Written By: Eddie Wei, Business Engagement Collaborative, Ames High School
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit just over a year ago, local businesses across the country scrambled to keep their doors open. Uncertain about what was to come, business owners had to develop new strategies, face new challenges, and overcome all the odds.
While we can all agree that this pandemic has brought more harm than good, many of us do not realize how impactful the lessons we learn from this economic crisis will have in the future.
Recently, we interviewed several Story County business owners to better understand the challenges, successes, and failures placed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, we hope to highlight what economic development is like in Story County in a time like this.
Fenceline Beer Lab—a nanobrewery and restaurant in Huxley—had to face the challenges of the pandemic only two months after their grand opening. Co-Owner and Head Brewer Susan Frantz says that Fenceline Beer Lab “had to do many pivots.” As a small business that relied on face-to-face interactions and communal relationships, Fenceline had to completely change their original plans to garner sales during the pandemic. In only two weeks after the initial shutdown, Fenceline transitioned to to-go sales and started canning their beers. Their quick thinking and adaptability allowed them to continue business, even if it was in an unconventional way. However, while they were able to push through the initial shutdown, Fenceline had to close and re-open several times throughout 2020 to accommodate to COVID-19 restrictions. Only in October of that year were they able to open long term.
Burke Corporation, a manufacturer of fully-cooked meats headquartered in Nevada, provides insight on how COVID-19 has impacted larger organizations. As an industry, Burke had to deal with changes to the supply chain and the delivery of raw materials. These unique challenges required them to quickly adapt and find creative solutions. For example, Burke shifted some of their focus onto different selling points that were still effective during the pandemic. In particular, they expanded their business in the retail space. They also stayed successful in their main selling point: pre-cooked meats for restaurants and other eateries. By helping out struggling customers like sit-down restaurants, Burke Corporation was able to increase their own business.
On an internal level, Burke combatted quickly-changing COVID-19 protocols and guidelines by streamlining messages in a transparent way to their team members. One way they did this was by using new technology. Rather than just emailing and phone calling, Burke embraced new video conferencing services to communicate internally and externally. In fact, the incredible advancements in video conferencing also allowed Burke to reach international customers in an intimate and personal way that wasn’t possible before.
While COVID-19 has placed unprecedented barriers to businesses large and small, economic development in Story County has not slowed down. Fenceline Beer Lab and Burke Corporation have shown us how to adapt to changing circumstances and succeed in a time like this.
Written By: Olivia Heindel, Business Engagement Collaborative, Ames High School
Students in Ames High School’s Business Engagement Collaborative course have had extraordinary opportunities to innovate with local area businesses and solve real-world problems.
Some recent examples of the phenomenal projects that have been completed in this class include:
The Ames High School Business Engagement Collaborative Class has provided thorough and diverse opportunities for juniors and seniors at Ames High School in order to begin thinking about their future. The experience gained will be a tremendous asset to future employers. If you have a project that you would like to propose to this class, please contact Niki Schieffer via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written By: Bryce Bearson, Business Engagement Collaborative, Ames High School
Tucked in the small, quaint town of Huxley, Iowa lays Fenceline Beer Lab, a nano-brewery and restaurant. Famed for its craft beer and food, this locally-owned establishment is located at 107 South Main Street. The owners, Susan and Jonathan Frantz, bought the property in late 2017 and worked nights and weekends to renovate the building until it was finally finished in 2019.
The Frantz’s had always wanted to open a brewery and when they moved to Iowa in 2013, their dream became even more possible. With an actively growing community, Huxley presented itself as the perfect place to start the beer lab. One short block away is the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail, which brings in business from cyclers, hikers, and runners. The couple’s focus has always been committed to a community-forward atmosphere and a place where families could gather to share a meal.
Fenceline opened for business in January of 2020, which unfortunately was right as the global pandemic hit, but that did not stop the Frantz’s. They instantly introduced “to-go” beer sales two weeks into the shutdown. Towards the end of June 2020, they slowly began offering “to-go” foods. Unfortunately, due to the derecho that wreaked havoc across the state and the COVID-19 pandemic, they were forced to close for all in-house sales in September. Thankfully, in October, in-house seating was reopened and continues to be available today.
