A Look Back: A Note from Doug Neumann, Executive Director
In 2019 we unveiled to you, our Economic Alliance members, a Strategic Plan that identified the primary focus for each of our four core functions - Business Support, Community Development, Economic Development and Public Policy. Each focus included strategies we hoped would help us move the dial in a meaningful way on our mission: To drive economic, workforce and population growth strategies and help businesses succeed.
The 2019 strategies also kept us focused on what we can most significantly influence, acknowledging that other organizations - most of them valued partners of ours - play key roles in economic growth, too. We certainly didn’t do this work alone. Sticking to the Strategic Plan in 2019 resulted in quite the highlight reel to share with you! Within the following pages of this Annual Report, we hope you’ll take time to review how we worked on your behalf as an extension of your team and on behalf of the Cedar Rapids metro business community as a whole to help businesses succeed.
Beyond the highlights in these pages, we also remain proud of the consistent value we provided to businesses through a core set of services, programs, events, projects and initiatives. Of the 12 goals and 36 tactics we declared for 2019, we achieved over 90% of them, our highest success rate in the eight-year history of the Economic Alliance.
One achievement I want to be sure people recognize is that after averaging 121 new members per year over the last five years, the Economic Alliance recruited a record 160 new members in 2019. Our membership has swelled to 1,216, the highest number since creation of the Economic Alliance. We also have achieved an exceptional membership retention rate at 91%, which is made increasingly impressive when compared to the rest of our industry, which averages 88% retention.
Not only are these statistics an organizational success, they are a reflection of the business community’s success as well. The significant increase in new members and a high retention rate all point to a healthy, supportive local business economy that indicates employers want to be involved in their communities, they want to make a difference and they want to better the place where their employees live and work.
We’re proud to serve this business community and will continue to provide value where it is most critical. Thank you for your membership.
Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance
The impact of dollars spent locally was a common thread through which much of the Economic Alliance’s Business Support work was woven in 2019. The Buy Here, Give Here, Grow Here initiative grew into its second year and a new program in Downtown Cedar Rapids was created to infuse dollars in businesses in the district. Additionally, we found new ways to support businesses through helpful resources and increased usage of previously created tools.
Creating Positive Local Economic Impact
15 local businesses and organizations were featured in Buy Here, Give Here, Grow Here 2019 for making a positive economic impact right here, offering goods and services locally, developing and upskilling today and tomorrow’s workforce, providing great customer service, maintaining community connections, serving as community resources and for giving back to the community.
The Economic Alliance and Downtown Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District debuted the Downtown Cedar Rapids Summer Passport program in 2019. The program invited participants to visit Downtown events and businesses to fill up their Passport for a chance to win prize packages, while supporting the local economy and exploring the heart of Cedar Rapids.
Increasing Resources and Reporting
In 2019, we exceeded our goal of increased distribution of business reports such as the Wage and Labor comparisons, Retail Overview, Demographic Report, Existing Industry Report, Quarterly Economic Indicators Scorecard and Capital Investment Report.
Our Business Resources Toolkit saw greater traction and usage in 2019, seeing 43 average views per month thanks to a Toolkit Blitz by the Business Support Innovation Council. A convenient, anytime and anywhere resource, the Toolkit provides readily available resources from Economic Alliance members in a digital format.
We invite our members to present as experts in their field, to share knowledge with other members and answer questions in a group session through our Business Support programming. Attendance to these programs has grown considerably, from an average of 15 people per program in 2018 to an average of 43 attendees per program in 2019.
The Economic Alliance’s Community Development efforts in 2019 worked to strengthen core districts, and promote their growth and success through championing local labor in flood protection systems and creating vibrancy throughout core districts.
Championing Local Labor for Flood Control Systems
Permanent flood protection took shape along the riverfront in 2019. These efforts to protect Cedar Rapids from future flood damage are a vital piece of enhancing the entire community and retaining and attracting residents.
The Economic Alliance championed local labor participation on flood protection projects to the extent possible, hosting informational sessions with our partners on bidding on federal flood protection projects and flood control system bid notifications. Public policy advocacy efforts supported the City of Cedar Rapids’ funding plan that included seeking a change to state law that would allow local governments to issue 30-year bonds for flood mitigation projects and increasing funding from property taxes. Seven Economic Alliance member businesses worked on the first section of removable flood protection projects.
Increased Vibrancy Throughout Core Districts
The Downtown Cedar Rapids Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District oversaw the implementation of a new work of public art in Greene Square. The American Discovery Trail mural pays homage to a more than 6,800 mile trail which runs through parts of Downtown and spans the nation from coast to coast.
Volunteers helped clean up sidewalks and alleyways in core districts and installed new benches Downtown. The piloted Downtown Ambassadors program proved successful by proactively curbing violence and creating a more welcoming environment for all Downtown visitors.
A New Competition Races Into Downtown
A new, signature opportunity was identified by the Community Development Innovation Council in 2019 with the support of districts and stakeholders. In 2020, Race for the Space will provide the winning business with free rent for up to one year in Downtown Cedar Rapids, plus marketing assistance. Race for the Space aims to continue development momentum by seeking out the next exciting, must-see destination in the district. The competition-style opportunity hopes to attract applications from many industries, including experiential retailers, event or maker spaces, dual-purpose businesses or possibly wildly different culinary experiences.
The Economic Alliance’s Public Policy function heightens and supports the work of the other core functions of Community Development, Economic Development & Workforce and Business Support. In 2019, we saw progress made at the local, state and federal level in advocating for economic growth policies.
