Town hall gathers movers, shakers in one place
By ANDREW MCGINN
There was no grand revelation Monday night at a town hall meeting to address a predicted surge in jobs locally — maybe save for the fact that the new Hy-Vee will have a sit-down cafe when the store opens in the spring — but attendees could no doubt leave sensing that the reports of rural Iowa’s death are greatly exaggerated.
“In the next two years, this is going to be a dramatically different place than it is now,” said Ken Paxton, executive director of the Greene County Development Corp., who organized the meeting at the Greene County Community Center.
Paxton has touted as many as 800 new jobs for Greene County within the next two years — many of them at a $40 million Wild Rose casino at Highways 30 and 4 and a Hy-Vee supermarket on Washington Street.
He was mum Monday night about a large company that’s expected to soon announce a Greene County location.
Last week, Paxton told The Jefferson Herald that he was 80 percent to 90 percent sure that the company planned to pick Greene County. Citing confidentiality, he couldn’t say more.
Town hall attendees Monday — including state Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, who listened in — were brought up to date on a host of local initiatives and projects, including the Greene County Medical Center’s $22.5 million expansion and renovation.
Jim Andrew, who provided an update on the county’s Home Base Iowa initiative, perhaps summed up the entire evening.
“Talk it up, folks, for this is the greatest opportunity we have ever contemplated in offering superb work opportunities in a secure, healthy, hometown environment,” he told the crowd. “We need the energy and new blood of these new citizens to bring us fresh ideas, challenges and stimulus to keep our community and county growing and viable.
“If we do not, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Some of the meeting’s insights:
• Lori Subbert, who will manage the Hy-Vee store in Jefferson soon to be under construction just off the downtown business district, said movement at the site is about to begin.
Hy-Vee will be building a 35,000-square-foot store here with a bakery, pharmacy, meat department and health market, she said.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal store,” Subbert said.
• Amy Rubel, vice president of Wild Rose Entertainment and manager of Wild Rose Emmetsburg, said a casino job fair will be held in the spring.
However, applications already are being collected online by Wild Rose and will be kept on file, she said.
Wild Rose also is hoping to name its Jefferson casino manager soon.
Ground on the casino was broken in July.
“I’m not going to give you an opening date,” Rubel said playfully. “Why? Because we live in Iowa.”
The casino is expected to open late next summer.
• Jefferson city councilwoman Lisa Jaskey’s housing committee has estimated that the majority of the new jobs will allow a person to afford a home up to $120,000.
But, she added, “Many of those people, they can’t qualify for a mortgage because they have too much debt.”
Because of that, local housing advocates are looking to solve a dearth of affordable housing in Jefferson with more rental units.
They’re actively recruiting developers to build a new apartment complex, Jaskey said, because no one in Greene County can undertake a project that large.
She also said that now is the time for would-be landlords to rehab a house and get it ready to rent.
A new housing study for Greene County — the first since 1999 — is in the works to better predict housing needs, she said.
• Jaskey also spoke about a “huge need” for more skilled tradespeople in Greene County.
She encouraged people to let out-of-town friends and family know that Greene County is a place where they can start their own businesses.
She also encouraged existing tradespeople to consider taking on an apprentice.
• Cherie Cerveny, executive director of the Greene County Early Learning Center, said the center is looking at building its own facility.
The center — which already has relocated nine or 10 times and currently is housed in the former South Grade Building — is now licensed to accept up to 116 children, she said.
An additional classroom has been opened in the nearby Greene County Middle School.
The room “is not ideal,” Cerveny said, “but they do allow us to meet the demands of our waiting list.”
• Military veterans looking to relocate to Greene County can visit here virtually free of charge, Andrew reported.
Chamber bucks are available to pay for gas, meals and local lodging to visit the county, he said, as part of the local Home Base Iowa initiative.
“This is very innovative,” he said.
Home Base Iowa is the state’s plan to attract returning veterans to Iowa and match them with jobs. Gov. Terry Branstad in March designated Greene County as his first Home Base Iowa community.
Three veterans have already moved to Greene County because of Home Base Iowa, Andrew said.
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