Each May the Ames Economic Development Commission (AEDC) celebrates Economic Development Week as we recognize the power of partnerships and the impact of coordinated economic development efforts in our communities.
Throughout the last two years, our organization has grown significantly. We have expanded our economic development services beyond Story County, partnering with the City of Boone, the City of Ogden, and the Boone County Economic Development Growth Corporation. In fact, these contracts have enabled our team to more effectively serve the entire Ames Metropolitan Statistical Area, or the Ames MSA.
A Metropolitan Statistical Area is a geographical region with a relatively high population density and close economic ties. The Ames MSA is made up of both Boone and Story Counties and includes over 20 communities. The MSA designation is critical to our region for a multitude of reasons. When it comes to economic development projects, consultants and site selectors often look to MSA communities first as an MSA designation offers a high level of credibility as well as easy access to the demographic and economic information they need when looking for a new location for a company. Metropolitan Statistical Area communities also benefit direct federal entitlement payments, recognition in distinguished “Best Of” lists and ultimately face less competition for federal dollars and grants.
A unified approach to economic development just makes sense. By working together, we are able to create a common vision, develop long-term strategies and provide resources across the Ames MSA. We are incredibly fortunate to have strong inter-community relationships that allow us to create innovative solutions as we work to attract and retain talent and industry, promote the importance of supporting local, create jobs and growth opportunities, and so many other projects that benefit the greater good.
Economic development is impacted by seemingly mundane projects like municipal infrastructure improvements all the way to larger-than-life projects like The Linc project coming to Lincoln Way. No one wants to live in a community with pothole-ridden roads but that road construction that drives us all crazy from March to October makes our community more appealing for current and potential residents. Investments in local art and quality-of-life amenities like the Nevada Fieldhouse or Fitch Family Indoor Aquatic Center build upon that appeal. Offering a thriving entrepreneurial environment helps local businesses owners get off the ground or enable a local Farmers’ Market vendor to move into a brick-and-mortar location. It is this myriad of projects, businesses and organizations and the cooperation of local leaders that drive strong economic development.
The AEDC team and our partners will continue to work tirelessly for our communities. Together we will support existing industry and job creation, support up-and-coming small businesses and advocate for the next quality of life amenity. The work we are doing now is setting us up for a sustainable, promising and brighter future for all.
A few weeks ago, Fareway Stores, Inc. pledged their largest donation in company history—a whopping $2M to be put toward the new Boone Community Wellness Center. This contribution covers nearly 20% of project costs and reduced the burden on local taxpayers as the City was able to lower the franchise fee from 3% to 2%. Investing in large-scale projects like these through charitable contributions is a direct investment in the greater community. The more we have to offer, the easier it becomes to attract and retain talent.
We’ve seen a number of charitable contributions for quality of life amenities throughout our communities recently. Nevada is nearly the end of their private fundraising for their Fieldhouse project. The Fieldhouse would bring 40,000 sq. ft. of indoor recreational space to the community including two basketball courts, a soccer field, children’s play structure, an upper-level track and meeting space. Ames has also seen an influx of charitable giving for the proposed Indoor Aquatic Center with the current fundraising total coming in at just over $10.3M.
These facilities offer more to a community than recreational opportunities. The high levels of fundraising indicate our community members’ understanding that one of the biggest factors people consider when relocating is the quality of life a community will provide. The Boone Community Wellness Center, Nevada Fieldhouse, and indoor aquatic center in Ames are the kinds of amenities our communities need to stay competitive and promote healthy growth. When people visit our towns for tournaments and other events held at these recreational venues, they get a glimpse into our community and are more likely to return as visitors and in some cases residents. The increased out-of-town traffic also increases patronage to local stores and restaurants, continuing to feed dollars into our local economy. It's not an exaggeration to say community wellness and recreational facilities are a win-win for everyone involved.
The Boone Community Wellness Center project will go to public vote on Tuesday, March 1. If you are a citizen of Boone, I implore you to exercise your right to vote next week and vote yes to move this project forward. Be a part of the team of community officials, leaders and residents working tirelessly to build upon Boone’s long-standing culture of recreational activity and bring a much needed amenity back into the community.
