Across Iowa, more companies are realizing the benefits that come with doing business in this Midwestern state and particularly in Marion County. The county was named after Brigadier General Francis Marion, who served in the American Revolutionary War. This scenic area has been a popular location for businesses for well over a century and is today the home of many respected companies including window and door manufacturer Pella Corporation, Precision Pulley & Idler, Vermeer Corporation and others such as the 3M Company, Weiler Corporation, Cascade Lumber Company, Van Gorp Corporation, Lely and LDJ Manufacturing.
Marion County is located less than an hour’s drive from Iowa’s capital city of Des Moines – a large center for insurance companies and financial institutions. The county helps businesses stay viable and competitive with everything from infrastructure enhancements to a quality and educated workforce, lower cost of living, central U.S. location and much more.
Marion County’s population of 33,189 (as of 2016) is flourishing. The county ranks amongst the top seventeen percent of counties in the United States for median income and has increased a dramatic 27.6 percent between 2000 and 2015 when it was $45,003 (in 2015, median household income was $57,411).
It is known for its established manufacturing presence, and the business-related figures are impressive. The county was ranked forty-sixth out of 3,141 counties for having the highest percentage of jobs in manufacturing, putting it in the top two percent in the U.S., with over 6,500 manufacturing jobs and forty-two manufacturing companies. Many of the manufacturers in Marion County that have come here moved to the area because of existing relationships with other manufacturers or related businesses.
Since Iowa is a right to work state, businesses here can operate more effectively, while tax increment financing, financial deductibility and no tax on machinery, manufacturing equipment and computers for commercial use makes the state an attractive place to be. Iowa is one of the lowest-cost places in America for businesses to operate. In fact, Forbes’ list of ‘Best Places for Business’ contains all of the state’s nine largest communities.
Marion County continues in the tradition of the Dutch immigrants who settled the area, particularly the city of Pella. In 1847, Pella was founded by eight hundred Dutch immigrants who brought with them their customs, culture and an unwavering work ethic and enterprising spirit that endures to this very day. The city boasts the fully-functioning 1850s-style Vermeer Mill – the tallest working windmill in America at 134 feet – the Pella Opera House, and it hosts the enormously popular annual Tulip Time Festival on the first weekend of May.
While much of its past culture remains, business sectors have changed. Decades ago, Marion County was well-known for agriculture and mining, with over five hundred coal mines in operation in the early 1900s. “Today, manufacturing is our largest industry,” says Marion County Development Commission (MCDC) Executive Director Carla Eysink. “There are no coal mines; they’ve all closed in Iowa. We still have agriculture, but manufacturing is our dominant industry now.”
Along with an assistant, Eysink heads the development commission. It was founded in 1989 by a pro-economic board of supervisors who felt the county – as a government entity – had a significant role in shaping the future of the area, and they decided to invest in economic development at the county level to accomplish several goals. The first was investigating ways that the county could partner internally and externally to achieve successful outcomes, and the second was looking at ways to increase tourism, such as hiking trails and cabins, which would also lead to workforce retention.
Today, almost thirty years after it was created, the Marion County Development Commission still works to attract businesses, visitors and residents to the area. To add to the area’s strong existing industries, it brings in new businesses in advanced manufacturing, information technologies and commercial services.
“Our information technology companies often service the manufacturing sector, or they are providing services, whether that be graphic design, 3D printing or specific software that they’ve developed,” says Eysink. Marion County is also looking at ways to build these sectors, along with commercial services and agriculture. “A lot of our businesses, even in advanced manufacturing, touch the agricultural industry, and so those sectors are still very strong here in the Cultivation Corridor.”
The MCDC has a strong vision that includes developing tourism, leadership, a skilled workforce, and a positive atmosphere for business. It connects with regional groups to help with access to marketing and economic development. These include the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Opportunity2 which promotes economic development in southeast Iowa and serves as a comprehensive resource for business, sites and buildings, demographics, opportunity-ready partners and community engagement. The commission is highly active in professional development in the state and works to assist businesses with identifying opportunities and helping shape marketing efforts.
The area brought in about fifty million in tourist dollars in 2016 alone and regularly welcomes thousands of visitors to its many events, including the Tulip Time Festival and other Dutch-related events throughout the year. Knoxville is famous for the Knoxville Raceway, a half-mile oval dirt raceway known as the ‘Sprint Car Capital of the World,’ with weekly races dating back to 1954. For those who crave the outdoors, there is Lake Red Rock, also known as the Red Rock Reservoir. The area has numerous campgrounds and is a popular site for hiking, fishing and boating.
Iowa is fast gaining a reputation for food and drink with over one hundred wineries in the state. Knoxville is home to the Peace Tree Brewing Company, created in 2009 in a former Nash Rambler car dealership. Peace Tree brews a variety of popular seasonal, specialty, tap and flagship beers including the world beer cup gold medal for their Blonde Fatale. The county is also working on a regional foodie trail with Mahaska County to be unveiled this fall, which will feature coffee roasters, Dutch bakeries, meat markets, wineries and a variety of other manufacturers.
Marion County welcomes new residents who seek a more serene and economical lifestyle than that found in major cities. From 2000 to 2010, the Pella market and surrounding areas experienced eight percent growth, and Marion County saw an increase of 3.8 percent during the same period. This is projected to increase by 3.3 by 2020. A recent housing study found there will be a need for a further 2,200 housing units between today and 2025.
The area is known for its quality schools and is home to Central College, which recently introduced an engineering degree that is helpful to local industries employing future workers. Additionally, the county has a partnership with the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), works with the University of Northern Iowa and is involved with Teaching for the Workforce to connect employers and educators.
“We are an example that rural America can be a thriving business environment, and what helps is this climate of entrepreneurship. Our work is to create a climate where entrepreneurs and businesses can succeed,” comments Eysink. “And so the concepts of entrepreneurship, continuous improvement and innovation are alive and well here. This is a highly inventive area, and many of the products our companies make are leading in their industry. We talked to about forty of our manufacturers, and about forty percent of them are serving global markets. So not only do our companies build things for people here in the United States, but we are building things for people all over the world.”