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Political Mercury

Rural Iowa’s most vital location

2/18/2015

There’s a saying in Texas: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.

It seems the Texas-ism packed its bags, headed north and found a comfortable home in Greene County, Iowa.

So here it is, backed up, with engine gunning: Greene County is the most vital rural county in Iowa right now.

In fact, Greene County is enjoying a growth spurt, a boom of optimism, that remarkably, is so spectacular, that if a politician would have promised today’s reality in Jefferson only five years ago, most people would have tagged the man a daydreamer, or a kook.

Attending a Greene County Development Corporation (GCDC) meeting in early 2015 is almost a dizzying appointment. There’s so much news, so much happening.

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In a span of just 26 hours this week, both U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Gov. Terry Branstad will visit Jefferson. Ernst will talk with community leaders and Vietnam veteran James O. Andrew and others about a federal role in what is already a successful local-state venture in Home Base Iowa. Andrew played a crucial part in convincing his old college pal, Branstad, to name Greene County the lead city for the initiative aimed at recruiting returning military men and women to Iowa for careers.

GCDC Executive Director Ken Paxton is getting national profile with his promotion of Home Base Iowa. Paxton even introduced the governor at an inauguration event last month.

For his part, Branstad will tour Power Lift, an innovative business with an international reach. It’s a great tour. I’ve been on it.

In the next weeks, a housing developer will announce plans for a major town-house development, possibly 44 units, in Jefferson. Some apartment complexes are expected to follow in Jefferson, including the potential for a Kansas City-area developer’s plans for an affordable-housing complex.

More big ag-business news is on the horizon with a major announcement outside of Jefferson that could bring 30 to 40 quality jobs to the region.

We’ve reported extensively on Wild Rose Jefferson (expected to open in August), Hy-Vee in Jefferson (expected to open in weeks) as well as the multi-million-dollar boost to medical services through projects at Greene County Medical Center and with the McFarland Clinic.

Manufacturing is big news in the county, too, as the governor will see at Power Lift. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds toured Scranton Manufacturing in 2014, and U.S. Rep. Steve King and Branstad both had recent events at AAI. Greene County is, as they say in political and development circles, on the map.

So now is the time to go after even bigger game: the full four-laning of U.S. 30 across Iowa.

Largely (to this point) the vision of eastern Iowa advocates, the U.S. Highway 30 Coalition of Iowa is prioritizing some central and western Iowa projects. At a recent meeting in Tama, the presence of Wild Rose and expansion of Scranton Manufacturing were both cited as reasons for four-laning 30 in Greene County.

The coalition is in a long slog fighting for four laning. Members meet regularly with state and federal legislators, as well as with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The full four-laning of U.S. 30 across Iowa would be an enormous development for Jefferson and Greene County, and it would boost Iowa’s second-largest city, Cedar Rapids, and one of the world’s top agricultural research centers, Iowa State University.

Back to Greene County: Jefferson doesn’t think like a two-lane town.

And it shouldn’t have to exist as one. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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