Wever fertilizer plant expected to boost Henry County’s economy
WEVER — Editor’s note: Included with Friday's Mt. Pleasant News is The News’ annual Progress section. The following story serves as a lead-in to the section.
Henry County’s next economic boost could come from outside of the county.
With construction in full swing at the Iowa Fertilizer plant near Wever, local economic development officials say that the impact will be felt here.
“I see three potential benefits,” began Kiley Miller, executive vice president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance. “First there is the economic benefit of the product. It will be a benefit to the local agriculture community and should lessen the cost of fertilizer which is a high overhead cost (for farmers).
“Secondly, there is a spin-off and support for local businesses,” Miller continued. “There will be aggregate job growth because of a business that is coming to southeast Iowa. There are going to be (other) businesses that will want to be close to the plant.”
Some existing businesses in Mt. Pleasant and Henry County may see a benefit through hauling material from the plant, handling maintenance projects or providing construction materials. “That would be a real plus for us,” Miller said. “The project provides an opportunity for local businesses to tap into. If (some local businesses) would get a construction subcontract, it would make their year.”
Finally, the 135-165 full-time employees at the plant will have to live somewhere, and Mt. Pleasant, located 37 miles from the plant, undoubtedly will be home to some of the workers.
Construction on the $1.8-billion facility, which will be owned by the Egyptian company Orascom, began last winter and it is expected that it will take three years before construction is completed. However, the plant will begin producing fertilizer before it is fully constructed.
Miller said due to the fact that most plant workers will be commuting, there have been discussions on a regional basis regarding their needs.
“This is the time to act upon this — how do we support people here and working elsewhere?” Miller asked. “We have a good school system and great health-care facilities.”
One of the primary needs for not only plant employees but construction workers is housing. Houses are not in great supply in Mt. Pleasant. The chamber official said there is a need for people in the county to step forward and encourage housing growth.
New London is looking at a new housing subdivision. The city owns 34 acres of city-owned property near U.S. Highway 34. During a recent New London City Council meeting, Miller presented case studies similar projects in Rock Valley, Ft. Dodge and Cherokee.
He made six recommendations to the city:
• Contract for a professional market analysis (regional analysis may be more appropriate) before investing in infrastructure for a new subdivision.
• Identify source of funds for infrastructure development and housing assistance and make preparations for securing those funds (such as establishing a tax increment financing, or TIF zone).
• Review developmental code.
• Identify financial partner(s) to provide loans for speculative home construction.
• Strengthen relationships with developers and builders.
• Specify incentives for home builders and buyers (i.e. tax abatement, down payment assistance, waiver of water and sewer hook-up fees, etc.).
The Iowa Fertilizer plant has been somewhat of a politically polarizing item as Gov. Terry Branstad and the state has been criticized for awarding $250 million in state and local incentives, in addition to a $300 million benefit from several Midwest Disaster Area Bonds, to construct the plant in Iowa. Orascom would not have been eligible for the bonds had they build on any proposed sites outside of Iowa.
Miller, however, praises state economic officials for enticing the plant to Iowa. “The state looked more broadly than jobs created,” Miller commented. “They looked at the economic value to the area, the benefit to farmers and the taxable valuation the plant will provide.”
Currently, Miller maintains a regional housing site (southeastiowahousing.com) that contains listings of potential housing for not only construction employees but plant workers as well. He said all regional rentable non-owner-occupied housing is on the site. “We have a lot of house3s, apartments, trailers, campsites, hotels and motels on there,” he said. “There is no question hotels, motels and RV parks will benefit. So, construction will drive up the motel and hotel tax receipts (for government entities which have the motel and hotel tax which the City of Mt. Pleasant does levy).”
There is no doubt the plant, Miller noted, will have a long-term positive impact on the area.
“The intangible benefits will have a long-term impact. It will strengthen regional economic-development benefits. Henry County can compete in the region (in terms of economic development), but not on a national or international scale. This will lead to greater investment and development in that area which will be a benefit.
“From Henry County’s standpoint, this is a godsend,” he emphasized. “It is difficult to spend $1.8 billion and not push money out into the surrounding communities.”