New manufacturer invokes IF history

Bill Pearce is familiar with the name Boyt. As an old east side Iowa Falls resident, he knows what the luggage manufacturer meant for the town. Now, as the president of AgPremier Inc. (which does business as Zoske Manufacturing), Pearce is attaching the name to a new manufacturing endeavor that will make agriculture machine parts.

“I wanted a short and simple name as a brand identifier, like the Zoske brand name brings to our manure handling line,” Pearce said “I literally woke up in the middle of the night and knew what the name was going to be – Boyt Products. Not only is Boyt a great brand name, but it also brings back some history to Iowa Falls.”

Boyt Luggage Company goes as far back as both World Wars, when the company made saddles, gun cases and duffel bags for the military. Boyt continued to have worldwide impact after the wars. It introduced two innovations to the luggage world: soft-side luggage and wheels. It closed in the 1990s.

While the old Boyt building remains, the new Boyt Products will be in another historic building on the east side: the old Herter building at 311 Sherman St., which has been everything from a fruit distribution center to a sporting goods manufacturer specializing in clay pigeons. For the last few decades the building was used for storage.

“When I walked into the old Herter’s building for the first time since I was in high school back in the ’70s, I knew immediately that this was the place for Boyt,” Pearce said. “It will take far less to renovate and restore than to build new, and you end up with an asset with old-school beauty that will last another 100 years, instead of just a few decades like a new metal facility.”

Pearce acquired the building in January and the first phase of renovations has begun in about 5,000 of the 11,000-square-foot space. Pearce’s goal is to have a machine shop and assembly line operational by the end of summer.

AgPremier has been a leader in developing new ways to field-apply manure and that means a lot of fabricating. The new location will provide AgPremier with a vital piece of equipment for even application. For now that part is being made at Zoske Manufacturing.

“Throughout the first half of 2020, not only was space becoming an issue, but the need to begin making, in-house, many of the parts we were purchasing grew as issues with supply chains continued to require more of our attention, especially those parts coming from overseas,” Pearce said. “I began to explore space availability in Iowa Falls and looking at what parts were priorities to try and bring in-house.”

Boyt’s first product meets those needs, Pearce said. The manure distribution manifold is already being made at Zoske Manufacturing for other AgPremier products.

“We were historically purchasing this item from a Canadian company,” Pearce said. “It was expensive and did not work well in application. We went to work this winter and developed a patentable solution and are ready to begin delivery now.”

With this plan to produce components locally, all Pearce needed was space, equipment, and more employees. He said the City of Iowa Falls and Iowa Falls Area Development Corporation (IFADC) were key in making it happen.

Iowa Falls City Manager Jody Anderson said Pearce first approached the city about his plans in October. The council showed interest, and in February it approved a one-time TIF (tax increment financing) grant of up to $125,000. The IFADC also provided Pearce with a low-interest loan of $25,000 to help with start-up costs.

Anderson said the city’s TIF grant didn’t equate to a $125,000 blank check for Pearce. Instead, Pearce will turn in invoices to show that he’s spent money on the new business. The city will then reimburse his expenses up to $125,000.

“There’s a misconception that we just give you a check,” Anderson said. “A debt has to be created and there are things you have to do to be able to earn a TIF grant. There’s three things that qualify, and this project checks all the boxes: creating or retaining jobs, expanding the city’s tax base within a TIF area, and enhancing the community. All you really need is one, but it’s an excellent use of TIF when you can cross off all three.”

Anderson said the city will eventually recoup that money through taxes on the property. Because TIF was used, the project is closed to tax abatement.

From an economic development standpoint, IFADC’s Mark Buschkamp said this is a continuation of recent successes that include Dollar Tree, Kwik Star, Matthew’s Repair and Timbukbru in recent years.

“You always try to increase tax base and jobs, and this does both,” Buschkamp said. “It helps those things and helps a local business grow and address issues and create more certainty. It’s a good thing. Those were all really good projects that created jobs and increased tax base. This project does the same thing. It’s great to hit a home run, but these singles and doubles add up.”

While Pearce’s development agreement with the city stipulates that he must create two jobs, Pearce said he foresees the need for several more in the immediate future. He expects to hire two people by summer.

“This project has a sense of satisfaction that goes beyond the standard business growth perspective,” Pearce said. “It feels great to be able to bring new jobs to Iowa Falls, but doing it while restoring and bringing back part of the community’s history is like the icing on the cake.”

Anderson said this project has been a win, but neither the city nor IFADC are sitting on their laurels.

“It’s nice to get a project done, but we’re always looking for the next one,” he said. “You have to get used to a lot of rejection. For every project that pops up, there’s hundreds of small towns just like us competing for it. Some 80 percent of our success is working with existing business.”