The State of North Iowa 2021
Partnerships, Perseverance, Progress
On February 24th, 2021, Vision North Iowa partners gathered for the second annual State of North Iowa event to reflect on the past year. Unprecedented, challenging, tumultuous – we’ve heard these words used over and over to describe 2020 (plus several others we won’t repeat here). Through it all, however, we’ve seen the people of North Iowa unite in the face of adversity. At the State of North Iowa, Clear Lake Bank & Trust’s Vice President of Consumer Lending Danielle Pace said it well: “We have a long way to go but by working together we can get through this and we can count on more North Iowa businesses to rally.”
Vision North Iowa is a partnership of organizations with a shared mission: Improving the lives of all North Iowans. In 2020, this took the form of mitigating, managing, and recovering from the impact of COVID-19. The events of 2020 were so unlike anyone expected, it’s sometimes easy to forget that, prior to the pandemic, North Iowa was experiencing great economic progress with new projects, new jobs, and new energy in every sector from Mason City to Clear Lake.
One of our advantages when coping with 2020 is that North Iowa was uniquely positioned at the beginning of the pandemic: the Vision North Iowa (VNI) strategy provided an existing framework of partnerships between city, county, education, business, and other support organizations. Sharing resources and collaborating on strategies to help our community was our first and immediate priority. VNI’s partners raised funds through grassroots campaigns, created the Small Business Recovery Grant, mobilized our marketing efforts to support local businesses, and provided expert support and resources to help our community weather the storm and keep North Iowa open.
At the State of North Iowa event, North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation CEO & President Chad Schreck mentioned some ways in which the North Iowa business community has rallied through the pandemic. Despite the complications caused by COVID-19, multi-dollar expansions with the Kraft Heinz plant and the Golden Grain facilities in Mason City still happened. As did new developments such as the $35 million, 50-acre Bushel Boy greenhouse facility and the 133 unit housing complex known as “The River,” which had its ribbon-cutting ceremony in January and provides modern amenities in the heart of downtown Mason City.
And when businesses struggled with the sudden shutdowns of the spring, our community partners immediately mobilized to bring help. The Clear Lake and Mason City Chambers of Commerce connected businesses to resources and rallied community support. Their initiatives generated over $100,000 in sales at local retailers and restaurants. The Chambers also worked with VNI to distribute disposable masks and signage to local businesses to help them keep their employees and customers socially distanced and masked up. The North Iowa Corridor established the Small Business Relief Fund with the assistance of the governments of Cerro Gordo County, Clear Lake and Mason City. Together they disbursed $435,995 to 125 local businesses.
The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center & SBDC (located at North Iowa Area Community College) moved quickly to establish the North Iowa COVID-10 Small Business Help Line. Between March and June of 2020, the Help Line answered 219 calls, and conducted 1059 check-ins and consultations with area businesses. Connecting our local entrepreneurs to local, state, and federal resources to help them stay open was key. Our area banks and accountants worked tirelessly to assist over a hundred small businesses with Paycheck Protection Program applications, which helped save North Iowa jobs. North Iowa businesses received over $1.1 million from the Iowa Economic Development Business Recovery Grant.
North Iowans are the ones who will help our community rally and recover. 2020 was an unprecedented, challenging, and tumultuous year – but our community has been an inspiration to the Vision North Iowa partners. While it’s easy to recount the work our organizations have done over the last twelve months, we can’t possibly list every act of kindness, every spontaneous gesture to honor our frontline and essential workers, every neighbor who helped neighbor, because there are simply too many. Our people are what make our community. Over the last year, our community has persevered, and we will continue to strive to make progress.
The Vision North Iowa partners include: North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp., Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Mason City Chamber of Commerce, North Iowa Area Community College, NIACC Pappajohn Center & SBDC, Visit Mason City, City of Mason City, City of Clear Lake, Main Street Mason City