SERGEANT BLUFF | Sergeant Bluff Mayor Jon Winkel beamed as he talked about his city’s new industrial park and the opportunities it presents for further growth.
Winkel said the 120-acre park, the first in western Iowa certified by the state, gives Sergeant Bluff a better shot at recruiting manufacturers that previously bypassed Woodbury County's second-largest city.
“We have gotten an uptick in interest since we’ve become a certified park, but nothing concrete yet,” the mayor said.
A Journal analysis shows other smaller metro area cities also have hundreds of acres of shovel-ready land to help attract new or expanding industries. About 500 acres are available in South Sioux City’s 1,100-acre Roth Industrial Park, North Sioux City’s 152-acre Flynn Business Park also is less than half full. Sites also are available in the planned community of Dakota Dunes.
In Sioux City, the inventory of industrial sites has been diminished in the wake of Iowa’s fourth-largest city landing a slew of large-scale projects in recent years.
Sioux City Economic Development Director Marty Dougherty joked the city has become a victim of its own success.
Six times in the last decade, Site Selection magazine, an Atlanta-based national trade publication, has named the Sioux City metro No. 1 on its list of small metro areas with the most new or expanded business projects.
Sioux City’s 250-acre Bridgeport West Business Park is now full, thanks primarily to the sprawling Seaboard Triumph Foods complex. The $300 million pork plant opened in September, creating 1,100 jobs in a first shift, with a second shift expected to be added next summer.
About 17 acres remained in Bridgeport West after the city struck a deal with Seaboard Triumph, but those lots have since been sold to two new firms that plan to serve the plant, a logistics center and a pallet factory.
All but about 120 acres in the city’s Southbridge Business Park also are spoken for. The 400-acre park, located just south of Sioux Gateway Airport, is anchored by Sabre Industries, a manufacturer of towers and poles for the communications and utilities industries. Sioux City beat out several other cities and states for the 2012 project, which expanded and consolidated Sabre's local operations, creating more than 530 jobs.
“I think Marty’s probably right that we are kind of victims of successes, but now is not the time to wait and not be aggressive either,” Mayor Bob Scott said. “We are going to continue to look for land and opportunities where we can acquire.”
Dougherty noted Southbridge’s remaining 120-acre site, formerly a 27-hole golf course, would be ideal for a heavy manufacturer.
“Not only is that site shovel ready, it has a rail yard and rail access,” Dougherty said.
Some land also is available in the city’s other business/industrial parks -- Expedition, Hoeven Valley and The Yards, he said.
Additionally, the city has land-purchase options to expand the Bridgeport Business Park, which offers rail access and close proximity to Interstate 29 and Sioux Gateway Airport.
"As far as land that we own outright, yeah, we don't have as much as we did but we are working on plans for additional sites to be added to the inventory," Dougherty said.
While much of the recent industrial growth has been in Sioux City’s southern end, Scott thinks the city also needs to start looking at other areas if it wants to maintain its momentum.
“Far too often, as a city, we just look south and we need to quit doing that,” the mayor said. “Plymouth County borders us to the north; the city can grow across county lines but we just have this mentality that it can’t and it doesn’t really make a difference.”
ROTH INDUSTRIAL PARK
Across the Missouri River, South Sioux City crossed its boundaries to partner with neighboring Dakota City to create the Roth Industrial Park.
“It’s unique, I think, to have two cities like that sharing resources, working together and it’s been fun working on some different projects,” said Kelly Flynn, South Sioux City’s economic development director. “...It’s something that was started before I came on board but I think it was great for the cities to do that and I think it also impresses some of the industries when they come in.”
The park is named for Eldon and Regina Roth, co-founders of Beef Products Inc., which operates a plant in the park. Other major industries in that area include Tyson Fresh Meats’ flagship beef plant, Omega Industries and Big Ox Energy. Green Star Gassifiers also is in the process of building a plant.
Despite its success in recent years, the Roth park still has about 500 acres of shovel-ready land available, Flynn said. The local governments, he noted, don’t own all of it outright but hold options with the landowners to purchase it for a predetermined price that was reached through their negotiations with the South Sioux City Community Development Agency.
In addition, South Sioux City is in the midst of converting a 100-plus acre park originally designed for large data centers into a light industrial park.
Flynn said the conversion will give businesses more options on where they can set up shop in the northeast Nebraska community, which has developed a knack for attracting green energy firms.
“Anytime you go to the economic development conferences or workshops, that’s one of the things that they do talk about is how much better off your community is if you can have some land available,” he said. “So when somebody does comes looking, you know exactly what’s available and the cost.”
FLYNN BUSINESS PARK
Of the 60 acres in North Sioux City's Flynn Business Park, 45 are available, said city economic development director Andrew Nilges.
“If you wanted them tomorrow, we could start working on that right away,” he said.
