Moving beyond the single-factory town
When the Electrolux plant closed and laid off some 1,500 workers, Webster City joined the ranks of countless other small towns, whose existence hung in the balance of profit margins, globalization, and outsourcing. The factory closed as part of an overall strategy to move to lower-cost markets in Central America and Eastern Europe. Since then, the City Council has been working hard to attract new business into town. “Our single greatest asset is human capital,” said David Toyer, economic development director.
The town leaders have been hitting Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites to spread the word about the economic opportunities in their community and also maintain a website about economic development. The website features federal, state and local resources to encourage local investment. “We may be a city of 8,000 in rural Iowa but we’re competing globally,” Toyer said. They have also educated the community on how to use social media, and have seen some involvement by citizens. “This is all about the jobs. It’s not about impressing anybody,” said Ed Sadler, city manager.
The city is also working on a campaign to attract more tourism. One of its natural attractions is Boone River and the town has been hosting the Boone Bash River Dash since 2007, which features canoeing and kayaking, adventure racing, card board boat races, and others during one weekend in June. Webster City also boasts a fully endowed library, which serves the city and surrounding areas. “A library is more than just a building,” said Paul Dahl, library director and UI alum. “We may have e-books, but we’ll always have books.”
Even without its Electrolux factory, Webster City continues to impact people beyond its borders. “If you buy a hotdog or a brat at Yankee Stadium, it came from here,” Sadler said.
Hamilton Hospital: Generosity and Vision
In the outskirts of town lies a brand new critical access hospital with 25 beds. The story of Hamilton Hospital in is one of generosity and vision.
The generosity came from Bob and Mary Van Diest, who in February 2008 made a $10 million pledge for a new building. The one condition: to have groundbreaking in a year. At that point, hospital administrators did not even have an architect and all architects they approached said they needed at least 18 months. “Bob Van Diest grew up here. I think Bob saw the need for that facility,” said Palmer Schneider, hospital manager.
The vision came from the administration, who wanted the new facility to center around family care and a natural environment. The building was created with heavy staff input. “It’s beautiful. They got a lot of ownership of this,” said Schneider.
Still, challenges persist. They include the federal budget, the local economy and closing of several plants, and the fact that half of the local population is on Medicare. “The problem with rural healthcare is the economy,” Schneider said.
Another challenge is physician recruitment. Schneider says it is hard to attract physicians to Iowa because of low reimbursement, which means they get paid less. Physicians with families are even harder to get. “It’s really hard to recruit physicians in small communities,” Schneider said. “We have to recruit the spouse almost as hard as the physician … Once we get the physician and spouse here, they love it.”