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Editorial: Is there any accountability at the North Iowa Corridor / EDC?

This news story was published on March 20, 2013.
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North Iowa Commerce Center.  $1.5 million in state taxpayers funds helped remodel this building, home to two exclusive clubs: The Chamber of Commerce and the North Iowa Corridor.

North Iowa Commerce Center. $1.5 million in state taxpayers funds helped remodel this building, home to two exclusive clubs: The Chamber of Commerce and the North Iowa Corridor.

by Matt Marquardt –

Even as our not-so-illustrious elected City Hallers finished focusing their laser-like perception on our city budget while flagrantly throwing our tax dollars at their own pet projects, they ignore the high-and-mighty playground for the rich and elite at the North Iowa Commerce Center.

Police officers, fire fighters, sanitation workers, Human Rights, our swimming pool and library – the list is a long one – have all faced the axe from Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and his City Council.  Some narrowly survived, others did not.

Yet Mason City continues to pour tens of thousands of dollars every year into the North Iowa Corridor / EDC, an outfit that takes credit for everything but can prove it has done nothing for the people of Mason City.

The EDC, run by Brent Willett, claims as its mission to bring jobs and growth to North Iowa.  Yet Mason City pays the lion’s share of the dues.  Why?  I believe one of the arguments against funding the Mason City Human Rights Agency was that Mason City taxpayers were flipping the bill to help other North Iowans.  This was one of council member Scott Tornquist‘s favorite go-to arguments for shutting down Human Rights.  Well, Scott, the same thing is happening at the EDC, but you kept your mouth shut about that.  Why?

Just exactly what Mr. Willett does at his job all day at the EDC is anyone’s guess.  He claims he is traveling around, going to trade shows, working the phones, whatever.  WHERE ARE THE JOBS, WHERE IS THE GROWTH, MR. WILLETT?

Furthermore, the more I look at the EDC, the more I think something smells over there.  Forget the fact that other area towns outside of Cerro Gordo County are landing jobs and in many cases growing in population.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the EDC is nothing more than a rich white man’s club that North Iowa taxpayers are funding with zero return on investment.

I composed an email last Friday morning and sent it to members of the EDC Board and ex-officios on the board, seeking some answers and accountability.  Perhaps you are shocked to hear that so far, I have few responses.  I’m not shocked; these people have no real answers so they are hiding under their desks hoping I will go away.  Won’t happen.

Let’s put the North Iowa Corridor / EDC under the same microscope that Human Rights and our Sanitation Department was under.

Here is the email.  Which of these people has the guts to answer these questions?


To: Eric Bookmeyer, Brent Trout, Brent Willett, Travis Hickey, Jay Urdahl, Nelson Crabb, Deborah Derr

From: Publisher Matt Marquardt

RE: North Iowa Corridor / EDC story
Good morning,

I am working on a story that will outline the impact of the North Iowa Corridor (EDC) to Mason City, Clear Lake and Cerro Gordo County.

Everyone receiving this email is not only on the board of directors (clarification: OR an ex-officio to the board), but may also factor in determining funding that the EDC receives from the taxpayers.  I have already gotten the financial figures, amounting to over $200,000 per year from North Iowa taxpayers.

I am interested in knowing the return on investment to the people of North Iowa from the EDC as well as how the EDC operates.

– Please explain the benefits of the EDC to North Iowa

– Please explain the number of jobs brought to North Iowa directly attributable to the EDC

– Please explain why there are no minorities on the board, and only one white woman on the board as an ex-officio

– Please explain the last time a person that was a minority served on the board in any capacity

– Please explain why the EDC board is made up of all white men who are mainly bankers or construction company owners who routinely win bids for public works projects

– Please explain how a person might serve on the EDC board, or how the board members are selected

– Please explain the budget of the EDC.  Where is the budget spent?  I would like to invoke the Iowa Open Records Law and request the budget of the EDC for the last 5 years.

I would expect each person receiving this email to find a few moments to answer all or some of these questions.  Your answers are appreciated.

Matt Marquardt, Publisher

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41 Responses to Editorial: Is there any accountability at the North Iowa Corridor / EDC?