Nick Sorensen, Director of Community & Economic Development Outreach at the Ames Chamber of Commerce stated, “Fenceline Beer Lab is located right off the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail and presents a new stop for cyclists in Old Town Huxley. It brought back life to an underutilized building and gave residents another place to spend their time and invest locally.”
Fenceline Beer Lab is committed to creating a welcoming atmosphere. They plan to continue to achieve this goal by expanding their patio area in the near future. When Susan and Jonathan were in the planning phase of their business, they decided that they wanted to become active members of the community. “We are thankful for the support of the community and the wonderful help from others during this challenging time.”
To access Fenceline Beer Lab’s unique list of craft beers and menu, visit https://www.fencelinebeerlab.com/
Written By: Madison Wiertzema, Business Engagement Collaborative, Ames High School
Nevada, IA: a small-town with a charming atmosphere. With the close proximity Nevada has to Ames, Ankeny, and Des Moines, economic growth has been booming in Nevada this past year. Today’s featured business is Burke Corporation, which has been located in Nevada since the mid-1980s. Burke Corporation manufactures pizza toppings, and other fully cooked meats as a subsidiary of Hormel Foods. They originally chose Nevada as the location for their plant due to the growth mindset of Nevada and Story County. There are currently over 600 employees at the Nevada location, with increasing employment throughout their expansion process.
If you’ve traveled on Highway 30 to Nevada recently, you might have noticed construction happening at Burke Corporation. They are currently in the middle of an expansion to support the growing product and employment demand. They began the 150 million dollar expansion in 2018, which is the biggest expansion in Hormel Foods’ history. Each phase of the project brings in 50+ new team members to support the growing company.
In order to accomplish a project of this large scale, Burke has formed close relationships with the Nevada Chamber of Commerce, Ames Chamber of Commerce, Story County officials, and State of Iowa officials for support during the expansion. Economic development and projects at this size cannot be completed without a strong foundation system and the support of economic growth from the surrounding communities.
Local restaurants, convenience stores, daycare centers, and housing operations have already seen higher demand in the Nevada and Story County area due to the expansion. In the long-term, Burke hopes to bring even more people to Story County and add value to Nevada businesses through ongoing employment.
John Hall, Vice President of Business Development at the Ames Chamber of Commerce stated, “Burke Corporation has been a pillar of the Nevada community for years and their expansion reiterates their commitment to being a desired employer in Nevada. The expansion project will add 210 new jobs and reflects a $150 million capital investment creating a tremendous economic impact on the community. Burke’s impact in Nevada doesn’t end with their economic contribution and job growth. They actively encourage employees to be engaged in their communities as volunteers and sponsor programs and events in the area.”
To find out more about Burke and their operations, click here.
Written By: Madison Wiertzema & Niki Schieffer, Business Engagement Collaborative, Ames High School
Located on the south side of Ames, the Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP) is a growing economic community for new and expanding businesses. ISURP provides its 90 tenants access to technology, a variety of resources available at the University, facilities, equipment, and infrastructure. The park spans 400+ acres and has more than 800,000 square feet of developed buildings.
The Research Park brings local and global businesses to Ames to provide for our community. More than 2,000 employees work at the various companies within the Research Park and bring value to Ames and the surrounding communities through supporting the growing demand for housing in Ames, and the surrounding areas.
Performance Livestock Analytics, located within the Iowa State University Research Park, was founded in 2015 to provide a digital platform for the livestock industry. While their main office is located in Ames they have a strong remote team throughout the country. Powered by the industry’s leading cloud-based platform, Performance Beef and Cattle Krush, provides 24/7 access to accurate, real-time data and analytics from anywhere. Livestock production plays a critical role in the agriculture industry but had previously been underserved by ag technology providers.
Performance Livestock Analytics offers an innovative platform that combines cloud-based technology with on the farm information which simplifies data collection and provides powerful analytics for livestock producers to make better marketing and management decisions.
Performance Livestock creates economic value to the Ames community through the creation of job opportunities and increasing the demand for goods and services.
John Hall, Vice President of Business Development at the Ames Chamber of Commerce stated, “The Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP) provides unique value to economic development in our region. From entrepreneurs who are just getting started to established Fortune 500 companies, the capacity for innovation and growth is limitless. The Park is poised to help companies like Performance Livestock Analytics to achieve new levels of research and development. The ISURP also drives our local workforce by offering diverse career opportunities, ever-advancing technology and research partnerships with Iowa State University. Much of the future growth in Ames and Story County will stem from the Research Park.”