Don’t make Fareway take their donation back next week. Vote yes and keep Boone on its current trajectory toward growth and increased amenities for residents and visitors alike.
The last two years have tested society in a multitude of ways. From sudden business and school shutdowns to extreme weather to the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, collectively, we have all been trying to make the best of unusual circumstances. The caveat is we don’t always agree on how we handle these challenges.
You may remember that we had to postpone the Ames Chamber Annual Event last month due to the forecasted windstorm. As the forecast developed, we brainstormed Plans B – Z. Team members shared their varying opinions and after a pragmatic discussion in which we weighed all our options, we came to a consensus that postponing the event, while not ideal, was the best decision for the greater good.
As we were making our decision, neighbors were helping each other prepare by moving things indoors, picking up supplies in case of power outages and checking in on each other. Without hesitation, our community came together to hunker down and ride out the storm. This is the kind of camaraderie we need to nurture not only when there’s a storm on the horizon, but throughout the year.
I am calling on all residents of Ames and the greater Story County region to commit to a return to civility and an extra measure of grace for one another. The times we live in are unpredictable at best and we can’t change what is going on elsewhere in the country or world, but we can change what is happening here at home.
Instead of digging in our heels, listen to understand. Be quick to find common ground. Exercise wisdom when engaging in contentious discussions. Ask questions and strive to reach compromise. Come to the table with ideas and solutions rather than excuses or opinions. People will notice and in time, quite possibly, the divisiveness we see in our culture will be replaced with eagerness to work together.
In order to attract the talent we need to continue to grow our workforce and local economy, it is crucial that our community is exceedingly welcoming to all who choose to make Ames their place to live, work and play. We can only accomplish that by returning to a higher level of civility.
As an employee, teammate, mentor, leader, friend, neighbor, do your part to make Ames the epicenter of diverse thinkers working together to serve the greater good. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday earlier this month, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from him: “Life’ most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?””
The close of 2021 also wraps up the early stages of an economic development and quality of life project that will provide more recreation for Ames in future winter months – the new indoor aquatic center.
To bring this vision to life, the Ames Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the private fundraising efforts and worked with the City of Ames to apply for a $21.6 million grant through Iowa’s Reinvestment District Program. The project was provisionally awarded $10 million in June from the State – a significant win for our community considering the number of program proposals this year.
Receiving less funding through the grant than we had hoped for, the project team pivoted as we all so often have done the last two years and worked to rescope the project and funding needs. We set out to raise another $15 million in private donations, and I am pleased to share that so to date we have reached $10.3 million of that sum. Anticipated construction is to begin in late 2022.
The indoor aquatic center project has been a personal favorite of mine this year because it will not only be a new quality of life asset for Ames and Story County residents, it also builds upon our community’s focus on inclusion and accessibility. Features will include a zero-entry pool, a warm water therapy pool, slides, a lazy river, lap lanes and more. The carefully designed facility was created with our residents and their various needs top of mind. The indoor aquatic center will provide the opportunity for year-round recreation for every single member of our community.
At the Chamber, we have six core values our team strives to personify every day. We are determined to be customer driven, innovative, team players, good for it, demonstrate integrity and work for the greater good. We chose to take on the fundraising aspect of this project because we believe adding an indoor aquatic facility to our community checks each and every one of those boxes. As our community grows, so do our needs. The Ames Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to anticipating those needs and helping create innovative solutions that will positively impact the greater good.
If you are interested in making an end of year contribution toward the indoor aquatic center, we are still accepting two-year pledges, half due at the end of 2021 and the other half by 2022. Contact our office at 515.232.2310 and we would be happy to assist you. No pledge is too small! We are in this together and together we will bring this amenity to our community.
Finally, I invite you to join us as we kick off the new year at our Legislative Breakfast on January 5, Economic Outlook Breakfast on January 11 and the Annual State of the Community on January 26. You can register for these events at AmesChamber.com or by calling our office at 515.232.2310.
