WAVERLY, Iowa --- While unemployment in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area has ridden consistently several points below the national average, Bremer County has been quietly asserting itself as a veritable font of economic stability in the region, according to economic development officials there.

In the latest report from Iowa Workforce Development, Bremer County logged a jobless rate of 4.8 percent in June, which was tied with Winneshiek County for the lowest unemployment in Northeast Iowa.

At a time of corporate expansion and some aggressive online marketing of the area anchored by Waverly, the report came as great news to Brent Matthias, executive director of the Waverly Economic Development office.

"It shows that we have people employed and making money here," he said. "At the same time we have companies that are still looking to hire people and can't find qualified candidates."

Waverly, in fact, has launched on http://www.waverlyia.com/careers" target="_blank">online job site for job seekers.

Matthias said last week there were 75 full- and part-time job openings posted on the site.

"It fluctuates between 75 and 80," he said. "It's a wide array of jobs."

Several weeks ago, Matthias' office unveiled a free online book designed to provide businesses means to find funding.

"Having this book online will allow people to find grants, tax abatements, loan opportunities and other information that will help them grow their businesses, and it's all at one site," Matthias said.

One Waverly company that recently announced expansion plans is GMT Corp. The family-owned engineering and iron machining company plans to expand on 15 acres in the Waverly Business Park. That includes buying up to $25 million in machinery and equipment and $5 million for the new building. The company will add 34 jobs and a 46,000-square-foot building.

The Iowa Economic Development Board granted $250,000 in assistance to the company.

GMT, whose primary markets are the agriculture and heavy construction sectors, makes parts that are assembled into products that are sold worldwide, said Jared Graening, vice president of operations and sales.

He declined to comment on the local economy, but he alluded to the importance of its location.

"Providing our customers with a high level of service in close proximity to their assembly line(s) has provided GMT with the opportunity to grow and expand with them," Graening said in an email message.

GMT, which has more than 300 employees and specializes in iron castings, steel fabrication and assemblies, numbers among its customers Deere & Co., Caterpillar, FMC, Terex and Lockheed Martin.

"This expansion focuses directly on our strategy to grow through diversification," Graening said.

Graening also said "another key to success for GMT is the ability to recruit skilled manufacturing and engineering personnel."

GMT is only part of the business equation in Waverly, though, Matthias said, pointing to Wartburg College, CUNA Mutual, Waverly Health Center, Terex, Nestle USA and United Equipment as examples.

"The point is there's different entities within our manufacturing and businesses where it's not all one sector," he said. "That has really helped hedge against this economic downturn."

Success leads to growth, which benefits the whole community, said Patsy Reed, manager of Meyer Pharmacy & Gift Shop in Waverly and chairwoman of the Waverly Area Economic Development Commission.

"I think we have some businesses here who are pleased with how they have done business in this community over the years and are expanding and putting their dollars back into this community," she said.

There's no single reason that has happened, Reed said.

"It's a combination of things," she said. "The council is open to incentives, tax abatements, by not only economic development people but businesses in general. It's all rolled into a good environment."


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