Outlook promising for Osceola County
SIBLEY – The choices of sink or swim have been around a long time. But in the face of difficult economic times for small rural communities across the Midwest, those who govern the economic climate of Osceola County are choosing to swim.
Mike Earll returned to his long-time teaching hub at the Sibley-Ocheyedan ag education room on Feb. 12, only this time with the title of Osceola County economic director.
He shared the podium with Glenn Anderson, Sibley city administrator and economic developer.
Together, the men spoke of promising entities ahead for the county – the smallest geographic county in Iowa – and encouraged creative thinking and hard work to grow business opportunity and bring young people back to the area.
“Our farms are getting bigger and the number of people on our farms is getting smaller each year, ” said Earll. “The tax burden we face … gets pushed onto fewer backs all the time.
“It gets to be difficult. My hope is, if we want to spread that tax base out, to try to bring more people in to share that burden.”
While Earll said agriculture is still the stronghold of the county, city and county officials believe that building on that agricultural base and complimenting it with ideas and potential businesses would go a long way towards helping Osceola County grow and thrive.
He said Noteboom Equipment in Sibley is a good example of building business on an already-strong agricultural basis.
When Noteboom’s purchased the John Deere dealership it invested $1.5 million into the building, Earll said. The company features 20 full-time employees and two part-time employees, all with strong salary bases.
He said its goal is to hire local people as their main work force, and is already beginning to see that happen.
Bosma Poultry moved and expanded its business in Sibley, and is selling its former property along Iowa Highway 60, helping it remain on the tax rolls in Sibley.
Earll said a new 36-room AmericInn motel with a pool is planned for Sibley across from Jackrabbit Junction near the intersection of Highway 60.
Ground as been broken for that project. He said a hotel/motel tax vote is set for March 3, in which only rural county residents can vote because the motel is outside the city limits of Sibley.
If passed, the measure could bring in $30,000 to $40,000 annually. Earll said that tax would not raise farm real estate taxes.
“It’s money coming into Osceola County that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and money coming off of (those who travel) Highway 60, which is a big plus,” said Earll.
He said that new motel could take on a new value for truckers, with provisions being made for a truckers’ shower, and possible reduced rates for truckers.
Earll said a group of 33 local investors has contributed to raise more than half of the money for the motel – $3.6 million. He said he also sees potential for a restaurant in that complex.
Earll said there are four additional sites available for development in the Grau Addition, where Cooperative Energy has grown from 30 to 48 employees in the past six years.
He said the co-op’s fuel sales have far exceeded initial expectations and the service department revenue has more than doubled.
Earll said business expansion and new businesses don’t just happen on their own, and he pointed out Sioux County as an example.
“They have a lot of money over there,” Earll said. “It’s old family money, and they know how to keep it turning over in their community.
“If they want to get a business started, they have a list of people they contact and (ask if they will) invest. It gets the people involved, investing their own money – and look how Sioux County has grown.”
Anderson said developing from within a community is huge, because it’s the people investing in their own community.
Anderson said a new enterprise will be coming to Sibley called, CapArms, an ammunition manufacturer for marksmen and law enforcement.
Covering 23 acres, it will have a special contract with a smokeless gunpowder manufacturer, and they plan to add firearms manufacturing over time in that facility in the Osceola County Enterprise Park.
The company plans to start with six employees and grow to 36 jobs in three years’ time.
Anderson said old infrastructure becomes a problem over time in older towns, but communities with new main thoroughfares running through them have the chance to move the town to the new highway.
Anderson said it’s less expensive and a more productive use of funding to fix infrastructure issues.
Earll said Ocheyedan is experiencing housing issues, and city officials are considering converting the former school building there (built in 1959) into apartments.
Hawkeye Point – a new camping area near Ocheyedan – is almost ready to open.
Other perks of the Sibley area include a new Hispanic grocery store and a rail spur completion scheduled to happen this summer.
Earll said Osceola County is the only rural International Trade Zone location in Iowa, which is important for bringing businesses to their area.
The two said they are seeking ways to bring Sioux Falls-area people to their county by offering unique amenities that people can’t get there, such as the possibility of guided hunting.
Bringing people to Osceola County is the common thread that runs between the jobs of Earll and Anderson. They promote the new highway 60 as a useful tool to entice new companies to town, citing the heavy traffic flow of 4.6 to 4.65 million cars and trucks annually.
Earll said the highway brings people to town, but they need to look for reasons to get people to stop off along the way.
“I like to close these kinds of gatherings with a quote from Ben Franklin,” Earll said, “as they approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence – ‘If we don’t all hang together, we will surely all hang separately.'”
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