Thank you all for a wonderful 2021 and I look forward to seeing where 2022 takes us! Happy New Year!
One of the few bright spots of living through the pandemic is the renewed sense of shopping and supporting local. I have been so encouraged the last 18 months as the Ames and Story County community has come together in a commitment to support our neighbors.
Last year around this time, we ran our second “Buy-In Story County” gift card program which poured $30,000 into our local businesses in just two days. Earlier this year we launched the Community Cash program – a year-round online program that offers gift cards redeemable at any of our participating members. With over 30 current participants, gift card recipients have the option to redeem their cards at retail stores, restaurants and bars, hotels and even North Grand Cinema. Community Cash is a great option for an employee gift or for that person on your list who is especially hard to shop for.
Community Cash not only does it take the pressure off the gift-giver, but it also keeps spending dollars in our local economy. Did you know that of every dollar spent at a locally owned business, about 70 cents stays in the community? Less than 40 cents of dollars spent at non-locally owned businesses stay local. The extra money in our local economy means more resources for our schools and local programs, preserves our local character, and creates more jobs in our community. As you do head out to our small businesses, keep in mind that many are facing staffing challenges, so I urge you to exercise patience for one another.
Looking for other ways to get engaged and support local businesses and organizations? Join in on upcoming events throughout the community. Downtown Ames is celebrating Snow Magic throughout December and will be kicking things off on Friday, December 3 with a holiday tree lighting at 6:00pm in Tom Evans Park. There will be carriage rides, Santa visits, children’s activities and more throughout Downtown. The Ames Chamber of Commerce and affiliate organizations will be celebrating our 2021 Annual Award Winners on Wednesday, December 8 at Prairie Moon Winery. Help us honor these influential members of our community and join us for dinner and the awards ceremony. Finally, we will be commemorating 2021 at our Annual Event on December 15 at Sukup Endzone Club. There will be dinner, drinks, laughs and a little bit of magic as we bring 2021 to a close and look ahead to the amazing things in store for Ames, Boone and Story County in 2022. Learn more and register for these events on our website at AmesChamber.com.
Finally, you can support local by paying it forward in our community. Drop your change in a donation box, pick up a few extra groceries for a food pantry or simply hold a door for a stranger. As we continue to build and nurture our local community, we will continue to be recognized as the Smart Choice to live, work and play.
Economic Development Week is upon us! Each May the Ames Economic Development Commission (AEDC) celebrates Economic Development Week, celebrating the power of partnerships and highlighting the importance of a coordinated economic development effort in our communities.
This year, it feels like we have more than ever to celebrate. Not only are we coming out of a pandemic, but we are coming out of a pandemic stronger and more focused on growth and quality of life in our communities. The AEDC continues to serve every community in Story County and launched a new partnership with the City of Boone at the beginning of the year. It is these partnerships that drive innovative, successful economic development in our region and together we are working to create a brighter future for all.
Our 2021 theme, #ThisIsEconDev, was chosen because it enables us to highlight economic development on grand and small scales. From May 10 – 14, the AEDC will be featuring ongoing projects and partnerships with our neighboring communities throughout Story County and the City of Boone. A project that has been completed in collaboration with the Business Engagement Collaborative class at Ames High School, we are excited to showcase the economic growth we are seeing in our region.
Oftentimes, when people hear the term, ‘economic development,’ they think of new companies coming to town or large local companies beginning expansion projects, both of which are significant aspects of growth. What they might not think of is reinvesting in existing districts through beautification projects, revitalizing and repurposing historic buildings and as a result, providing new ways for residents and visitors to spend money locally.
Bringing new art, destinations and experiences to our communities drives tremendous economic development, especially for our small businesses. People might come downtown to take a photo with a mural only to find their new favorite coffee shop. Others might set out to run a quick errand at their local go-to store and discover the new shop that went in next door. A hidden gem like a mega cinnamon roll might go viral and bring in folks from all over. It is the way these projects work in tandem with larger scale expansion and job creation projects that keep our communities vibrant and attractive.
