City awards first economic development grant


Economic Development took a big step forward with the first meeting of 2021 for the West Liberty City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 8, awarding the first grant to aid a business expansion/remodeling.

Big Imprint, a business owned by Ethan Anderson and located at 111 West Third Street was awarded the first $25,000 grant toward work on the building owned by Anderson since 2014.

In his proposal to the council, Anderson said he has made several upgrades to the building over the years and decided this year he would make a major upgrade to the rear portion of the building he described as looking “terrible and badly deteriorated.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anderson said.

He said “one thing leads to another when renovating old buildings,” and the project, although it seemed “simple,” turned out to be “quite extensive” due to the age of the building.

The new program, which was adopted by the city in November, will cover nearly half the expenses Anderson expects to put into the remodeling project, including making a rear access safer for second floor renters to include rebuilding a porch area, expanding inside space that is presently used for storage and improve aesthetics to the rear of the building.

Anderson said the grant helped put the project “over the top,” noting he wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to accomplish everything he wanted without the additional funding. “I’m very grateful,” he said. “It came at a perfect time for us.”

He says other businesses need to take advantage of the program, complimenting the face the city and WeLead made the process easy, noting there are many times grant programs for businesses are a lot more work, restrictive and “requiring you to jump through a lot of hoops.”

He said the construction process would begin this Spring because the exterior work needs to be completed first, noting he is “finalizing things with contractors.”

Big Imprint provides web site development and design services, utilizing their three employees. Anderson said the rear of the building is a deteriorated unfinished, unheated shell he’d like to renovate into usable space, redoing a roof to include gutters and downspouts while the exterior of the building will get new insulation and siding. The business was established in 2009

The council unanimously approved awarding the grant, Robert Rock the only member absent, following a recommendation by interim city manager Elizabeth Hansen to approve the grant. Anderson provided pictures of the area of the building he planned to remodel as well as showing bids from contractors.

The city has set aside $100,000 this year for Economic Development business grants and businesses can apply for up to $25,000 in funding for remodeling projects and upgrades to their buildings. Full details are available through WeLead Director Joe Taylor.

Taylor said he was pleased to see the first project get the grant, noting the remodeling will make an impact on the downtown area and provide value. The director says there are three to four other businesses also interested in applying for the grant and said he is helping those businesses work through the details of filing for the money, which can be up to $25,000.

Anderson said he hopes other businesses take advantage of the program. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t,” he said. “I kinda wish I owned another building downtown.”