Private-public partnerships making a difference in Iowa

October 9, 2023 | Private-public partnerships making a difference in Iowa Emery Styron, Corridor Media Group,

From supplying paint to volunteers, sprucing up their hometowns, to building affordable homes in rural communities and filling employer and worker needs for child care, Iowa’s private enterprises are joining hands with government agencies, nonprofits and volunteers to make a difference.

ABI members are at the forefront of private-public partnerships that improve Iowa’s quality of life. Here are three examples. 

Origin Homes: Affordable housing for rural Iowa

A division of West Des Moines-based Hubbell Realty, Origin Homes “is focused on bringing single family homes around the state of Iowa to homeowners and clients that maybe don’t have the opportunity,” said Director of Operations Matt Daniels. Launched in 2021, Origin cultivates relationships with community leaders and a “build-on-your-lot” approach to bring affordable homeownership to rural areas.

“The reality is that, around our state, there is no inventory for new houses in rural Iowa. Everybody comes to us with the same issues.” said Mr. Daniels, a 20-year residential construction veteran with housing projects either done, in the works or coming up in Carroll, Dallas, Lucas, Webster and Marion counties. 

“People are living outside where they are working,” Mr. Daniels said. Besides providing new, affordable comfortable housing for rural residents, Origin’s houses help towns grow their populations.

Many would-be Iowa rural homeowners “are not looking for fixer uppers” and would like to build, but available contractors can be as hard to find as new houses, Mr. Daniels said. “The local trade-base may be overwhelmed with the projects they have. A lot of clients have land or have purchased lots in their communities and come to us.”

Building relationships with community leaders is key to Origin’s approach. Daniels and his colleagues look at housing needs assessments and readiness plans compiled by local governments. They ask for letters of support at meetings with schools, hospitals, manufacturers and other large employers.

Those support letters and one-on-one conversations help Origin help rural Iowa towns, said Claire Brehmer, senior communications specialist at Hubbell Realty. Origin’s projects are aimed at attracting both a “younger, energetic workforce” and providing for older residents, she said.

Origin typically offers semi-custom two- or three-bedroom homes in the low $200,000 to mid-$300,000 range, built on the owner’s lot. Clients carry their own construction loans, which include VA, FHA and conventional mortgages.

Mr. Daniels is a big proponent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s R502 Direct Home Loan Program, which offers no-down payment, 33- or 38-year loans of up to $377,500 at 4.125% interest. “It’s an opportunity I don’t think people know they can take advantage of. As we move through the state building houses, we work hand in hand with the USDA team to provide that,” Mr. Daniels said. 

The USDA program also refers prospects to Origin. “Since we started on outreach, we’ve had 300 USDA leads to date,” Ms. Brehmer said. “That’s a credit to the USDA team. It’s really encouraging to hear that they thought our work was making a difference.”

A current Origin project is construction of five speculative homes each in Knoxville, Gowrie and Manning, utilizing previous relationships with the communities and workforce housing tax credits. In the Knoxville Veterans District the homes will be 1,200-1,500 square feet, alley-loading, with and without basements. Similar-sized houses are going up in Gowrie’s Wiley Addition, with two-car garages and unfinished basements. Manning’s homes will be in the Stadium View Pocket Neighborhood, with smaller lots and a homeowners association that covers maintenance.

Public input in Manning showed a desire for both traditional lots and a “pocket neighborhood” with a large shared green space, said City Manager Dawn Meyer. People are “very intrigued” by the concept, which is popular in other states and attracts a mix of older residents looking to downsize and younger families getting started, both wanting “smaller homes and not a lot of maintenance worries,” she said. “Built-in grandmas” and “really strong relationships” among residents are another plus, she added. 

Diamond Vogel: Painting Iowa beautiful

What do covered bridges in Madison County, an Old Milwaukee train caboose in Sabula and a country school in Rolfe have in common? They’re all three looking brighter thanks to products donated by Orange City’s fourth-generation paint manufacturer Diamond Vogel. The company maintains a longstanding partnership with Keep Iowa Beautiful, a statewide nonprofit committed to “enhancing the image and appearance of the countryside and Iowa communities thereby improving their economic health and cultural vitality,” according to its website.

Over the past 20 years, Diamond Vogel’s Paint Iowa Beautiful partnership with KIB has awarded more than 12,000 gallons of paint to nearly 1,300 community projects in Iowa. “It’s been a great partnership,” said company chair Drew Vogel, who served as CEO for 35 years before handing the reins to other family members. “It’s fun to see our product be used right alongside all the volunteer hours coming out of the community.”

Diamond Vogel signed on not long after former Gov. Robert D. Ray and Casey’s General Store co-founder Donald F. Lamberti founded Keep Iowa Beautiful in 1999 as an affiliate of the national Keep America Beautiful program. The two men shared “a passion to assist and encourage smaller communities in Iowa to look for opportunities to beautify and preserve,” Mr. Vogel said. 

