In 1994, Rep. Tom Latham won a seat in the U.S. Congress and decided to continue a tradition of holding a ''Community Conference'' for all of the communities in his district that had been started by his predecessor - U.S. Rep. Fred Grandy. This conference rotates its location from a community in his district in the first year of his two-year term and then in the second year, to Washington, D.C. The Community Conference intent is to bring the federal government to the local level and allow better access for taxpayers and organizations to understand what is available with regard to federal resources and programs. Without this support, most of the projects that have been completed would not have happened without the availability of funds. These are funds provided by all taxpayers and gives us the opportunity to direct some of what we send to Washington back into our community.
Not until the summer of 1999 did Fort Dodge begin to engage in what has now become a very successful local, state and federal partnership. In 1999, Jim Kersten invited seven other community leaders to play golf with Latham, and at the end of the day, the congressman asked Bennett O'Connor, ''Why is it Fort Dodge, one of the largest cities in this district, is not participating in the Community Conference meetings?" He stressed that communities that work and unite together have been very successful in gaining federal support for community-based programs and projects, and also leverage those funds to help revitalize their local community investments. Bennett did not have an answer but told the congressman that he and Jim would look into it and get back to him. The rest as you say ''is history."
In February 2000, community leaders from Fort Dodge traveled to Washington, D.C., to explore procuring funding for the beginning stages of the Riverfront Re-Development and getting engaged in the Des Moines River Greenbelt project that had been started by U.S. Rep. Neal Smith.
In May 2000, former City Councilman John Hale asked the Fort Dodge Chamber to help coordinate a delegation visit to Washington, D.C., which would include members of the city government, county supervisors, Iowa Central, Fort Dodge Chamber and Webster County Development. Through the early planning stages, Mike McCarville and Bennett O'Connor learned that Fort Dodge native Tom Dawson was available to help the Chamber professionally organize and deliver its projects to our congressional delegation. Dawson was the former chief of staff of Rep. Smith, who chaired the U.S. House or Representatives Appropriations Committee for many years.
With the collective efforts of everyone involved, the first formal trip was made in April 2001. In the first year, the community received $420,000 for river-front improvements; $200,000 for improvements in the sewage system in the Coats addition - a pretty good start.
Since then Iowa Central and its partners have increased the federal government affairs focus and related efforts to work aggressively side by side our Iowa congressional delegation, with Latham and his staff, along with Sens. Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin and their staffs. All have really helped us move our projects to the forefront of the appropriations process. Because of the strong leadership of our delegation, we have been able to be successful in getting our projects funded. Without this Congressional support, our community, college and region of the state would not be in the position we are today. We plan on building upon our past successes as we move forward over the next several years.
- Since Fiscal Year 2002, Iowa Central has received more than $500,000 for distance learning related programs, and the online courses the college is now providing nationwide is just exploding.
- Since Fiscal Year 2003, Iowa Central Law Enforcement Training Center has received approximately $2.5 million dollars and has trained over 30,000 first responders in a variety of training. In addition, due to the work done by our training center, Mike Burke and the college were asked to join the National Rural Domestic Preparedness program, based at Eastern Kentucky University. From that partnership, the college has worked to develop and deliver timely first responder training curriculum, and has received over $575,000 to deliver those services.
- Since Fiscal Year 2004, Iowa Central Advanced Manufacturing Training has received more than $580,000 to help the college staff and equip training for workers who have been laid off at Electrolux and other businesses in the area. We will be expanding this training as Electrolux closes its door later in 2010.
- Since Fiscal Year 2005, the Iowa Central Dental Hygiene Program has received more than $750,000 to help equip the very successful Dental Hygiene laboratory and teacher facility. This lab is helping assure we have qualified hygienists throughout rural Iowa.
- Since Fiscal Year 2007, the Iowa Central Quality Fuel Testing Laboratory has received more than $2 million to equip and staff the laboratory which will do a variety of testing for public and private sector entities. Vital to the future growth of the biofuels sector.
- Received a $94,530 Cops Meth Initiative Grant.
City of Fort Dodge
- $3.3 million for water-line and water-main improvements for the Ag Industrial Park where Valero Energy and Tate and Lyle are located.
- $500,000 for the revitalization Park View neighborhood.
- $402,368 for the Fort Dodge Seniors Campus in downtown Fort Dodge.
- $1,028,400 for the revitalization of the Lincoln neighborhood.
- $1.8 million from the Federal Transit Authority, of which $600,000 was invested in downtown Fort Dodge parking and $1.2 million for the parking ramp on the Iowa Central campus.
- $98,000 for the demolition of the old IBP plant, which will leverage $150,000 in state Brownfield cleanup funds.
- $200,000 for additional Brownfield environmental audits.
- $249,800 for Oleson Park Bandshell improvements which leveraged an additional $135,000 in state funding.
- $636,511 from the Army Corp of Engineers for Riverfront improvements.
Overall, the region has been very lucky to have had such strong support of our federal delegation and we appreciate their willingness to direct some of our tax dollars back into Iowa where we hope it will help provide cost-effective infrastructure improvements, and important education, laboratory and training purposes.
Without the federal funds listed above, the projects either would either have had to use local tax dollars, or not have been done at all. The cost of the trip to D.C. for our local city, county, chamber and college representatives has been returned to us manyfold.
Amy Bruno, is director of the Fort Dodge Area Chamber of Commerce. Jim Kersten is a vice president at Iowa Central Community College. Bennett O'Connor is past chair of the Chamber's Legislative Committee.