Evan Blakley, the executive director of the Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County, provided the city council and mayor last Tuesday with a review of work done on behalf of the City of Denison in 2019.
In the area of economic development, Blakley listed the following items.
- Two new industries came on line in the Denison area - Continental Carbonic, a dry ice manufacturer, and GCC Ready Mix. He said the CDC assisted more with Continental Carbonic. “Both employers brought increased wages to the community, diversity our industries and also help boost tax revenue across the board,” Blakley said. He added that although Continental Carbonic is located outside the city limits, the new industry provides a lot of reciprocal benefits to the city because of the employees who live in and shop in the community.
- Sales tax revenue in Crawford County rose 12 percent from 2018 to 2019. Blakley said people should not expect that large an increase every year. He said the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), which traveled through the county and stayed overnight in Denison on Sunday, July 22, 2018, was responsible for at least a percentage of the increase.
- Recruited Healthy Efficient Homes to Denison initially. Blakley said it has been a collaborate effort. The housing initiative had been named Strong America Development Group and now is named Denison Housing Development LLC. “The initiative started with a cold call from our office as we try to recruit new housing developments to the community we serve,” said Blakley. “It’s required nearly two years of assistance since that phone call.” He added that the project is very close to breaking ground and that he wanted to thank the city staff, especially City Manager/City Engineer Terry Crawford, who had dealt with technical and legal issues. Blakley said the initiative could be the largest owner-occupied spec housing project in Denison in decades. The housing development will progress in stages and if successful could lead to 45 owner-occupied quality affordable housing units. The project will be developed along North 16th Street north of Denison High School.
- The beginning of Ignite Denison, the renovation of the former community room located immediately to the south of city hall. Blakley explained the project was originally intended to house three entities – upgraded offices for the CDC, a business incubator and accelerator space in the basement, called Ignite Denison, and a satellite office for Iowa Workforce Development. Now the entire Iowa Workforce Development office will be relocated to Denison (see next item). Blakley explained that the purpose of the business incubator and accelerator is to generate new business and foster small businesses that can grow into larger ones over time and occupy vacant buildings in the community. He said the roofing work and the interior demolition has been completed in order to expend some expiring grant funds. The project is taking a pause for fundraising and planning. Blakley said about 40 percent (about $100,000) of the funding for the project needs to be raised yet; a number of grants have already been identified and a capital campaign is planned. “We feel we are on track to complete the project by the agreed-upon deadline in May 2021,” he said.
- The CDC is continuing to assist Iowa Workforce Development in finding a location for its regional office in Denison, which will be relocated from Carroll in June. Blakley said in trying to locate a satellite office in Denison, the CDC was more successful than the staff had thought. The regional office will mean more employees and a much larger facility, which can’t be housed in the Ignite Denison space. “But the impact of this I don’t think can be overstated,” he said. “Folks will be visiting from the surrounding counties when they need to take care of employment business and attend trainings and will spend money in the community.”
- Continue to innovate with new events. Blakley said the Winter Snowcial in uptown Denison in December was one of the new events. “There’s a reason we do that, to encourage local shopping,” he explained. “We are working to attract visitors and want people to live and work in a community that’s vibrant and has plenty of things to do.” Blakley said the Winter Snowcial did not get the attendance the CDC wanted due to the cold weather, and the event was a loss to the CDC, but it still made the charitable contribution it had pledged to the Goodfellows program. “We will try it again next year and see how it goes,” Blakley said.
Blakley added a footnote to his report on economic development. He asked city officials to save the date of April 21 when Denison will host Western Iowa Advantage, the regional economic development partnership of which the CDC is a member. The meeting will take place at Boulders Conference Center.
Blakley said the tourism program in its current form and its current contract with the City of Denison is still relatively young, and he believes it has become an incredible success.
BBQ Fest: He said the annual Tri City BBQ Fest alone generates between $250,000 to $350,000 for the community over the two-day event. He explained the CDC uses a model endorsed by the State of Iowa to track the financial statistics.
The $250,000 to $350,000 is net direct impact, the money that stays in the community, Blakley added.
“It doesn’t include the sound and stage vendors or a vendor from outside the community that takes their earnings somewhere else,” he said. “If we only did that one thing, only hosted the BBQ Fest, I would argue that your $42,000 investment is multiplied many times over.”
RAGBRAI: Blakley also mentioned RAGBRAI, which he added didn’t happen last year but was a long-term effort of the tourism program.
RAGBRAI had not gone through or stayed overnight in Denison for 14 years before July 22, 2018.
“That led to a $1-$2 million impact over a two-day period,” Blakley said. “It also generated $65,000 to the local RAGBRAI committee, which granted that out to other entities.
“We were the entity taxed with attracting RAGBRAI back to the community,” he added. “It took all of us. It took everything we had.”
Hotel/Motel Tax: Another tourism result that Blakley pointed to was a growth trend for hotel/motel tax revenue.
He said in 2014-2015 the CDC was just starting the tourism program for Denison and the tourism position was part-time. In that year, hotel/motel tax revenues were $115,000.
The past two quarters have been record-setting Blakley said; the hotel/motel tax receipts are already $106,000.
“If we continue on this trend, we’re on track to double the hotel/motel tax,” he said. “We cannot take full credit for that, but this is what we’re working on. We do feel we’re a big part of that with all our events and efforts in marketing.”
Blakley reminded the council that the CDC’s contract to provide tourism services for Denison will expire in June. He said the CDC is asking to renew that contract. The CDC is asking for no increase in funding from the city.
“I think this is important to those in our community,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone more suited to run the program, but if you feel someone can do it better, we could certainly enter into a competitive process.”
He said all the funding the city provides for the tourism program is spent on tourism; the CDC does not retain any of the funding for a servicing fee.
He added that the CDC is currently advertising for a new tourism coordinator to replace Blair Weigum, the former tourism coordinator, who took a job at Professional Computer Systems. Blakley said the CDC expects to have someone hired by March, and in the meantime the rest of the staff is fulfilling the contractual arrangement with the city.
Note: This article was updated on February 19 to reflect that the amount generated for the local RAGBRAI committee was $65,000, not $650,000.