DES?MOINES – Official site certification has been awarded to the ag/industrial park west of Fort Dodge, paving the way for potentially rapid economic development in Webster County.

The Iowa Crossroads of Global Innovation was one of four sites in the state to reach this status under the Iowa Economic Development Authority certified site program, Gov. Terry Branstad announced Monday.

“With the announcement that four Iowa sites have gone through a rigorous certification process to be considered ‘development-ready,’ we are moving Iowa to the top of the list for projects that are looking for a home,” Branstad said. “Those projects mean more Iowa jobs.”

The other sites are in Iowa Falls, Van Meter and Dexter.

The certification program began in May 2012, Branstad said. He praised local economic development groups, like the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, for their hard work.

First, local communities had to spend about two years completing studies and preparing infrastructure for certification.

A site must have land for sale with an established price. It must have both utility and transportation infrastructure, or a plan to put them in place. And it must be developable: Five core due diligence studies are required, said Kimberly Williams, senior consultant with McCallum Sweeney Consulting.

“They’re taking all the risk out of that site,” said IEDA Director Debi Durham. “They’re looking at the air permitting, they’re looking at the archaeological, they’re making sure there are no wetlands they have to mitigate.”

After that work is completed, the IEDA pays for McCallum Sweeney to certify the site. The firm is a nationally known site selection firm, said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds said certification will give these sites an edge over others in competition for new businesses.

“Companies today are conducting their site searches on an aggressive time line,” she said. “That’s why site certification is a growing national trend.”

In fact, moving too slowly has cost Iowa business in the past, Durham said.

“We have lost deals because we were unable to move at the speed of business,” she said.

The state allocated about $400,000 for the certified site program, said Durham. These funds were available through the High Quality Jobs project.

“About $244,000 to date has been spent on consulting with McCallum Sweeney. The rest of it is basically earmarked toward marketing,” she said.

Helping “sell” the sites to businesses is the next phase of the process.

“Today we’re giving notice to site selectors and corporate real estate executives that these Iowa sites can get their projects up and running very quickly,” said Dunham. “We will also call attention to these properties through a paid print and online campaign, and we will work with these four communities to conduct some joint, direct marketing to niche targets for each site.”

By this time next year, Durham said she expects 11 more sites to have achieved certification.

A local investment

Between county purchases, engineering costs, and investments by the city of Fort Dodge and MidAmerican Energy, roughly $350,000 has been spent locally on the Iowa Crossroads, said Webster County Supervisor Clark Fletcher.

“What’s really huge is we are now able to truly gain the benefit from value-added agriculture,” Fletcher said. “Our greatest resource in Webster County is agriculture. Someday the gypsum is going to disappear.

“When the farmer grows his corn and sells it to Cargill, and gets paid, the money, the profit made by the farmer stays in our community. You’re going to see more of that coming.”

“The Growth Alliance was up to the task,” said its chief executive officer, Dennis Plautz, “to take on the process of creating a certified site on behalf of the Webster County Supervisors. Without the collaboration between the city and the county, the certification of this site would have never happened.”

The Crossroads sits about 3 miles west of Fort Dodge. There are three landowners with property in the site, ready to sell quickly should the need arise, said Kelly Halsted, Growth Alliance economic development director.

“They have letters of agreement for a certain price, for a certain amount of time,” Halsted said. “The land is currently being farmed.”

The site has 447 acres ready for development. The city of Fort Dodge can supply 30 million gallons of fresh water a day, and process 22 million gallons of wastewater every day from the site.

The Growth Alliance will hold a stakeholders meeting on May 21 to explain the certification process and future plans for the site. For more information call 955-5500.