Written By: Karin Chitty, Executive Director, Campustown Action Association
I am not an expert on economic development. I might be considered an expert on Campustown. This is my take on economic growth in the Campustown District disguised as a Top 5.
1. View the streetscape improvements made to the 100 block of Welch Avenue. Replacement of infrastructure under the road was the driving factor behind this project, but it also provided several additional opportunities for growth. Federal grant funds were awarded to install stormwater quality improvement features. The project also brought wider sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes, improved signage, and a mid-block crosswalk. These factors aim to improve the experience of moving throughout the Campustown district. Not only do projects like these make the district even more appealing to residents and visitors, but it also sets the district up for future growth and development.
2. Shop and support local businesses. You might be surprised by all the retail and service options housed within the Campustown district borders. Everything from jewelry, gifts and apparel can be found along with grocery, pharmacy, dental and salon/barber services. There is even a post office. Shopping local supports our friends and neighbors and keeps money in our local economy. In fact, for every $100 spent at a small business, $68 of it is reinvested in the community!
3. Unique food experiences are something else Campustown brings to the table. From the European-style café offerings at Clouds to the Brazilian fare at Café Beaudelaire, the authenticity of Joy’s Mongolian Grill to the classic taste of Pizza Pit, the restaurant scene in Campustown continues to grow. It’s the diverse offering that keeps people coming back for favorites and to discover something new.
4. Murals old or new. A few neighborhood businesses are working to bring a new mural to the district this summer and we cannot wait for you to see it! In the meantime, stop and view the mural at 206 Welch. Painted over 10 years ago, the mural depicts many local icons and is a bright, colorful nod to the traditions of ISU and Campustown. Both murals are a great backdrop for your Instagram and while you’re in the neighborhood take some time to explore different shops and restaurants.
5. Summerfest in Campustown. Summerfest is a great way to explore the district. Join us Saturday, June 5th for our annual kickoff to summer event featuring family-friendly activities, live music, and a beer garden.
Written By: Caleb Grawe, Business Engagement Collaborative, Ames High School,
It’s virtually impossible to walk down Ames’ Main Street without gaining some appreciation for the town’s energy. Despite being only a few blocks long, it’s home to a variety of cultural venues, innovative businesses, and unique art pieces.
One of the newest additions to the already vibrant downtown area is a mural on the side of the Quilting Connections store, painted by Lauren Gifford. The piece features stylized text highlighting just a few of the qualities that make Ames special, each word wreathed in a flowery design.
Gifford is known for creating art with bold colors and positive messages. Her business, Letter With Lauren Liz, focuses on handmade text art with a personal touch. The scope of her previous work includes various wall art exhibits, interactive outdoor art, sidewalk murals, and more.
Not long ago, Gifford approached Ames Main Street about the prospect of adding new art installations to the downtown vicinity. As soon as the organization agreed, she immediately took the initiative to start contacting local businesses to fund the project. Renewable Energy Group ended up supplying $5,000 to make the project a reality, and on October 29th of last year the mural was unveiled in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
With this colorful new tribute to the town’s spirit and heritage, Ames’ Main Street has acquired yet another layer of intrigue and charm. And in a time where normalcy and uncertainty are continually at odds, projects like this one serve as an example that inspiration and ingenuity continue to thrive in our communities.
The Chamber’s flagship summer intern program, See Yourself in Ames, will kick off virtually at the end of May.
Each summer, we invite area employers to send their interns or recent hires to a series of events designed to introduce them to Ames and Story County in hopes they will want to stay here to live, work and play post-college. The program continues to grow, averaging around 125 interns at each event.
The events are an opportunity for interns to better acquaint themselves with our community, network with other interns, and take away professional development skills and tools as they prepare to enter the workforce full-time.
This year, we will be offering two virtual sessions and two in-person sessions. Here’s a sneak peek of the 2021 Program:
There is no charge to attend, but registration is required. Registration is now open, we look forward to seeing you this summer!
Thank you to the Ames Chamber Workforce Solutions sponsors for making this program possible!