Founding KIB Director Gerry Schnef, “a pretty creative and passionate guy about small-town Iowa,” asked him to take a look at the projects the organization was encountering, Mr. Vogel said. He was impressed with KIB’s approach — “they qualify the project. They make sure it’s being done in a sound way” — and his company has been a partner ever since.

Andy Frantz took over as executive director after Mr. Schnef’s retirement in 2019. “It’s rolled along nicely. They do a good job of coordinating community projects,” said Mr. Vogel. 

Diamond Vogel’s paint awards this year covered a wide swath of Iowa, from the floor of the Monroe County Historical Museum Alumni Room in Albia to the Holiwell, Hogback and Roseman Covered Bridges at Winterset. Any project Keep Iowa Beautiful deems qualified will get some free paint, Mr. Vogel said.

Prior to its partnership with KIB, Diamond Vogel supported paint-a-thons in communities around Iowa. Most of those annual spruce-ups have died out, but not the Burlington Paint-A-Thon. The company partnered with Community Action of Southeast Iowa, Two Rivers Bank and other organizations to support the event, which targeted a dozen houses over Labor Day weekend.

The company has donated more than 8,000 gallons of paint over the Paint-A-thon’s 30-year history and supports Habitat for Humanity projects from time to time.

“Our philosophy has always been to give back in a variety of ways,” said Mr. Vogel. “It’s been good to see our product used. Keep Iowa Beautiful been very gracious in giving us recognition. That’s not why we do it, but it is nice to be associated with these projects.”

Cambridge Little Achievers Center: ‘All hands on deck’ in Jefferson County

The newly-opened, 14,000-square-foot Cambridge Little Achievers Center, providing space for 185 infant-to-12-year-olds, represents the solution to “an incredible puzzle where every piece mattered in solving the crisis of child care,” said Grow Fairfield Executive Director Joshua Laraby. 

Seeds for the public-private partnership that culminated with the construction of the $4.8 million facility were planted in 2017. Mr. Laraby’s organization, also known as the Fairfield Economic Development Association, along with Iowa Jefferson Keokuk Early Childhood Iowa, the Fairfield Community School District and Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development convened 50 business and community leaders representing 30 organizations to discuss whether access to childcare was an issue for employers.

“The group’s resounding consensus was ‘yes.’ We had a lot of great ideas and realized we needed all hands on deck,” said Mr. Laraby. A 22-member ad hoc steering committee was formed with representatives from business, economic development, child care agencies, education and local government.

The committee commissioned a survey of 438 employees/parents and 10 businesses. The data quantified the earlier consensus: Jefferson County was short 539 child care spaces; 70% of employers identified issues with productivity or absenteeism related to child care. More than 60% of parents surveyed reported trouble finding childcare or missing work due to child-care related issues. 

The data helped the committee set three goals: 1.Help existing center-based child care providers expand; 2. Aid new and existing home-based providers with startup and expansion; 3. Add a childcare center in Fairfield.

Early Childhood Iowa, which funded the study, also provided grant funding to help center-based and home-based providers. An independent nonprofit corporation, Jefferson County Kids, led by the FEDA, ECI and business executives, was created to pursue a new childcare center.

“Then Covid happened,” said Tammy Wetjen-Kesterson, Iowa Jefferson Keokuk Early Childhood Director, who worked closely with Mr. Laraby on the project. “Doctors, nurses, frontline workers didn’t have child care. At one point every child care center in my three counties was closed. It became a crisis. Federal money started to flow.”

“We were ready,” said Ms. Wetjen-Kesterson. “ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) hit us in many, many wonderful ways. Iowa was getting ready with state funding for child care centers. The state’s program became an ample opportunity.”

On top of $600,000 in public money already received, the project pulled in two rounds of Investing in Iowa’s Childhood funds and Child Care Challenge funds for construction, all underwritten by ARPA money flowing into the state.

Individuals and businesses generously anted up for the $4.8 million child care center capital campaign. We had an “Incredible diversity of partnerships, with donations ranging from $300 to $1.25 million,” said Mr. Laraby. The larger figure came from Cambridge Investment Research, with other companies making major gifts as well. 

These included $500,000 from Traffix Devices, $250,000 from the Greater Jefferson County Foundation, and $125,000 each from Agri-Industrial Plastics and Dexter Laundry. Jefferson County Health Center donated 3.5 acres for the facility. Other organizations and individuals donated money or in-kind services.

The steering committee’s vision was realized, said Mr. Laraby. In addition to the new facility, three existing childcare centers expanded, impacting 50 spaces. Incentive programs helped retain existing home providers and establish five new home providers with 56 new spaces. 

Ms. Wetjen-Kesterson said another benefit was using the knowledge she gained on a child care center at the Williamsburg Outlet Mall. “I was able to use that infrastructure work to be the foundation for the Iowa County project.”

“Our community is incredibly grateful. Because of how it was orchestrated through public-private partnerships and dedicated leaders, we’ve received national attention. It’s an example of how a community can come together to solve child care challenges,” said Mr. Laraby. “It’s bolstered lots of support for public private partnerships going forward.”