“What I’m doing tonight is challenging all of us that we join in a common voice and put that bullseye on the wall and take up the challenge that in four years we can add 1,000 people to our town.”
“I’m 100% on board with all of this,” Bowker said. “Of course we need housing and in order to bring them we need the housing. It really has to work in tandem and in multiple circles working at the same time to accomplish this.
“Everyone we bring to the community may not look like us. They may have different beliefs, colors, religions and what have you. We need to embrace those communities and really look forward to how they bring value to our community. I really think we can do that.”
Mohrfeld said 150 years ago the railroad reached into Mexico and brought workers up to the area through available jobs.
“And look at what that’s done to the identity of this town,” Schulz said. “This is what vision looks like in a town that’s going to progress and not regress. It’s going to grow and not die.”
Chad Cangas said he was surprised that local industries are now seeing applications from people outside the area with no connections to the area.
“There are jobs here and jobs in a place where the wage as compared to the cost of living is good. There are other towns where the average wage is way higher than here, but it doesn’t pay their bills. There is a chance to live well here,” Cangas said.