Nilges pointed out a potential business doesn‘t have to outright purchase the land if it wants to locate in the park, home to industries that include The Boulder Co., Hepar Bioscience and Nutraferma.
“If somebody’s thinking I don’t necessarily want to purchase land but I want to lease a building out in the business park or I want someone to build it for me and later on I’ll purchase it, those are options too,” he said.
The park, adjacent to state Highway 105, is also near Interstate 29 and Graham Field Airport. Rail access is also avaiable.
Another big advantage of locating in North Sioux City: South Dakota does not have a corporate or personal income tax.
“The business climate and the tax environment in South Dakota is absolutely an asset for us, but we’re not trying to steal Iowa or Nebraska businesses by any means. But if there are companies that are interested in South Dakota that absolutely is a key point of attraction,” Nilges said.
Two years ago, the Flynn Business Park also was designated a South Dakota Certified Ready Site.
SERGEANT BLUFF PARK
The state of Iowa also has a similar business park certification program.
Iowa Certified Sites are verified through an independent, third-party certification, which declares the shovel-ready parks have roads and utility infrastructure in place.
Dougherty noted Sioux City is working to certify its remaining 120-acre Southbridge site. If approved, it would be the 20th site statewide to earn the Iowa designation and second in the metro after the Sergeant Bluff Business Park.
Located between Port Neal Road and Old Highway 75 and connected by the new Dogwood Trail, Winkel said the new park is situated in an ideal spot in the southern part of the city. It has close access to Siouxland Gateway Airport, Interstate 29 and is zoned for light industrial or light manufacturing.
A potential business could start building in the Sergeant Bluff park within two weeks of signing a deal, Winkel said.
Lot sizes range from two to 100 acres. Winkel and the Sergeant Bluff Community Development Corp., a city-funded economic and social development group, hope to attract either a green energy company, something associated with medical supplies or a tenant that would serve as an ancillary business to the nearby Port Neal industrial area in rural Woodbury County.
Most of all, Winkel and SBCDC Treasurer Rick Aadland said they want to bring economic opportunities to Sergeant Bluff, which continues to grow in population. In the last four years, the city has added about 350 jobs.
“That’s some pretty good growth for a town our size and we’re right at 5,000 people now,” Winkel said.
SIOUX CITY | One period per day, Triet Nguyen, a junior at West High School, and Amanda Debates, a sophomore at East High School, become classmates with others from the two schools and North High School for an engineering course in a downtown Sioux City building.
Both Nguyen and Debates said they like having the ability to learn about engineering in a Career Academy course that isn't otherwise available in the three Sioux City School District high schools. They both said it is good to get a taste of possible specialty college majors and professions before heading to a university.
"It gives you more options. It gives students who are interested to have a taste in high school," Nguyen said.
"It is good, because some people aren't interested in basic careers," said Debates, who has taken Career Academy courses for both years of high school.
As the Career Academy initiative continues to expand, there will not only be a new wing for the classes but also first-time courses added for the 2018-19 academic year, starting this fall.
The district's growing Career Academy allows students to take specialty courses in 30 so-called pathways, covering business and marketing, family and consumer science, health science and industrial technology.
Most Sioux City Career Academy courses follow a sequence, offer college credit, and in many cases offer a level of certification toward the workforce or further post-secondary study.
Director of Secondary Education Jim Vanderloo said 15 new courses will be offered in the fall semester. The school district has announced an expansion of pathways each December since 2011, and now there are roughly 150 courses within the 30 pathways.
Among the new career pathways are a cybersecurity course in computer science, virtual reality within manufacturing, early childhood curriculum, and a series of education courses that include coaching ethics and theory, athletic injury prevention and athletic development & human growth.
"It has become really robust in the last few years," Superintendent Paul Gausman said.
Vanderloo and Gausman said the pathways aren't added unless there are legitimate reasons, and often that comes from the business community asking if some new strand could be added so students better understand a certain field.
"We want to be nimble. We want to serve the businesses in our community, we want to serve our students," Gausman said.
Additionally, district officials are moving toward the goal of centralizing the locations where students complete upper level Career Academy coursework. The goal is to eventually only use the high schools to administer the introductory Career Academy courses.
The Sioux City School Board and Sioux City Council in late 2017 approved a sharing agreement that will allow the district to re-purpose unused portions of the downtown public museum for a broader Career Pathways Campus. That expanded campus is being connected to the Education Service Center, where school district administrators work.
The school district in mid-July approved a purchase agreement with Museum Building Property Inc. to pay $1.5 million for 75,000 square feet of the building at 607 Fourth St.
The district's plans include constructing new Career Pathways Campus rooms in a second-floor portion of the museum building, which at one time housed a Delta Air Lines call center before it closed in 2012.
