Let’s really merge economic development

CBJ Editorial

An old adage says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.

This adage can also be used when it comes to regionalism. The best time to merge parochial economic development organizations into a regional entity was 20 years ago. The next best time is today, particularly following the Dec. 18 announcement that Mark Nolte, president of the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), plans to resign this month for a position at Moxie and a possible campaign for elected office.

The Corridor region, geographically defined by Kirkwood Community College’s seven-county territory, has been halfheartedly pursuing a regional approach for the better part of 15 years.

The boards of ICAD and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance took a big step forward when a joint venture called ICR Iowa was created several years ago. That organization has largely failed to generate awareness, confidence or measurable results, however, its purview was decidedly limited.

The boards of ICAD, the Economic Alliance the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce and any other economic development organization within the region should come together and be bold by creating a bigger, more comprehensive economic development organization like the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

What is needed even more than the actual legal entity is an experienced leader who keenly understands the political challenges of our region and can craft a vision that can be embraced.

Two great leaders within our midst to consider for just such a bold, truly regional organization are Josh Schamberger, the longtime president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Ron Corbett, formerly the successful mayor of Cedar Rapids, and before that, president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives. He is currently the business retention and expansion strategist at the Economic Alliance.

Readers of the CBJ know the amazing credentials of both leaders and their ability to create and execute a vision across political boundaries.

Either of them would be an outstanding choice to lead a much-needed, truly regional economic development organization.

Nolte’s legacy

Before Mark Nolte became leader of the Iowa City Area Development Group, that organization was restricted to helping grow and recruit interstate commerce companies. Supporting entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial endeavors weren’t part of its mission.

Mr. Nolte wisely grasped this deficiency and moved the organization away from its original focus to also help entrepreneurs. After all, a lot has changed in a dozen or so years with the economy and staggering low unemployment numbers. The smart economic development money is now on helping entrepreneurs and their homegrown businesses rather than bribing companies to relocate.

Mr. Nolte made the Greater Iowa City/Coralville market stronger by moving ICAD in this important direction. We expect to see the results in a more resilient economy with stronger local roots. •