BY SARA KONRAD BARANOWSKI

April 30, 2014

A 245-acre area southwest of Iowa Falls has become one of the newest certified sites for economic development, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced Monday.

Two years ago, the state – in an effort to increase the number of development-ready industrial sites in Iowa – announced the Certified Site Program.  Through contracting with McCallum Sweeney Consulting of Greeneville, S.C., the Iowa Economic Development Authority set up a third-party certification process through which communities could work.

In simple terms, site certification lets business and industry know that a site – such as the new Iowa Falls/Hardin County Industrial Park – is ready for inhabitants.  Iowa Falls Area Development Director Cindy Litwiller said the process, which has stretched through three rounds of applications, covers all of the due diligence that a company may need completed before it can say yes to a site.  In essence, it makes that site “shovel-ready.”

According to a press release issued Monday, “Site certification is one of the fastest growing trends in the site selection business, and by introducing certified sites to the market, Iowa is better able to compete for large scale projects.  By going through this rigorous process, developers – working closely with their local officials, utility partners and consultants – are better prepared to market their sites with specific site-related information and community data.”

Iowa Falls Mayor Gene Newgaard said that the certification will be key to Iowa Falls’ future growth.

“Part of keeping Iowa Falls a great and vibrant place to work and live is not only attracting businesses, but providing the environment where new and existing businesses can thrive and grow,” Newgaard said.  “As Iowa Falls continues to develop and grow, this certification will be an important tool in spurring that growth and providing an opportunity for a better life for the residents of Iowa Falls.”

The other three sites announced Monday as having achieved certification are located in Fort Dodge, Van Meter and Dexter.

Litwiller said IFADC got involved shortly after the program was created in May 2012.  Since then, the process has involved studies, reports, applications and site visits.

In June 2012, Litwiller said IFADC sent the first application to the state.  In it, they identified an area southwest of Iowa Falls. “That told them we were interested,” Litwiller said.  They were among eight first-round applications accepted into the program.

From there, the work really began.  Litwiller said the next two phases of applications were submitted in August 2012 and October 2013.  Due Diligence completed by IFADC on the site includes:  phase I environmental site assessments, a geotechnical investigation, wetland delineation, topographic surveying, archaeological surveys, an analysis of endangered plant and animal species, a site boundary survey, lien and title searches and an extensive cleanup on 13 acres of the site.

In addition to those required studies and reports, IFADC went a step further, completing a feasibility study, economic benefit/impact study, and a truck traffic/road impact study.

It’s been an arduous two years, but Litwiller said she hopes the payoff will be big for Iowa Falls and Hardin County.

While the site whose certification was announced this week is 245 acres, Litwiller said there are an additional 50 non-contiguous acres at the site that are developable.

Litwiller said the process hasn’t been cheap.

“I have to give credit to our partners,” she said. “Without them, we would not have gotten this done.”

Those partners included Midland Power, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Hardin County Community Endowment Foundation, Hardin County, the City of Iowa Falls, the Iowa Falls Hotel/Motel Tax Fund, the Community Investment Corporation and IFADC.  Additionally, Litwiller said, the state has paid $25,000 to $30,000 per site that is being certified.

The land that comprises the Iowa Falls/Hardin County Industrial Park is located southwest of Iowa Falls, near the Flint Hills Resources ethanol plant.  Litwiller said the land is not owned by IFADC, but the group has options to purchase it from the local landowners should a developer want to buy the land.  Additionally, she said, the Community Investment Corporation purchased a piece of property and removed a house that had been standing there, as part of the project.

One big advantage of the site is its access to two rail lines – the Canadian National and Union Pacific lines run along the park’s boundaries.  Litwiller said it offers significant opportunities for a business that requires a dual rail connection.  And, she said preliminary design of a connecting rail and manifest yard between the two lines is nearing completion.

Hardin County Supervisors  Board Chairman Lance Granzow said the Iowa Falls site has been a big project for the county.   “This is one of the largest projects we have been working on in Hardin County in an effort to bring community growth and jobs into our area,” Granzow said. ”Requiring a lot of work and effort with support from the current landowners, it has taken place through collaborative efforts between Hardin County, the City of Iowa Falls and Iowa Falls Area Development Corporation.”

The state’s Certified Site Program is still in operation.  Three subsequent rounds have been opened since 2012 and 15 additional sites are working their way through the program’s phases.

For further information on this article, contact skonrad@iafalls.com