  1. Mason City is not this dumb.. Reply Report comment

    March 22, 2013 at 11:44 am

    These people do NOTHING to build or attract new business. They don’t even visit new ones that are less then a year old to check in on them….they should have all funding cut.

    • anonymous Reply Report comment

      March 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      How do you know whether they check or not? Are you a mole?

      • 50 MILES SOUTH Reply Report comment

        March 23, 2013 at 11:29 pm

        you are either here only to cause trouble. or one of them, and doesnt like the truth to be told. which one are you?

  2. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    March 21, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    The annul report shows few jobs added but a lot of contruction which pays big tax dollars to local construction companies. Cities give up the ghost to make sure that contractor gets a bid and the banker gets the loan. Rich getting richer. All these jobs they claim they will add only to shut the doors in a couple of years. The answer? Well, start with these contractors and bankers staying out of the courtship. These companies looking to locate/relocate arent stupid and probably hate seeing the drual in small town Iowa uppers.

  3. anonymus Reply Report comment

    March 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

    • bodacious Reply Report comment

      March 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      The EDC’s report is informative in many ways but there is no accounting of the money that has been given to them by the cities of Mason City and Clear Lake or Cerro Gordo County. In addition, the businesses who have donated (no mention of how much money is donated or if all the donations are monetary) have members on the board. I don’t know if that is wrong as you want those businesses represented if their money is being spent, but I would think the businesses who benefit from the EDC’s assistance would also want to have a say in how it was spent. Harley Davidson is there but I didn’t see any of the others. I do see the construction companies who benefit are among the donees. I don’t see, however, Scott Tornquist’s company, Rist, among the donaters. That is interesting.

  4. NORTH Country MAN Reply Report comment

    March 21, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Because it is always easier to bitch, I would like to hear about some solutions. What else do you people think can be done to grow MC? Also, don’t you think the successes in Osage and Charles City are MC success as well? Believe me, if there was no MC in the region, those companies would not even consider north Iowa. And Matt, may want to check out the Professional Developers of Iowa for a comparisons on budgets and other info.

    • Observer Reply Report comment

      March 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Improving Mason City to make it a place where a company wants to invest requires not only a proper perspective of Elected officials, but the population itself.

      Investments of time, community pride, and work are involved. Of course, there is an expectation that in exchange for all the above, there will be financial gain, both to workers in the form of better wages and conditions, and the community, to support the “common good”.

      Enhancing current businesses that will not replace the wages and jobs we had at one time, is not a viable direction as it leaves a gap in both personal economics and public revenues.

      First of course is to eliminate the chasm resulting from economic and political situations. Without that trust, there can be no gain. Those who lead must focus on goals that meet the needs of everyone. Only once those needs are met, can one go beyond need to have, and go after nice to have. And if one segment’s needs are ignored, forget trying to form any sort of partnership community-wide.

      Next, create a community that will be attractive to outsiders. After all, the most meaningful source of new jobs is from outside the community. And from experience, when an outsider comes to Mason City, they get mixed messages. This is why you will notice my constant comments about improving our looks in all areas of the community by businesses, residents, and the governmental units.

      But not everyone will buy into making Mason City better. Thus policies or ordinances must be enacted, and enforced to all violators, is needed. Much of what I suggest is common sense, but in looking around, that is not found in all quarters of the community. (parking on sidewalks, parkways, front lawns, blight, operating unsightly businesses in a residential area, et al). When one looks at successful communities, those laws are in place, and no one is exempt because of friendships or what have you.

      If outsiders have pointed this out to me, what do you think people with money and ideas to invest will think?

      Extend offers of economic assistance to those who will invest in our community to better it’s situation, again both in public revenue, and personal wages. A threshold should be established and adhered to. We don’t need any more $15 an hour jobs!

      Mason City does have a lot going for it. First, workers. I noted one company that has rewarded it’s employees for being one of it’s best facilities company wide, in terms of productivity and meeting standards. It says a lot about workers here, if motivated, they can exceed expectations on regular basis.

      Transport is also a very important asset. In truck and rail transport, we have a very competitive advantage over other communities our size. Both which appear to be under-utilized. Air transport however, is not as good as it could be. Currently, the scheduled carrier is lacking when it comes to less than favorable weather conditions, something that is a natural occurrence in Northern Iowa. People get tired of sitting at airports hoping that their connection home will actually fly.

