Pottawattamie County Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to allocate $60,000 to help fund the operation of the Western Iowa Development Association — a group that considers itself a rural chamber of commerce representing the county’s cities outside Council Bluffs.
WIDA Executive Director Erica Carley of Oakland had initially approached the board in January requesting the $60,000 contribution for rural economic development — a figure she said then was half of WIDA’s 2018 funding request.
Supervisors delayed acting on the funding request in January, with Supervisor Justin Schultz noting that the county had decided to fund a rural economic development position with Advance Southwest Iowa.
At Monday’s meeting, Carley and her board members explained that while WIDA’s emphasis had been economic development for many years — and had scored some successes — that goal has now been shifted to Advance Southwest Iowa.
“My focus is now more on quality of life,” Carley said. “The goal of Advance Southwest Iowa is economic development. Our’s is making the county’s smaller cities an inviting place for new businesses to locate and an inviting place for existing businesses to stay.”
Carley said the $60,000 funding request represents an investment of $2 per person for those who live outside Council Bluffs, with rural Pottawattamie County being an area she termed “underrepresented.”
Carley said the county’s rural cities have allocated $22,000 to WIDA, an amount she said equated to $2.50 per person.
Schultz initially suggested he would recommend that the board match the $22,000.
“At $120,000 we were not seeing the results we wanted,” Schultz said of previous county allocations. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve given WIDA over $1 million,” but we’ve not seen a like figure in new taxes.
“Traditionally, chambers are supported by members, not government,” Chairman Tim Wichman said.
Supervisor Scott Belt reminded fellow board members that supervisors last week allocated $3,000 for Avoca Main Street, an organization with goals for Avoca similar to those of WIDA.
“I don’t see why we can’t step up and do $2 per person for WIDA,” Belt said.
After further discussion of WIDA’s accomplishments, Schultz moved that the board allocate $60,000 for WIDA, asking that the allocation stipulate that WIDA officials should submit an accounting of its operating costs per capita and determine the costs of the projects that organization is working to complete. Supervisor Marilyn Jo Drake seconded Schultz’s motion.