HAWARDEN—Three months ago Larry Cope became Hawarden’s community and economic developer. Since then, Cope has been hard at work reaching out to and promoting business in Hawarden, as well as promoting the town itself.
A key part of his work so far has been communicating with local business owners, setting up in-person meetings with most of them.
Part of the purpose of the visits has just been to have a chance to introduce himself to them and the role of his office in working with businesses.
Beyond that, the conversation sticks to the business itself, with Cope finding out what their needs are.
“What are they having difficulties with, what things are they looking at into the future? What we try to do is find out what we can do to help them either retain their business, grow their business or even expand their business,” Cope said.
Sometimes the only help they’re looking for are money saving opportunities like energy savings programs. Other times, they want help with workforce needs.
It can be hard for small business owners to attract the kind of talent they want, Cope said, especially in a low unemployment environment.
Cope said he’s turned to regional and statewide organizations such as Northwest Iowa Development to help address those needs, and has helped business owners post jobs to online sites.
“The right person might be a few miles out of town and not even realize it,” Cope said. “We’ve been trying to get this out to different areas where if somebody’s looking, they’re going to stumble over that.”
Cope hopes his work helps make local businesses more competitive employers and healthier businesses.
Things are looking good overall for Hawarden businesses, Cope said, but there are of course a few concerns.
“When you are a small-business owner, you work on very thin margins, so even the hint of the word ‘recession’ puts a chill in anyone’s spine,” he said. “That’s something we’re watching.”
And there’s always a desire to do even better.
There’s been a lot of activity downtown thanks to city projects, Cope said, which has renewed interest in Hawarden’s downtown.
“We have individuals looking at putting restaurants in downtown, and we have somebody putting in an interior design firm where they’ll sell items and stuff like that downtown,” Cope said.
Another option people have explored is expanding their current downtown business into empty neighboring space.
Cope has worked with building owners downtown to help them have their spaces ready to present to potential buyers or leasers.
“It’s just like when you’re a real estate agent and you’re trying to sell a house,” Cope said. “You have to make sure the house looks presentable and it’s ready to sell. The same with commercial.”
Empty space has to look ready to sell because you never know when the right person is going to go by and make a call, wanting to see it.
“It’s always a challenge for people to envision what a place would look like with their own stuff in it if there’s a bunch of other stuff already there,” Cope said. “If the site is open and clear, and the windows look nice and clean, it’s easier for someone to imagine this as a good location for their business.”
With the city investing into downtown through upgrades to streetlights and concrete work, Cope said that business owners “feel this is a good time to try that opportunity downtown.”
Cope has also begun work on promoting the city of Hawarden to outsiders.
One means of doing so has been more updates to the city website, ensuring that more information is available there.
“If individuals want to check out demographics, available properties, different things like that, that’s all available on the website 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Cope said. “They can just go on the city’s website, click on economic development and there’s a number of menu items that pop down. There are things on there about workforce, so on and so forth.”
He’s also been working on coming up with printed material for distribution.
“In addition to that, we attended a partnership show we went to in Minneapolis a few weeks back that’s sponsored by Northwest Iowa Development, which we’re a member of,” Cope said.
That show gave him a chance to visit with business owners looking to locate in Iowa.
There is plenty to like about Hawarden, Cope said: The city government is responsive, timely and it strives to be business friendly.
“Because of how regulations are set up in the state of Iowa, we’re able to offer some good incentives for individuals looking to come to Iowa,” Cope added. “On top of that, the city has been really good at looking how can we attract businesses here and form some kind of partnership with them to build here. That’s why we have the industrial park, and we work hard to get companies to come into that industrial park.”
Then there’s the location of the city between Sioux City and Sioux Falls, SD, with ready access to I-29.
Even apart from business prospects, Cope has found Hawarden to be a good place to live.
“My wife and I just moved here, and we’re enjoying what Hawarden is all about,” he said.