HJ - CEDC Progress Housing Project

Contractor James Fine describes the materials used in the house for sale by Clarinda Economic Development and others. The house in the 500 block of West Main was built last year. (Herald-Journal file photo)

Like the proverb goes, a fire starts with a spark.

Clarinda Economic Development is hoping an increase in the town’s housing inventory can begin with the sale of their house.

“We have plans for a second house when the first house sells,” said executive director Renee Riedel.

Housing is a big piece of the pie the development board is working on to strengthen the town’s economic engines and future of the town. In December 2016, a labor shed study showed how about 60 percent of employees of Clarinda businesses live at least 30 miles from town.

Another survey for the same reason is in the works.

“We are in the middle of a new labor shed study,” she said. “We’ll see how we made progress in the past few years.”

And more research is on the way. Riedel said IowaWORKS and Iowa Workforce Development will study the labor shed in the largest town in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Clarinda will be the town for Page County.

Knowing how many more people could live in Clarinda is important. Knowing what those people can afford for housing is more important.

Riedel said area salaries are equivalent to $15 to $17 an hour. But adequate housing is estimated at least $150,000.

“How do you do that,” Riedel rhetorically asked. “You can’t find a solution to build a house in that range.”

After meeting with multiple general contractors, Riedel said she was told by the group it was important to have viable housing choices in town.

“They gave us the lowest price they could give for their services. Our first home is at 522 W. Main St and it lists at $169,900,” she said. She said it appraised at $5,000 more.

“That’s not great for the rest of the neighborhood,” she said. “But we thought selling this house was important.”

The house was intentionally designed as a split-level as adding a basement would have increased the cost of the house more than desired. There is a storm shelter, but not a traditional basement. The house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms in a hair less than 1,400 square feet plus a two-car garage. Appliances and landscaping are included. Sheridan Decorating provided the look on the inside.

“There is some interest already,” Riedel said about the sale of the home.

The Walnut Hill subdivision has three homes and a fourth lot has been sold.

“It’s been a $1 million plus investment all in over a year. There was a need for that price range of home as well,” she said.

There are total of 14 lots in the first phase of development.

But for anyone who wants to live in Clarinda, they have to have reasons to want to live here.

“If people are happy where they are, I don’t want them to move,” Riedel said. “If they rent or are not in the home of their dreams, then they should consider Clarinda.”

Mike Anderson, who retired as store manager at Easter’s in 2018, was one of the initial members of Clarinda Economic Development. Former Clarinda Mayor Gordon Kokenge came up with the idea before it was established in 2001.

“He thought there was a need for economic development. At the time, I was one of two retailers on the board and I’ve been on ever since,” Anderson said. “Even after I retired, I wanted to stay on. I enjoy it and want the best for Clarinda.”

Anderson said the concept of economic development is critical to developing a town’s future.

“If you don’t have it, you will get left in the dust. You will deteriorate. You have to have someone in place for new opportunities, business and to retain what you have. That’s important; retain what you have. If you lose a NSK or H&H, you can’t recover from that.”

Anderson said the labor force around Clarinda is not capable of taking on another, multi-hundred employer, but that’s not a bad thing.

“Smaller ones are win-win,” he said as a smaller entity may be able to link with something already existing in town. “They can involve local people. We must have our eyes and ears open for people to come to us.

Labor studies show about 1,900 people drive to Clarinda each week for a job.

“For a town of about 5,000, that is tremendous for us. But because of that, we have a problem of finding more employees. Unemployment is low. But that is a good problem to have.”

It’s not just the job that is the attraction for Clarinda for Anderson serving on economic development.

Not only would living here severely cut back on the cost and time of the commute, Riedel said the people could take advantage of the amenities and operations in town.

“We have things for a town our size,” he said noting how the three museums have create tourism for Clarinda.

The Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum and Glenn Miller Birthplace museum do not have to be destinations for travelers, but are places people stop along the way to someplace else.

“There is an awful lot of passion and we have volunteers in Clarinda. That’s important and that’s what makes us strong,” he said.

Board members include. President Lisa Hull, Clarinda mayor and from CL Fabrication.

Vice President Chuck Nordyke, Clarinda Regional Health Center CEO.

Treasurer Jon Baier, PCSB.

Gilbert Thomas, Bank Iowa; Randy Pullen, Cornerstone Bank; Chris Bergman, superintendent Clarinda Community School District; Jenn Baumgart, Manuel Realty; John Lisle, Eddie Lisle, Lisle Corp.; Shayne Rollins, NSK: Steve Weis, Clarinda Correctional Facility; Troy Hanni, H&H Trailers; Jason Van Vactor, Clarinda Hy-Vee store manager.

Riedel agrees with Anderson.

“That’s where the chamber comes in,” she said about the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s strong. Some say there is nothing to do in Clarinda. I’ll argue that. There are things to do. The events are fantastic. It’s a well-oiled machine with the community camaradre and pride. That’s how you get people here.”

Riedel said the Clarinda school district is another part of town that can help attract some of those employees to town.

“Clarinda schools have some momentum and are doing some great things. We are strengthening the relationship between students and employers. We are going to promote school activities and the Future Ready Iowa program. We should want our students to have experiences in the academics or career they are preparing themselves.”

No matter what, Clarinda schools have their place in economic development.

According to Iowa Workforce 68 percent of Iowa jobs in 2025 will need medium skills, ones where some college education is required. Training the workforce to fill that need, and others, is vital. As of today, there are not enough people in the workforce to meet that need five years from now.

When not recruiting more people to move to Clarinda, Riedel said she and her board are working with Clarinda’s established factories for their needs. That will include this year a promotional video about the town for employers. Clarinda Economic Development will work with Iowa Economic Development to produce the video.

“What I’m hearing is they have people interested,” she said about employers and new staff members. “Either they don’t see what they need or the spouse or children don’t see what they need. If you just drive into town you don’t know those things. We have to recruit the employee, spouse and the family.”

Clarinda will be one of 11 communities across the state with assistance from Iowa Economic Development with a recruitment video.

“Clarinda may be one of the samller towns in the video,” Riedel said. “We will help with the video and storyteller. The filming and editing will be professional. But we will tell the story.”

Plans are to begin filming in May and early June.

Riedel said the success of Clarinda is just one piece of the overall success of Southwest Iowa. Both Red Oak and Shenandoah each had recent news that changed their labor pool, and not for the good.

“We have to think regional. We are close to one another,” she said about the area’s larger towns with larger employers. “We don’t want to lose people. We need to keep people near us.”

Riedel assisted with a recent job fair in Montgomery County to at least inform people Clarinda is an option.

“When you travel to conventions and conferences, you know there are people who understand your situation,” she said.

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