BY KAY SNYDER
Iowa’s electric cooperatives go far beyond delivering power that is safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible to 650,000 Iowans. For decades, they also have been leaders in heavily investing in local and state economic development.
A strategic federal program that the Iowa Area Development Group (IADG) and its utility partners have expertly leveraged to support growth is the USDA Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDL&G) Program. The REDL&G program was introduced in 1989 to provide competitive funds to local utilities, which they, in turn, pass through to local businesses for projects that create and retain jobs in rural areas.
Seeing this as an incredible opportunity to bring money into the state, Iowa’s electric cooperatives and the Iowa Area Development Group created a formula for success. Once a compelling project is identified, IADG works with its utility partners to compile the necessary information and then writes and submits the REDL&G application. This process is no small feat since the applications typically exceed 100 pages.
Iowa leads the nation in the number of projects and the amount awarded through the three decades since the REDL&G program was established. As a result of aggressive grant writing, Iowa has received 347 awards totaling $141.5 million to support business growth and community vitality.
This year, Iowa secured 25 awards totaling over $16.8 million in funding, which created or retained over 200 jobs. These projects are located across the state and include manufacturing facilities, dental clinics, medical clinics, industrial parks, marketing companies, food production, a pharmacy and a city aquatic center. USDA Rural Development State Director Grant Menke recognized Iowa’s efforts at a news conference in late October. “The REDL&G program is one of the most versatile, efficient and effective funding tools to enhance economic opportunities and create jobs in rural America,” Menke says. “Through key partnerships with rural electric cooperatives, rural telephone cooperatives, municipal utilities and supporting organizations, such as the Iowa Area Development Group, Iowa continues to lead the nation in delivering REDL&G investment and projects.”
The project list is impressive. Two projects are featured in this article, but please keep in mind there are 345 additional stories across the state. You likely have one or more projects in your community.
Main Street Drug, Charles City
Charles City is now home to Main Street Drug, opened by owners Cindy and Shane Uetz. Cindy is a pharmacist who returned to her hometown of Charles City and managed the Kmart pharmacy. In 2019, the retail chain closed the store, leaving Charles City with only one pharmacy to serve the community. Seeing an opportunity, the couple purchased the former Lidd & Cordray building on Main Street, completely remodeled the first floor of this former clothing store and opened the pharmacy in early April.
“This project would have never gotten off the ground without the help of Butler County REC and their staff,” states Cindy Uetz. “Pharmacy economics are complicated and different than your typical brick and mortar business. Butler County REC understood this and helped us get the funding we needed. The loan we received has allowed us to provide our community with vital healthcare services. While opening in the middle of a pandemic was never in our vision, our delivery and curbside pickup have helped to protect our rural community and the surrounding area.”
Main Street Drug is entirely independent. The business is committed to providing public education in a wide variety of areas and superior customer service, including options for curbside pickup and delivery, even outside of Charles City. While the majority of the business is the pharmacy, Main Street Drug also has over-the-counter items available. Rounding out its offerings are a wide variety of consignment items from local artists and designers.
Percival Scientific, Perry
Percival Scientific, a 100-year-old business, is moving forward with the expansion of its existing facility in the Perry Industrial Park in Perry, Iowa. Percival is a worldwide leader in designing and manufacturing environmental growth (research) chambers for universities, colleges, governmental institutions and businesses. The 33,000 square feet of new space will allow the company to increase its production by 60% and add 10 or more employees to its 80-person workforce.
Financing for the expansion comes in the form of two zero-interest, $1 million loans from the REDL&G program through Central Iowa Power Cooperative and Minburn Communications. These funds will be used to purchase equipment and build out the larger facility’s electrical and high-speed internet infrastructure.
“The company has wanted to expand for some time, but the $2 million REGL&G loans tipped the scale,” says Percival President and CEO Gary Wheelock. “As thrilled as we were about this type of program from the USDA, it was even more exciting to learn that since two different rural utilities serve us – Guthrie County REC for electric service and Minburn Communications for phone and internet – we could apply for two USDA loans. Thanks don’t begin to convey how grateful we are to the USDA for offering the REDL&G program, seeing the value in our expansion projects and awarding both loans to us.”
As the economic development entity for Iowa’s electric cooperatives, the IADG team has the opportunity to see the multifaceted commitment rural utilities have to support the businesses and communities they serve. You can be assured that your member-owned cooperative is working diligently to foster investment, create jobs and enrich the quality of life for rural Iowans.
Kay Snyder is the director of marketing and communications for the Iowa Area Development Group.