By Brooke Sherrard
The Daily Iowegian
---- — Indian Hills Community College became the newest recipient of the Outstanding Service Award on March 28 at the Appanoose Economic Development Corporation annual banquet.
IHCC President Jim Lindenmayer said for about three years the college leadership has been striving to enhance economic development with efforts that include putting into place a staff of seven that works full time on regional economic development. College leaders realized the economic condition of the region had declined considerably over the past 20 years, he said, and believed IHCC could be key in making economic efforts regional rather than community by community.
“We were pleased to be recognized, not so much for the pat on the back, but we think it helps publicize our services and what we do,” Lindenmayer said.
AEDC Executive Director Tod Faris said the college’s establishment of a branch called the Rural Entrepreneurship and Leadership Institute about two years ago led to better communication between IHCC and economic developers in the 10-county region the college serves.
Faris said there were multiple reasons for honoring IHCC with the award. For one, the college works with employers to find out what type of training they want their employees to have.
“Instead of providing the educational facility and saying, ‘We’re going to teach you,’ instead they go out and ask, ‘What do you need? How can we help you grow your business?’” Faris said. “To me it’s a real effort to reach out to the whole region.”
For another, IHCC has partnered with area high schools to allow students to get a start on college courses such as calculus. A more recent program allows high schoolers to start nursing coursework early so they can enter the workforce younger.
A third factor was that IHCC recently applied for and received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to fund a two-year rural business development adviser specifically for Appanoose, Wayne and Van Buren counties who spends a day each week in each county.
The college hired Neil MacArthur, a retired businessman who moved to Centerville to be near his daughter and her family. The position started in September 2012.
MacArthur said the grant covers the three most economically challenged counties in IHCC’s region, an area he is enjoying getting to know.
“These are all interesting and beautiful places,” he said. “I am so impressed and so much in love with this country since we moved to Iowa, and I really hope I can in some small way make a contribution to sustaining it and growing it.”
MacArthur recently was involved with the transfer of Mitchell’s Floor Covering in Centerville to new owners, Scott and Kelly Jackson, when Ron Mitchell decided to retire. It is now Jackson Home Center and is expanding to include home furnishing.
“That extends that business in Centerville, keeps that storefront occupied and provides good solid economic continuation,” MacArthur said.
MacArthur, who taught high school in Texas after retiring from the business world, said one of his favorite things about this job is working with high school juniors across the 10-county region. Three juniors from each school district met once a month this past school year to develop leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
The goal is retention, giving young people a boost to becoming leaders in this area and pursuing careers here. The program also gives high schoolers contacts with their peers across the region.
“If you talk to kids in junior high, they have no thought of leaving,” MacArthur said. “They love it here; they think they are going to be here. When they are juniors or seniors they think, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen around here,’ so they end up going to school and then going to Des Moines or Chicago or far, far away. That’s a cycle we’ve got to understand and see what we can do to break it.”
MacArthur said this program is based on the idea that economic development works best when it takes place across a variety of fronts.
“It can’t just be working with established businesses or those who want to start a business, but the next step is to prepare and train the young people to be a part of the economy here,” he said.
Tom Rubel, IHCC’s executive dean of regional economic advancement, said someone looking to start a small business can contact RELI for help seeking out a loan or crafting a business plan at no cost to the business owner.
Rubel said RELI also aids business owners who are facing tough times. For example, RELI can identify areas where the business owner could make improvements, such as creating a more effective website, then connect the business owner with someone at the college who has expertise in business websites.
MacArthur said he encourages people with business ideas to take advantage of the resources the college has to offer.
“There are so many people out there with so many ideas and there are a lot of resources available at the college that many people are not aware of,” he said.