The move is seen by the district as a more centralized and efficient way to offer Life Academy and Career Academy courses, which have previously been spread through all three high schools, as well as Western Iowa Tech Community College, the Harry Hopkins Campus on Lewis Boulevard and the downtown Ho-Chunk Centre.
The classrooms will be converted by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Vanderloo said. The work will likely begin in early March.
The budget has been estimated at $1.8 million. The renovation plans will get an airing briefly during the Sioux City School Board meeting Monday, when a future public hearing date for those plans will be set.
The classrooms will run from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, and be modern in layout and function, Vanderloo said.
With the new rooms, from 300 to 500 more students will be coming to the Career Pathways Campus. That adds to the 700 now taking academy courses, some of which have those classes making up half their days, Gausman said.
The long-term goal is to use just the Harry Hopkins Campus for a portion of the Career Academy courses while also offering Career Academy and Life Academy courses in the expanded downtown Career Pathways Campus at the museum as it connects to the Education Service Center.
Despite the high-minded rhetoric of state government leaders, this session of the Iowa Legislature is shaping up to be one long campaign rally.
Given the current political climate nationally and in Iowa, Democrats see the session that opens Monday as a way of energizing and mobilizing their base ahead of the November election.
“We’re going to be very aggressive. We’re going to be very outspoken on what we think is bad policy and bad for the people of Iowa,” predicted House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown.
Majority Republicans, who are beset by low presidential approval ratings and the fact the president’s party nearly always loses seats in midterms, plan to stick to their game plan to “move Iowa forward, to grow Iowa’s economy, protect Iowa taxpayers, deliver the core services that Iowans count on, but doing it in a responsible way,” according to House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights.
In the wake of the divisive 2017 session — the first under GOP control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office in two decades — the chances seem slim for the parties to find much common ground.
This session may be more about what happened in 2017 than pursuing ambitious new policies, said Chris Larimer, who teaches political science at the University of Northern Iowa.
After pushing through major parts of their agenda in 2017, Republicans will be content “simply to work around the edges,” Larimer predicted. Democrats likely will use the session to protest changes Republicans made last year to collective bargaining, workers’ compensation, family planning funding and other Democratic priorities.
Even in those areas where the parties seem to share priorities — expanding access to mental health services, for example — Larimer expects gains will be difficult if Democrats blame the problem on former Gov. Terry Branstad’s closure of two mental health institutions.
But election-year politics could work in favor of small victories on those shared priorities.
Republicans made good on several campaign promises last year, which could mean a “somewhat less active legislative session” with lawmakers this time pushing fewer measures, said Tim Hagle, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa.
“State legislators who aren’t in safe districts might be a bit more cautious about legislation that might appear more controversial in their districts,” he said.
If maintaining control of the Legislature and governor’s office is their priority, Republicans will walk a fine line between continuing their agenda “and not doing anything too controversial,” Larimer added.
Given the controversy Republicans created in 2017, it might be too late to prevent a “blue wave” as voters express buyers’ remorse in the 2018 election, according to Smith.
He is predicting that voters will put Democrats in control of the Iowa House, now controlled 58-41 by Republicans with one vacancy in a district with a 40-to-26 percent GOP-to-Democratic registration split.
Of course, it’s not only control of the Legislature at stake in 2018. Gov. Kim Reynolds will be seeking election to a full term, too.
Given that Iowans have been “quite favorable” to GOP gubernatorial candidates, Larimer thinks Reynolds is in a good spot for both the Republican primary and general election.
“What you may see is Gov. Reynolds pursuing a conservative agenda” that should help her fend off primary challengers Ron Corbett of Cedar Rapids and Steven Ray of Boone, “but also taking positions on a few issues that create some distance between her administration and the president’s,” Larimer said.
Although Iowa voters didn’t share the Democratic Party’s dislike for Branstad, Hagle said Reynolds needs to demonstrate her ability as a leader and not “just a fill-in for Branstad.”
In her favor, Iowa’s economy continues to grow — slowly — and unemployment is so low that employers report difficulty filling jobs. Political scientists say a good economy favors incumbents.
While Iowa hasn’t been as divided along party lines as some other places, Hagle said “the sharp uptick in bitter partisanship at the national level will likely affect us here as well.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, doubts that nationalizing the election will work for Democrats in Iowa.
“It’s all local,” she said, adding: “To be clear, we’re going to hold the House.”
It’s not just Democrats that Upmeyer and other Republicans need to fear, according to Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines.
“I can tell you, in my tenure in Legislature, I have never seen people as energized as I have, really since the start of last session,” said Petersen, who was elected to the Legislature in 2000. “I hear from a lot of independent and Republicans who are frustrated as well.”
Upmeyer, a lawmaker since 2003, understands “people get frustrated if they’re not on the same side as the president, but I think this is very early to predict a wave.”