Carroll is bucking the trend

The Iowa Journal spent last Wednesday on a road trip. We are getting ready for another economic roundtable and needed a feature before the discussion. Last year, we went to Forest City and looked at one of county’s with the highest unemployment rate. Winnebago Industries drives that region and they were in a downturn last year at this time.

This year we decided to go in a county or region that seems to be doing well. The discussion will air Thursday at 8p on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Journal program. The background to the show is here.

Carroll County has the second lowest unemployment rate in the state right now at 5.1%. Lyon County, in far northwest Iowa, has the lowest rate for those of you keeping score at home. This statement uses March 2010 numbers from the Iowa Workforce Development website.

City and county leaders tell me this low unemployment is nothing new for the region. They’ve built a balanced economy since coming out of the farm crisis in 1985. City fathers vowed to not have a downturn like that happen again to them. So, the city went looking to balance their economy. Pella Corporation had already helped start that in 1982, with the company’s first expansion outside of Pella.

It appears Carroll has succeeded in setting up a balanced economy. Certain industries drive it, food manufacturers and distributors for one, but one of the big 3 employers is Pella Corporation, makers of home windows, and American Home Shield and in-bound call center for home warranties, and Farner-Bocken, a local company that has grown to be a major distributor of candy, food and other items on your store shelves.

Downtown Carroll, Iowa

20 companies in the county employ more than 50 workers. Jim Gossett with the Carroll Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Area Development Corporation said those 20 companies employ 4,069 people which is 36% of the total jobs in the county. The big 4, when you include St. Anthony’s Regional Hospital, employs only 17% of the workforce. At last count, there were 11,390 jobs in Carroll County.

Gossett adds Carroll County has been in the bottom 10% of unemployment for most of the last decade and a half. They pride themselves on the consistency.

And some companies are actually hiring. Pella has called back workers. One business that moved to Carroll in the last year was MarketLink, out-bound/in-bound call center based in Des Moines.

So what is the secret to their success in Carroll? City fathers say it is two simple things, leadership and communication.

Here’s who we talked to help get our story:
Shirley Phillips, is the Western Iowa Advantage Chair for this year. She’s also with the Sac County Economic and Tourism Development office.

Gary Riedmann is President and CEO of St. Anthony’s Regional Hospital and nursing home. This year he’s serving as the President of Carroll Area Development Corporation.

Arthur Neu says he’s just a resident of Carroll. But he’s known across the state a former Lieutenant Governor under Governor Bob Ray’s first tem. Art is well-known in the state and knows how to get things done.

Robert Beaman is the Senior Vice President of Operations for MarketLink. He told us about the 46 jobs they’ve already added in Carroll with the plan for 17 more part-time jobs.

Also thanks to Richard Hunsaker and Joe Behrens of the Region 12 Council of Governments.

By the way, the day we were in Carroll, a wind advisory was in place. It was so windy…. my hair actually moved. Enjoy the video tease.

See the story on Carroll Thursday night at 8p on Iowa Public Television. The story will also live on the Iowa Journal website as well.

You can watch last week’s discussion on music education or the beer show. We haven’t decided if we’ll do much with the Sioux City internet video viral sensation called “We built Sioux City.” I’ll leave that up to you to watch.

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