The AEDC team will continue to work for our communities, finding the next great job-creator, attracting the next big business, supporting the up-and-coming startups, and advocating for the next quality of life amenity. The work we are doing now is setting us up for a sustainable, promising and brighter future for all.
One of my favorite aspects of Ames and Story County is the community spirit. From annual festivals and celebrations to local sports to food drives and fundraisers, there is no doubt that our residents are committed to creating a vibrant community for all.
Last year we saw this on display as we navigated the uncharted waters of living through a pandemic. There were bear hunts, sidewalk chalk messages, neighborly check-ins, and a unified call to support local business. When we launched the Buy-In Story County Program, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Our team put in dozens of collective hours preparing the technical side of the program, connecting with sponsors who wanted to do their part, and getting the word out to the community.
On March 25, we held the first flash sale with 500 $30 gift cards available for $20 each. We sold out in an hour.
The sponsorships flooded in. Over the course of the next week, we sold over an additional 3,500 cards supporting 94 local businesses. In all, over $107,000 was immediately infused into our local economy.
We knew we were on to something. In November, we brought the Buy-In Program back for a second round and to no surprise, it was as successful as it had been in March. Another $30,000 was poured back into our businesses in just two days.
This April, we are pleased to launch our new program, Community Cash, as the long-term solution to keeping our spending dollars local. Community Cash is a digital platform that allows customers to purchase gift cards in increments of $5, $10, $20 or $25 and redeem them at any of our participating members. Think of it as an open-ended gift card! Gift cards can be purchased on the Ames Chamber website and with each purchase, you will receive a unique QR code or numeric code that will be scanned at check-out.
The program is designed to help us all shop, eat, play, and give local. By investing in our locally owned small businesses, we are helping Ames and Story County maintain our unique culture and supporting our friends and neighbors. More money in our local economy means more jobs, more products and services, and more overall growth. As we grow, there will be more funding for schools, towns, medical centers and amenities for residents and citizens.
I encourage you to be on the look-out in the coming days for more information on Community Cash. This is truly a win-win for our community; businesses will be directly and positively impacted, and residents are able to intentionally support local. We believe Community Cash has the potential to become the currency of choice in Ames and Story County and we look forward to watching the program reach new heights.
As we celebrate Black History Month, I am encouraged by the commitment to expanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) education and opportunity in our organizations and the community.
Ames is no stranger to diversity. As a university-town, we’ve long welcomed people from all over the world into our community. We are home to the only Division I stadium named for a Black individual. In fact, Iowa State College, as it was then known, has welcomed students of color since its founding in 1858. What an incredible legacy.
Today, we continue to strive for a more equitable society for all. Our team at the Chamber is working hard to create programming, networking opportunities and resources that offer education and take-home strategies that empower you to become a culture changemaker in your organization and throughout our community.
This fall we will host our fourth annual Symposium on Building Inclusive Organizations. As always, the program will be engaging and interactive as well as cover a variety of topics that fall under the DEI umbrella. To build on this popular program and content, we will also be offering three new events throughout the year as a part of our Changemaker Series. These events are designed to open discussion around best business practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are intentional about providing a platform to discuss insights, offer idea sharing, and engage discussions with organizations of all shapes and sizes. The first event will be held in April and focus on Empowering People with Disabilities in the Workplace. Be on the lookout for additional event and registration information in the near future.
If you are looking for a way to get involved or support people of color in our community, I encourage you to utilize our Minority Business Enterprise Directory. This directory includes over 70 self-reported businesses in 21 categories, and this is only the first version! We will continue to review and update the directory throughout the year as more and more businesses ask to be included.
Finally, we are also developing a new section for our website that is dedicated to DEI resources. While in the early stages, we are excited to collaborate with local organizations and experts to provide critical information and connections for businesses of all sizes.
We will continue to advocate for DEI initiatives and opportunities in business and community alike. Together we can strategize on how to implement, foster, and encourage diversity, equity and inclusion in Ames, Story County and beyond.
Being the home of a Tier 1 Research Institution, Ames is naturally positioned to reach new heights in science and technology. That same curious nature spills into our community and it is clear to see how we work together to cultivate innovation into our workforce, small businesses, programs, and initiatives.
