BY ANN FOSTER THELEN
Building on a 25-year career with the Iowa Area Development Group (IADG), Bruce Nuzum was recently named president of the organization following Rand Fisher’s retirement in January. Founded in 1985, IADG is the business and economic development organization for its sponsors and partners, including more than 220 member-owned electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and independent telecommunication companies throughout the state.
Nuzum is originally from Iowa and graduated college during the farm crisis of the mid-1980s. Those trying times prompted him to move out of state. After a few years away, he returned to Iowa to be closer to family and began working in economic development in Jasper County. In 1997, Nuzum joined IADG and most recently served as senior vice president of finance and operations.
We sat down with Nuzum to learn more about him, including his vision for IADG and rural economic development efforts in Iowa.
What drew you to economic development work?
I have always had a strong sense of community and involvement, which I attribute to my grandfather. He was a volunteer leader, and through his business, he was actively engaged in his small rural community. His involvement demonstrated the importance of a partnership between business and community for both to be successful. When I had the opportunity to lead a county development organization in an area that included my hometown, it seemed like a natural fit.
Throughout my career, what has kept me in economic development is the variety of projects and the satisfaction of being a part of a team helping to bring jobs and opportunities to rural Iowa.
When it comes to economic development in electric cooperative-served areas, what do you feel are Iowa’s strengths?
Iowans have a strong work ethic and a sense of community that you don’t get everywhere else. Plus, they are used to thinking creatively to solve problems. That’s why so many inventions come from farm workshops or out of the garage. These traits make for a great workforce for businesses in rural areas. Combine this with the investment our utility partners have made in electric and broadband infrastructure and commercial and industrial parks to serve their members and communities, and it makes rural Iowa an excellent place for business.
While you are not new to IADG, you’re new to this role. What are the organization’s short- and long-term goals?
IADG’s core mission is to help businesses expand in the communities and territories of our utility sponsors. One of our primary goals is working with our partners to help existing companies be successful. We are a connecting point to financial programs and other services, which can help their business operations.
Another goal is to promote our members and the available sites and buildings in their service territories in the most effective ways possible to generate leads and bring new businesses and job opportunities to rural communities. Through various marketing and programming activities, including prospecting growing companies, exhibiting at trade shows and using our website and other online databases, we work toward this goal.
Economic development is about creating future success and developing places for businesses to expand. A long-term goal is to help identify and access financial tools, which can help our members continually reinvest in themselves by continuing to develop industrial parks and shell buildings in partnership with local development organizations.
We also strive for continuous improvement through training and education for our staff and utility partners to ensure we are ready to bring tools to the table when an opportunity presents itself.
Electric cooperatives are grounded in “commitment to community.” How does this approach factor into what IADG does day in and day out?
We assist our members with community development through the Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant (REDL&G) Program. The electric co-op helps a nonprofit entity with its first loan to build its Revolving Loan Fund (RLF). Our members have had a tremendous impact by bringing low-cost funding to assist community projects and have built $76 million of locally controlled funding for rural Iowa. IADG plays an active role in helping utilities apply for these funds and offering ongoing administration support for the RLF.
What are some of the key industries IADG works with, which translate into opportunities for rural Iowa?
Our target industries include agriculture, ag processing, advanced manufacturing, warehousing and information technology. IADG is especially known for its work with agriculture and ag processing – everything from food production and further processing, including the manufacturing of biofuels.
What are some economic development trends that are exciting for Iowa?
One of the big trends in the industry is the move to automation and data-driven processes – often referred to as Industry 4.0. Technology continues to advance, and the increasing capabilities of robots and computer-driven equipment make production more efficient. These increases in capacity and efficiency are essential for all businesses, especially rural businesses dealing with workforce shortages. With the partnerships between businesses and communities, there are great opportunities for our utility partners to help assist with the move to automation at rural businesses through RLFs and other programs where IADG can help with the connections.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
When I started my career, someone told me that economic development was 95% preparation and 5% perspiration. The longer I do this, the more I agree that you must be prepared and ready to jump when an opportunity presents itself.
What do you love most about Iowa?
It’s where my family is, so that makes it home. But I have also had the opportunity to live elsewhere and travel to other parts of the world. It makes me appreciate the people who live here and how we all look out for each other.
Favorite sports team?
I grew up a Hawkeye, but I’m an equal opportunity cheerer.
Favorite Iowa restaurants?
A few spots come to mind:
Darrell’s Place in Hamlin
Whatcha Smokin’ BBQ in Luther
The Landmark Bistro in Grundy Center
Favorite Iowa event?
Iowa State Fair, of course!
Ann Foster Thelen is the editor of Iowa Electric Cooperative Living magazine.