In Manson, Gov. Reynolds visits local industry to hear concerns
By JOE SUTTER
MANSON – Their colorful, custom-cut benches may be popular around town, but Fitzgerald Industries’ primary business is building things for animal processing operations.
Gov. Kim Reynolds was in Manson Tuesday morning to hear about this growing business, and the challenges facing growth in the area.
One of the top challenges is being able to find qualified workers, said owner Don Fitzgerald.
“We need an express lane instead of a wall, for the workers” Fitzgerald said. “We need a way to get them legal quicker.”
That’s a concern Reynolds hears frequently, she said.
“Right now over in Eagle Grove, if I could find 10 more competent people, they’d be working 50 hours a week,” Fitzgerald said, referring to the work his company is doing at the Prestage Foods of Iowa pork processing plant now under construction.
“And once the plant gets running, we’ll be over there for another year, because it will take them that long to get their maintenance and project crew developed, so we’ll be over there helping them out on stuff like that,” he added.
On their tour of the two Manson locations, Fitzgerald showed the visitors portions of the elevated stainless steel catwalk his company is building for Prestage Foods of Iowa.
“In three or four months, the next time you go to Prestage, you will be walking on this material,” he said. “When visitors tour the facility, there will be a catwalk overhead, so you can look down on the kill floor
“It is technically labeled the governor’s catwalk.”
Fitzgerald employs six people in Manson, he said, and 10 at his Wall Lake plant.
“Finding help is a big problem,” Fitzgerald said.
“The other problem is we don’t have anywhere for them to live,” said Jill Heisterkamp, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Corporation. “We just did a housing needs assessment for Calhoun County.
“I ran into that when I took the job. I grew up in the county, moved away for 20 years, and moved back to take the job. Luckily I was able to snag a house, but it’s so hard to find a place to live.”
Reynolds said her Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, which was founded this year, is looking to fund help beyond assessments.
“Part of the recommendation was to provide funding for the assessment needs. But I said, that’s kicking it down the road a couple years,” Reynolds said. “That’s fine to have some of it go there, but I need another chunk of that to potentially work with the businesses and local government … to start it up, to actually get the housing.”
The assessment is still essential, Heisterkamp said.
“We partnered with Hamilton and Pocahontas counties. That gave us a discount,” she said. “It was still $29,000, but you can’t get financing and you can’t get developers unless you have a housing needs assessment.”
Developers are also more eager to work in urban areas, Heisterkamp said.
“Especially in the rural areas that’s our biggest struggle,” she said, “because they can sell houses before they even have them built in West Des Moines, but here?”
Reynolds came to Fitzgerald Industries after her office had contacted Heisterkamp asking what business would be good to visit in Manson.
“Again, it’s a great opportunity for us to see what the barriers are, what the needs are,” Reynolds said. “We want to see this economy grow like I believe it can. It’s so important that we figure out this workforce issue. But it’s really good to see this expansion, and the growth, and how innovative they are, and what they’re doing and really finding opportunities.”
Fitzgerald purchased his much larger, second Manson location in February, with some help from the Manson Economic Development Corporation and the Calhoun County Development Corporation. Reynolds toured both on Tuesday.
“We have about an acre under our roof here,” Fitzgerald said. “We went from 8,000 square feet there to 42,000 square feet here.”
Fitzgerald had been looking for a bigger building, while the Development Corp. had been looking for someone to take on the large warehouse just north of Zehr’s Auto on County Road N65.
“We’re trying to do that with a lot of properties in our county that have been sitting empty,” Heisterkamp said.
Fitzgerald has owned the smaller shop, at the corner of N65 and Iowa Highway 7, since 1997. His father helped construct part of the building with the previous owner in 1964.
Fitzgerald Industry’s water jet cutter at the old location – a large automatic, computer-guided system – can cut through any material up to eight inches think, Fitzgerald said. He showed exampled of cut steel, marble and plastic on the tour.
The laser cutter found in the new location can only cut steel, but for certain applications it’s much faster: a 130 minute job on the water cutter can be done in about 15 minutes with the laser.
Reynolds had a full schedule Wednesday, next heading to Pocahontas to visit with the Keep Iowa Beautiful and Hometown Pride committees.
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