Major Initiatives Drive Transformational Improvement
Funding for Future Ready Iowa initiatives to grow Iowa’s workforce and meet employer demands was arguably our most significant achievement of the session. A new appropriation for the Employer Innovation Fund will jumpstart a public-private partnership to encourage employers, educators, economic developers/chambers of commerce and other nonprofit organizations to enhance scholarship and grant programs to strengthen the regional workforce talent pipeline.
Linn County and Cedar Rapids both received Home Base Iowa community designation this year. The initiative helps connect employers with qualified veterans looking for career opportunities.
Cedar Rapids was one of 14 communities selected nationally for the 2019 Gateways for Growth award to receive research on the impact of immigrants and technical assistance from New American Economy and Welcoming America. The Economic Alliance, City of Cedar Rapids, Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, Catherine McCauley Center, Intercultural Center of Iowa, and YPN worked together on an application for the award and participated in steering committees throughout 2019 that led to the release of Welcoming Cedar Rapids: Action Plan. The Plan outlines a path to a more welcoming Cedar Rapids for immigrants.
We pushed for increased funding for the state’s Offender Re-Entry program that helps end barriers to employment. $50,000 was added to the program’s budget, with a total budget of just under $400,000.
Working Together For Greater Impact
In public policy, there is power in numbers. In February, we joined more than 40 signatories across the state on the Iowa Compact on Immigration. Signatories have and will continue to communicate the need for bipartisan immigration policy reform that ensures our federal system meets the needs of employers and the labor market.
Progress made on the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement is a big milestone from 2019. We communicated the importance of USMCA across our communication platforms, discussed it with federal lawmakers when given the opportunity and encouraged our members to join in our efforts by sending notes to federal lawmakers. USMCA will have lasting impacts on Iowa and the entire country.
The rural/urban divide was prevalent through much of the 2019 Iowa legislative session. We worked to bridge the divide by inviting rural partners to join in our advocacy efforts at ICR Day at the Capitol, supporting Governor Reynolds Empower Rural Iowa initiative, producing a program on hemp’s future in Iowa with rural partners and by hosting a Power Up Iowa meeting in Iowa County to review benefits of wind energy in support of the Invenergy wind farm project.
The Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy (RISE) program promotes economic development in Iowa through the establishment, construction and improvement of roads and streets. In 2019, we secured close to $2M in RISE grant funding for the City of Cedar Rapids for use in local business expansion projects.
Encourage Members to Applaud Bipartisanship Efforts
In today’s political world there is a diminished level of bipartisan cooperation, and we want to do all we can to encourage more civil and cooperative debate and return the focus to the issues that grow our local economies and communities. When lawmakers actively sought bipartisan solutions and conversations, we publicly applauded their efforts and shared it with our members. From encouraging joint townhall meetings with leaders from different political backgrounds to supporting elected officials introducing bipartisan bills to hosting events on bipartisan policy decision making, we are committed to leading by example and will continue to do all we can to encourage messages and actions of civility and cooperative debate in 2020.
Economic Development & Workforce
Throughout 2019, the Economic Alliance partnered and supported efforts to retain and expand growth-oriented businesses and the regional workforce. We’re proud this past year offered some significant highlights, meeting and often exceeding our goals.
Expansion Assistance Keeps Businesses Here
The Economic Alliance assisted several interstate commerce businesses with expansion plans in 2019 with the security of financial incentives and promoting initiatives related to economic growth. We were able to exceed the three-year average for jobs (24) and capital investment ($11.4M) considerably with 99 jobs and $20.76M in capital investment from successful interstate commerce projects including ACP Inc., Iowa Fluid Power, Inc., Raining Rose, UFG Insurance, Cargill, West Side Transport and Don Hummer Trucking Corp. and more.
We also increased by 20%, from 2018, the number of businesses we refer initiatives and incentives related to economic growth like 260E & 260F New Jobs Training Program grants, Brownfield/Grayfield redevelopment tax credits, the High Quality Jobs program and others, with 62 standard referrals. Area projects were awarded $2.7M in state Brownfield/Grayfield tax credits, which equals 27% of the statewide total.
Capital Investment Report Shows A Business Community Open to Growth
The Economic Alliance also tracked, compiled and publicized annual new capital investments through our Building to a Billion and Beyond report which included announcements of $588M of new capital investment for 2019 and 2020 with a four year total of $1.85B. Spotlighting all this growth helps create an environment for a thriving workforce and helps fulfill the Economic Alliance’s mission to be the top economic growth region in the country.
Extended Workforce Retention Initiatives & Company-Specific Services
In addition to working with our partners at the Iowa City Area Development Group to support our regional joint venture, ICR Iowa, the Economic Alliance extended workforce efforts by hosting a tour for college students, inviting them to meet local young professionals, learn about urban living, recreation, employment opportunities and receive a direct request to consider Cedar Rapids as a place to live and work when they graduate.
We worked with Coe College on two Downtown Cedar Rapids tours in 2019, while also answering a request from Collins Aerospace to host fall programming in the community for their co-op students and remaining interns.
You Talk, We Listen to Make a Difference
In-person business relationship calls and visits to corporate headquarters are a critical part of gathering business intelligence and forecasting economic trends. In the past, the Economic Alliance has completed a few hundred such visits each year, but in 2019, a more audacious goal was set for completing 410 substantive, in-person business interviews. Not only was the goal achieved by mid-fall, but the Economic Alliance staff finished the year with an astounding 503 meetings.
ICR IOWA Results
30Targeted Project Opportunities
92High Quality Jobs Created
22Talent Hub Candidates Hired
46Wingman Newcomer Services
72New High School Interns
131New Employers Engaged in Work-Based Learning
24In-Person Talent Meetings
2Diversity Guides Launched