‘Jefferson, let’s do this!’
A whole bunch of local folks deserve heartfelt thanks for what they did leading up to last Wednesday’s celebration in Des Moines of Pillar Technology’s decision to open a branch in a downtown Jefferson building.
It was heady stuff to hear Senator Chuck Grassley, Governor Kim Reynolds, Congressman David Young, and Pillar’s Bob Myers and Linc Kroeger point to Jefferson as the vanguard of the company’s planned network of rural Iowa locations for its high-tech custom software services.
Chris Deal, local mechanical engineer and orchard operations specialist, stands at the center of the success story. Starting with his desire to replicate Pella’s regional school career center, Deal brought other local leaders into his vision to replicate that concept in the Greene County School District. It expanded from there into the successful school improvement project and bond issue approval that we now have.
An essential component of that vision was to persuade Pillar Technology’s Kroeger that Jefferson was the right initial site for the company’s revolutionary decision to tap Iowa’s rural communities for trained software personnel.
As unbelievable good luck would have it, Deal was the mechanical engineer for Pillar’s impressive “Forge” workplace development in a refurbished Locust Street building in Des Moines.
As Deal heard Kroeger muse about the advantages Pillar could enjoy by hiring and training bright young people in rural Iowa rather than high-priced cities and locations like Silicon Valley in California, his response was “What about Jefferson?”
When Kroeger responded, “Does Jefferson have a community college?”, Deal went to work on the regional center project, and you know the rest. Approval of the school bond issue sealed the deal with Pillar.
One of the central beauties of the story is that each component of the project depended on the others. Pillar would not be coming here without the improvement project.
That project would not have happened without approval of the bond issue election.
The bond issue approval, I’m convinced, would not have happened without the commitments from the Greene County Board of Supervisors and the Grow Greene County casino-fund board to pledge $9.5 million between them to the regional center and the new high school’s gym facilities and performing arts center.
The bond issue, for $21.48 million, composed only 60 percent of the $35.48 million total project. The school district’s voters recognized the value they would get for their “yes” vote, and voted accordingly.
But a plan by itself doesn’t get the job done. Deal enlisted the help of Greene County Development Corporation President Sid Jones, and the two of them brought in Iowa Central longtime board member Doug McDermott and former high school industrial technology director Dan Benitz.
The four of them then went to work, with Deal and Jones spending many hours explaining the benefits of the project to local organizations and at town meetings throughout the district. McDermott, Benitz, Jones and Deal talked up the project with Iowa Central President Dr. Dan Kinney, who endorsed it wholeheartedly and helped publicize it.
Then a team of about 75 school district residents, most of them young people with families, went to work to run the bond issue campaign, with one-on-one visits, door-to-door work, yard signs, local media ads and letters, and other efforts. Keith Van Beek and Peg and Bill Raney headed up the clockwork-like effort, and each of the various subcommittees came through with what was needed.
It was a highly impressive campaign, and it had “success” written all over it from the start. I had hoped for a two-to-one victory margin, and the vote topped that.
At the celebration kickoff at Pillar’s headquarters in Des Moines, with close to three dozen Greene County leaders present, Pillar’s CEO Bob Myers, after thanking everyone, closed his congratulatory remarks with “Jefferson, let’s do this!”
Happy to oblige, Bob.