“Economic development” is still a relatively new phrase. It’s basically business recruiting — attracting new companies and encouraging others to expand.
Defining that, let alone working at it, can be as tricky as trying to eat Jell-O with your fingers and nearly as sticky.
Job security is akin to a collegiate athletic coach.
Consider our very own Cedar Valley. By our count, the area’s various economic development organizations had at least five different directors over a span of 18 years. The last of those, Carl Adrian, stuck the longest, at nine years. Before Adrian the area had four directors in nine years.
But for the last 14 years, the Cedar Valley has had just one. That was Steve Dust, who recently announced he’s leaving the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber sometime in the next several months. He previously worked for a Des Moines commercial real estate firm and for MidAmerican Energy. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Central Missouri State University and the University of Iowa and served two terms as mayor of Sedalia, Mo.
At the outset, Dust had more tasks than a short-order cook. The biggest was transforming some former John Deere manufacturing buildings at the company’s Westfield Avenue site into the Cedar Valley TechWorks, an ag-industrial product and business development center.
The area also faced serious challenges developing the local workforce, having lost significant population during the 1980s recession. Cultivating that labor pool, from the elementary school level on up, was critical to new business recruitment and retention. It was one of several challenges posed to local business leaders by John Deere officials when the area’s largest manufacturing employer committed to a massive redevelopment of its Waterloo operations less than three years before Dust arrived.
Dust couldn’t do it alone. And he didn’t do it alone. He brought people together to make it happen.
During Dust’s tenure, something once unheard of happened — the Cedar Falls and Waterloo chambers of commerce merged into what is now known as the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber.
Dust also put TechWorks on the state of Iowa’s radar screen during Gov. Tom Vilsack’s administration.
Five months after Dust came on board at the Alliance, TechWorks received a $3.2 million state assistance package, announced by Vilsack and former U.S. Rep. Mike Blouin, then head of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.
TechWorks occupied a large amount of the Alliance’s and Dust’s attention. It now houses the Alliance offices, the Cedar Valley Makers space, the UNI Metal Casting Center has a presence there with an additive manufacturing center and a large 3D printer and a new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel recently opened there in a remodeled Deere manufacturing building. The John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum is there, and Deere plans a conference center within the hotel.
Meanwhile, other development has sprung up around or near Techworks, including the Grand Crossing residential-commercial complex, Hawkeye Community College’s new urban-campus adult learning center and the ongoing renovation of U.S. Highway 63. Deere also renovated state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities to the west.
Under Dust’s leadership the Alliance launched a multi-pronged workforce development program including various leadership, talent and diversity and inclusion programs.
Dust could have settled for retiring from the Alliance in a few years, but he and the organization know there are new opportunities awaiting both. He will stay on in an interim capacity and help find his successor.
We wish all involved well as they explore new horizons.