Economic Development director sees potential for county growth

Mills County’s first full-time economic development director has hit the ground running.
Since taking on the position July 1, Rick Allely has made it a point to travel the entire county to not only familiarize himself with the landscape, but to also get the word out that he’s here to serve all residents and communities in Mills County.
    “Whether it did occur on a daily basis or whether it was just a lot perception, there’s a belief that the county’s economic development focused on the western side of the county,” Allely said during a recent interview. “I can tell you my marching orders and my task is to address the entire county. How do we help Hastings make infrastructure improvements and maybe some potential development? The same for communities like Silver City, Mineola, Henderson and Emerson.
    “I just love rural Iowa and those communities are such a vital part of what makes us so great as an area. I think it’s important for us to work with the leadership in those communities and get the county supervisors engaged. It takes a collaboration – the cities working with the county and the utilities.”
Allely’s “marching orders” come from the Mills County Economic Development Foundation and the Mills County Board of Supervisors, who feel so strongly about the need for the county to have a full-time economic development director, they’ve stepped up and agreed to pay his salary ($75,000 annually) through local option sales tax dollars designated for community betterment.
“A lot of counties contribute to the economic development position, but we took it a step farther, using the local option sales tax money,” Mills County Board of Supervisors chair Ron Kohn said. “There’s a whole lot of development of the Omaha metro area and we’d like to see if we can participate in that growth a bit.”
    For nearly two decades, the Mills County Economic Development Foundation shared an executive director with the Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber executive director Linda Washburn wore both hats.
Larry Winum, president of the Mills County Economic Development Foundation, said Wasbhurn and assistant Tana Saddler have done an admirable job juggling the responsibilities of the foundation and chamber, but both organizations understand the benefits of having their own full-time directors. Winum believes the creation of a full-time economic development director will have a positive long-term impact on the county.
    “A full time director with Rick’s experience should greatly enhance the potential for job creation and increased tax revenues for the county,” Winum said. “The fact that we now have an experienced economic development professional who can spend 100% of his time promoting our county and pro actively working with existing businesses and calling on potential new businesses should make us much more competitive  in the economic development game. There are never any guarantees, but having a full time economic development director will definitely provide us with more opportunities to be successful.”
    Allely, a Shenandoah native, comes to Mills County with a long resume that included stints as the executive director of the former West Central I-80 Development Corp., director of Clarinda Economic Development, business development manager for the city of Sioux City and business development manager for JEO Consulting. He received a bachelor’s degree in economic geography from Northwest Missouri State University, a master’s degree in economic development and community / regional planning from the University of Nebraska and has completed the program at the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute.
    During his time at JEO, Allely was involved in developing a master plan for the Interstate 29-Highway 34 interchange area in western Mills County.
    Allely said a key to stimulating economic development in any community is having “shovel-ready” development sites available to potential companies and investors.
    “Right now, we have none. That’s one of the top priorities,” Allely said. “Obviously, you’ve got some investment out there at the interchange of I-29 and 34. There’s been some great planning done, but you have to get from the planning stage to having willing participants on the land ownership side with realistic numbers that can work if you have to put infrastructure in there so that it‘s actually marketable.
    “Can it be done? Absolutely.”
    Allely said the “closest thing to a shovel ready site” is the area near the Bungee plant east of the interstate 29-Highway 370 interchange.
    “Council Bluffs has extended infrastructure down to the area and worked with the county,” Allely noted.
    Allely said he sees the potential for development throughout the county and made special mention of the Malvern area.
    “Malvern is a jewel in western Iowa,” he said. “I’ve worked western Iowa for much of my life. You’ve got those communities, like Malvern, that get it and are actually doing something. You’ve got leadership in Malvern making investments, whether it’s infrastructure, the downtown area, the fairgrounds building. Throw in the Wabash Trace, there’s just pieces that are falling together there.
    “They’re doing the arts and entertainment things that are making Malvern attractive to young families – the targeted labor force companies are looking for, combined with new housing opportunities.”
    Allely said he can envision some type of industrial development along the Highway 34 corridor between Malvern and Glenwood.
    “The key is figuring out how you’re going to serve them with water, electrical and gas,” Allely said. “That’s why you have to be strategic.”
    Allely said Mills County has too many positives in place for economic development not to happen, but it will take a collaborative effort between local cities, the county and utilities to get infrastructure in place.
    “Everybody says, ‘Wow, look what’s happening in Gretna and Elkhorn.’ In those communities, the utility providers made investments to put the infrastructure out there to facilitate development,” Allely said. “That hasn’t happened on this side of the river, not even around Council Bluffs.”
    Allely said there’s a learning curve all communities must go through in regard to economic development.
    “I’ve told folks, you’ve got to crawl before you can run, but I do believe you’re going to see some exciting things happen here in the near future,” Allely said. “If we can get everything into play, I think for years from now, this county could be changing.
    “I made a comment at the supervisors’ meeting that I hope we’re sitting around here 10 years from now and saying, ‘Wow! The county is over 20,000 people and you’ve got another 150 roof tops and new job opportunities.’ I think it will happen. It will.”

The Opinion-Tribune

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