ORANGE CITY, Iowa | Housing starts had me traipsing off to Sioux County on Friday. Actually, an Ian Richardson story in the Journal just after New Year's Day pointed me there, as Richardson reported 2017 residential housing starts set a record in Sioux City for the third straight year.
Developers added 274 units in Sioux City during the past 12 months, breaking the standard of 241 set in 2016.
The "twin cities" of Northwest Iowa, Sioux Center and Orange City, have probably established local records in the past decade or so. I found that while 2017 wasn't necessarily a banner year for those communities in residential construction, the productivity likely remains the envy of just about every other small city.
Forty new units were added in Sioux Center during 2017, according to city manager Scott Wynja. That number includes 30 single-family units, two duplexes (four units), and one six-unit townhouse.
Orange City, meantime, added 24 new units in 2017, reported Mark Gaul, community development director. There were 12 single-family housing units built and 12 other units added in a mix of condos, townhouses and duplexes, resulting in a total of about $5.2 million in investment in this category.
In 2016, Sioux Center saw the construction of 55 new housing units. Wynja noted that Sioux Center has likely averaged from 25 to 40 single family units over the past few years.
Gaul shared that from 2009 to 2016, Orange City has averaged 14 dwelling units per year, spiking at 33 newly constructed residences in 2015.
Gary Cleveringa, 70, worked with his grandson, Brandon DeKock, in enjoying the great outdoors on Friday afternoon as they worked on a home for Gary's company, Cleveringa Construction, on 14th Street Southeast in Orange City. The four-bedroom home, which should be done in July, may bring around $250,000.
Just down the street, other construction crews were in the midst of building homes, probably four going up within a two-block area on the city's southeast corner. Cleveringa said there's no shortage of work in his hometown.
"I do turn away work, which is different from the 1980s," he said. "I remember one year during the farm crisis in the 1980s when Orange City had one new home built in a particular year. I can't remember which year it was, but I know there was just one home built."
As we visited, Cleveringa, who began constructing homes 53 years ago, immediately following his graduation from high school here, looked up and down the street, then glanced to the south. "All these lots are sold, so the city will develop the land south of here," he said. "And the city has also bought some acres north of town."
Eighteen years ago, Orange City was home to 5,582 residents. It's now home to about 6,200, if not more.
Up the road in Sioux Center, T. Jay Larsen put the finishing touches on his work for the day as I pulled in. Larsen, who works for his father, Tim Larsen, at Larsen Construction of Maurice, Iowa, said this winter marks the 17th straight he and his father have kept working throughout December and January. Years ago, he said, some smaller, independent home construction firms like theirs would put their hammers down for six or eight weeks.
"Business has been good," Larsen said while standing in a three-bedroom home they're building on Colonial Street, just a 9-iron from The Ridge Golf Club, the spectacular 18-hole layout on Sioux Center's southern edge, a course that took shape just one decade ago.
"We hope to have a 'For Sale' sign posted here next week," said Larsen, who estimated the home would be priced around $399,000.
"It's on the golf course, in a nice development (South Ridge Estates) and it seems similar houses do well over here," he said of a home that boasts 2,000 square feet of living space upstairs and the possibility of two bedrooms in the basement.
"We hope to have it sold by the time it's finished in April," he added.
Sioux Center barely climbed past the 6,000 mark in population in the 2000 census, counting 6,002 residents. Today, Sioux Center is home to more than 7,500 people. Wynja predicted the city could approach the 8,000-person mark by 2020.
"We're adding 100-plus people per year, or 1,000 people per decade," he said.
Of 115 residential lots surrounding The Ridge Golf Club at Sioux Center, 12 lots remain. The next phase of development there opens 50 more lots. Another development, Meadow Creek, promises another 100 lots for residential dwellings in Sioux Center.