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OELWEIN — A major East Penn Manufacturing Co. expansion is energizing Oelwein’s economy.

Gov. Kim Reynolds joined company executives and local economic development officials Friday to celebrate the grand opening of the new $70 million, 345,000-square-foot battery manufacturing and distribution plant.

Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg were touring several Northeast Iowa manufacturing facilities, touting the Future Ready Iowa initiative to provide post-high school job training and education to enhance the state’s work force.

Oelwein leaders were talking about the city’s future looking brighter with some 350 new jobs being added to the local economy once the plant reaches full capacity.

“We’re already seeing some other investments in housing,” said Dylan Mulfinger, Oelwein’s city administrator. “We’re getting a lot of people from Oelwein to work at East Penn, but the next couple of waves are going to require going outside of Oelwein to recruit.

“East Penn is an excellent company to have in the community, and these are good jobs,” he added. “It’s something a lot of cities have been looking for, and Oelwein’s very fortunate to get them.”

East Penn, a Philadelphia-area company started in the 1940s, had operated a smaller distribution center in Oelwein for about 10 years.

The new transportation/SLI (starting, lighting and ignition) battery center, which was built on 40 acres on the southeast side of the city, was aided by $3.1 million in state tax credits and $1.75 million in direct financial assistance approved by the Iowa Economic Development Authority in 2015.

“The state of Iowa was pleased to help this project become a reality because we know that East Penn could have chosen to expand their company anywhere in the United States or beyond,” Reynolds said. “So we appreciate their investment in Iowa and in our hard-working people … 350 more Iowa’s will have jobs as a result.”

Reynolds said future success stories like East Penn will require Iowa to have both a competitive tax structure and a qualified work force able to fill the needs of employers.

The Future Ready Iowa initiative to address the work force needs generally has bipartisan support among Iowa legislators, although some Democrats have questioned whether the governor and their GOP colleagues will be willing to fund the programs.

Reynolds and Gregg on Friday also visited Zoetis in Charles City, a $35 million expansion, Homeland Energy Solutions in Lawler and Hawkeye Metal Spinning in Jesup.

“This (East Penn) project is an example of companies that are investing in rural Iowa,” Gregg said. “That’s something the governor and I are both very passionate about.”

Bob Flicker, chief operating officer of East Penn, thanked state and city officials, contractors, Alliant Energy and the workforce for helping get the project up and running so quickly.

“For this building to be here in this short timeline is a lot of trust and a lot of people working together,” Flicker said. “We recognized this area was something special when we moved here about a decade ago. We’re so happy to be here.”

The East Penn plant will not only be Oelwein’s largest employer, the plant is expected to use the same amount of electricity as the rest of the town combined.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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