LE MARS, Iowa -- During his first few months as executive director of the Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce, David Westergard has seen the community participate in its annual Ice Cream Days activities, help launch the 48th edition of RAGBRAI and serve as home of the Plymouth County Fair.
Seeing the Plymouth County seat as the site for such high profile back-to-back-to-back summertime events wasn't daunting, the Le Mars native said.
Instead, it spoke to the continued appeal of the community of slightly fewer than 10,000 people.
"People in Le Mars really take pride in their community," Westergard, 44, explained. "That is certainly coming across this summer."
A 1994 Le Mars Community High School graduate, he admitted to taking the community's charms for granted when growing up.
"My dad drove trucks as a profession for a long time," Westergard said. "Dad would mention how beautiful the western part of the United States was and how a person could live on a houseboat, year round, in Seattle."
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"That image stuck with me," he continued. "I knew I wanted to move out west."
For many years, Westergard worked in sales, event planning and the hospitality field. Eventually, he and his wife Rachel became managers of a bed and breakfast in Washington State.
"Rachel and I became victims of our own success," he said. "The bed and breakfast would make all of its profit for the year by hosting weddings over the course of three or four months. The rest of the year, our location was pretty desolate and too isolated from everything else."
This was especially true for Rachel Westergard, who wanted to go back to school.
"It wasn't an easy decision to make, but moving to the Midwest was the right thing to do," Westergard said. "Rachel enrolled as a business major at the University of South Dakota while we moved to my hometown of Le Mars."
After hearing that longtime Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce of Commerce Executive Director Neal Adler was retiring, Westergard thought his own eclectic background might prove advantageous.
"I've have had the opportunity to wear many hats over the years," he said. "This experience has made me empathetic to the challenges facing different types of industries."
That was important since the Le Mars Chamber executive director would also be the executive director of Le Mars Business Initiative Corporation (LBIC), that centered solely on economic development.
Westergard's diverse background worked to his advantage and he assumed his new duties during a particularly challenging time.
"Coming out from under the pandemic, Le Mars faces the same difficulties as everybody else," he explained. "Currently, we have more jobs than people willing to fill them."
However, Westergard said Le Mars has some advantages over other communities.
"We've always had a sizable population that lived and worked in Le Mars," he said. "But we've also had a sizable portion of people who worked in Le Mars but commuted from somewhere else.
"Commuters may not live in Le Mars, but they shop here, eat here and contribute to our overall economy," Westergard added. "That is why Le Mars is able to grow when other communities are cutting back."
In the 2020 Census, Le Mars, the Plymouth County seat, saw nearly an 8% gain in population, rising to 10,571 people.
"Whenever I bring in business people from other parts of the country, they are always impressed by Le Mars," Westergard said. "They say this is the perfect place to raise a family."
Certainly, having the community as the host site for summertime events has helped.
"It makes me happy to see how vital Le Mars continues to be," Westergard said. "It feels good to be home."