Learning about new housing opportunities, new business coming to town, meeting new community leaders and more, West Liberty businesses invited to a quarterly meeting put together by the WeLead Economic Development organization and West Liberty Foods were enlightened Friday noon at the special luncheon held at the West Liberty Community Center.
With about 50 in attendance, the group heard about the work and success of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, were informed about a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business course and met new school district and city leaders while learning about a number of progressive plans for housing and business in the community.
Julie Forsythe, senior vice president of business and economic growth for the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, talked about landing Amazon to build a $250 million, 1,000 job fulfillment facility on the north side of Davenport and how that new plant could affect all of Eastern Iowa.
She said the plant in hoped to be open before the holiday season of 2022 and said the decision by Amazon “came very quickly.” Forsythe said West Liberty is “definitely part of what we’re doing” and said when companies are ready to make a move, the Quad-Cities Chamber is “their first contact.” She said there would be many other jobs created because of the Amazon plant, fulfilling needs of the company and said West Liberty could play a role.
Joe Taylor, the director of WeLead, said although West Liberty may play a small role in Eastern Iowa, piggybacking on the strength of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce is key to attracting business, industry and development to West Liberty. He agreed the community would benefit from the new Amazon plant.
Adding to the economic development news, Darren Brooke of Brooke Ventures and D & L Properties in West Liberty, announced the firm has purchased the present main JJ Nichling Case implement building on Columbus Street and has plans to turn it into a Car Quest Auto Supply store, operated by the family and managed by Sam Morrel. It is hoped the new store will be open by the end of the year. He said two of his sons, Charles and Dillon, plan to build homes in the area, working with a Wisconsin company and marketing through Ruhl and Ruhl of Muscatine.
It was also pointed out the city, with the help of WeLead, has found at least a half-dozen grants to help local businesses, especially in the downtown area, to update their buildings including two major projects at 103 E. Third Street and 115 East Third Street. Taylor also said there is interest in West Liberty’s Liberty Park industrial development, but could not make any official announcement.
There was a lot of talk about housing development (one of the biggest needs for the city), noting one new development, owned by Buysse Enterprises LLC, located north of the city will bring 43 rooftops and will break ground next spring and there is talk about expanding the Wild Prairie subdivision owned by Dave Devorak, which could add another 60 homes.
There are also apartment complexes in the works on the southwest side of town, being put together by DeePak Giri.
The housing is needed not only for families moving into the area, but Tom Alberti, manager of West Liberty Foods, said he is working with a firm from the Los Angeles area to bring 150-200 Asian workers to the community next year. He said the turkey processing plant he operates is about 150 employees short at the present time.
Taylor pointed out things have been slow in developing housing, but a lot will happen in the next few years in West Liberty, noting the community has a lot to offer including excellent schools. “Schools build homes and homes build schools,” he said
Those attending also got a chance to meet two new city officials – city manager David Haugland and new chief of police, Eric Werling. The chief said he is waiting for new uniforms, so he will be working in street clothes. “I want to get to know as many people as possible,” he said, noting that his office door will always be welcoming.
Haugland echoed the chief’s statements, saying “my door is always open,” noting he plans to meet as many people and will be working long hours to make the city manager position work for the city, noting he is catching up on reading city policies and learning as quickly as possible about his role. “This is not an eight to five job,” he said.
West Liberty Public Library Director Allie Paarsmith said there are also changes taking place at the library, noting hours have changed to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 1-6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
The new superintendent of the West Liberty School District, Shaun Kruger, was also introduced, pointing out he is glad to be part of the community and is quickly getting acquainted. He complimented the partnership the district has with many businesses and praised businesses for their support of students and the schools in “working together.”
Jerry Melick, president of Liberty Communications in West Liberty, said he is planning to retire and his company is now in a nationwide search to find a replacement for the more than a century old broadband and cable television company.
City clerk and former interim city manager Lee Geertz talked that her city staff is busy updating sidewalk corners to be ADA compliant and said the city is looking forward to getting back into their former building on the corner of Calhoun and Fourth Streets following a complete remodeling project that includes the police department, hoping to be moved in by the end of September.
Taylor complimented all the announcements at the meeting, noting the community is on the up and up. “We’re in this together,” he said.
Look for more on this meeting in next week’s Index.