As our lowest unemployment rate sits at just 2.1% (December 2020), our workforce continues to thrive. One of my favorite examples of innovation in the workforce is the recent partnership between the United Way of Story County, Des Moines Area Community College and the Ames Chamber of Commerce that led to the creation of the Story County Workforce Innovation Project. After receiving an $80,000 grant, the three organizations moved swiftly to develop three tracts for three of our high demand industries: healthcare, manufacturing, and welding. The program was able to offer retraining at no-cost to participants, offered childcare assistance and gifted graduates with a new laptop. In December, 26 participants proudly graduated from this program ready and equipped for a new career opportunity. This is certainly the beginning of a new approach to training and recruitment and I am excited to see how it will evolve in the future.
Another way I am proud to see Ames and Story County take innovative initiatives is the increased awareness and programming for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I see the programming we are developing at the Chamber, whether it is our Annual Symposium on Building Inclusive Organizations, distributing a Minority-Owned Business Directory or hosting our new Changemaker Series, and I am proud of the growth we are promoting within our community. We see more and more organizations and businesses taking steps to broaden their DEI training and policies every day. As a result, I believe we will continue to break down barriers and identify new and creative ways to address and implement change in our community.
As our businesses continue to create innovative new products and services, the Chamber will continue to diversify our programming and events to further support them. In addition to our longstanding programs like Leadership Ames and See Yourself in Ames, we will be introducing a number of new and revamped events. In addition to the Changemaker Series, we will be introducing our Townhall Experiences. These events will feature virtual panels of leaders in major industries in Story County and Boone and will create an opportunity for these industries to showcase what they are doing. The Townhalls will also welcome those who are unfamiliar with specific industries to learn more about our local economy and better understand how our businesses serve the community. We are also making changes to our Leadership Series that will include sessions on Women in Leadership, Small Business Leadership, Leadership for the Rural Business and more.
Innovation is so important to the Chamber that it is one of our core values. How do we define innovation? Thinking BIG, being unafraid, and challenging the status quo. As I often do with my team, I encourage you to live in an innovative mindset. In our case, one idea can lead to a new workforce program, event, or initiative for our community. What innovation will your next idea inspire?
It’s almost upon us - here we are on the cusp on the holiday season and with that comes the surge of shopping for the perfect gift for those on your shopping list. On behalf of the Ames Chamber of Commerce board of directors, my team, and myself, we all urge you to put every shopping dollar you can back into our local business community.
Shopping local has always mattered but it has never mattered more than today. Our friends and neighbors that open their businesses every day have never needed us more than they do now. So here is your chance. Pledge with me to check items off your shopping list right here in Ames and Story County.
November 28th we will celebrate Small Business Saturday. Make every effort to get out and support the small businesses that support our community. Shopping small is great way to get involved in the community, strengthen local economic development, and sustain the businesses that have been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Share the joy of the season and shop small!
At the same time don’t forget to check out the numerous businesses at North Grand Mall. The mall is a long-time member of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, is locally owned, and we have a number of member businesses there as well. These members provide employment opportunities to a large sector of our region too; and they need sales to keep our friends and neighbors employed as well. In fact, shop any business in Ames and Story County because there is a very good chance, they are supporting your kid’s team, your favorite Story County school booster club, or your favorite charity.
This is your chance! Think Downtown, Campustown, South Duff, North Grand Mall, Story City, Huxley, and Nevada - make those cash registers ring here and not in some distant distribution center in a faraway place. Whether you are a Black Friday shopper or the last-minute day before Christmas shopper – be the shopper that chooses to #ShopStoryCounty and plow your resources back into the community you call home.
And don’t forget about all of our fabulous restaurants, coffee houses, and taverns. They would love to sell you a gift card for the hard-to-buy person on your list to get their favorite meal or drink at one of our great Chamber member establishments around Ames and Story County.
We can do this! Join me in celebrating the season by purchasing from the businesses owned by your friends and neighbors and the businesses that employ your friends and neighbors.
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