      Finally. While there is residual benefits from companies that have opened outside our county, they are small at best, compared to those which result from locating inside our city.

  5. Observer Reply Report comment

    March 21, 2013 at 8:58 am

    There is nothing wrong with asking questions of elected officials, and is their duty to offer accountability.

    Not long ago, the dog-and-pony show in the form of facts and figures were paraded before a Council meeting. It said a lot, but did not come close to offering any explanation as to why surrounding towns were landing companies and facilities whilst Mason City continued it’s slide in both jobs and wage values.

    Thus far, the gains announced have not come close to the losses we have experienced in the form of Holcim or other companies that have closed their doors. Reduced tax revenues bare that out. (There is no doubt the flood of 2008 was a contributor, but logic says the loss of a large number of good paying jobs send workers elsewhere to make a living instead of settling for paltry wages here [read Harley-Davidson, et al].)

    And unlike other organizations of the same name, our Chamber has not done anything of substance to help out. A year ago or so, I pointed out the actions of the Chamber of Covington, KY as an example of working to help the community and displaced workers with the loss of ComAir.

    Self-adoration and statue building it seems, is all our Chamber is concerned with. Naturally, readily accepted and stamped with the seal of approval by our elected officials!

  6. badpontiac Reply Report comment

    March 21, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Socialism in action – fat cat society !

  7. another brick in the mall Reply Report comment

    March 21, 2013 at 6:49 am

    I remember when the EDC or whatever it was called back then, condemned peoples property and then gave it to Shopko.

    These quasi government economic groups never earn their keep. Companies do their own research on where to locate. The best thing we can do is keep taxes low and make it easy to go into business. Both of these are not up to par.

    • anonymus Reply Report comment

      March 21, 2013 at 9:13 am

      How would you know? You don’t live in MC. You don’t know who they’ve helped start up a business. You don’t know which businesses they’ve helped retasin employees. In fact you don’t know sqwaut.

  8. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    sickastupd, you need to show the financials to support your statements. Your statements are the premise for how any EDC should work, but not this one. This EDC is a losing proposition and the financial statements will CLEARLY show that. No debate, just fact! And Matt you cannot cry open records law because the EDC is a private corporation. So take that and gulp it with your tax dollars. I don’t get it either. This EDC would have to bring in numerous jobs just to break even if we are keeping a total since the 90s. And the job number requirement just grows with each and every pay check Mr. Willet picks up. You have rail, interstate, airport and recreation (Clear Lake) and they can’t attract business. They call success keeping jobs. I’d like to see that business financial plan.

  9. sickastupd Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Matt, I love your “take no prisoners” style and the way you keep city officials on their toes.

    However, I think this time you’re aiming at the wrong target.

    Now first off, I don’t live or work in the Mason City area. I have no ties to NIEDC or any other ED group. But I am familiar with the way these organizations operate and the real, tangible things they do for their areas.

    They spend countless hours recruiting, selling, gathering important data and helping businesses of all sizes start up, stay going or relocate. They promote and advertise and make your area stand out in a sea of other midsized Iowa towns. And it’s not cheap to do that. I know – an economic group has helped my area immeasurably with a variety of projects. From funding to site readiness to general tourism and aesthetic improvements, we are forever in their debt. And they did it all for our per capita donation. We have real jobs, real growth and real improvements that are directly traceable to our EDC.

    They do a lot more than you think, and they do it well, if they have retained or brought any jobs of any kind to this area.

    I think you may have a more personal bone to pick with them, and if that’s the case, that’s one thing. But to ask the same question about minorities three different ways doesn’t get you anywhere.

    Most of these organizations are staffed by volunteers – and they’re usually the movers and shakers in a community… bankers, business owners and the like. But I am sure they wouldn’t turn away any volunteer!

    Again – I love this site and cheer you loudly from the cheap seats, but this time I think you may be barking up the wrong tree.

    Just my opinion 🙂

    • wondering me Reply Report comment

      March 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      To say they wouldn’t turn any volunteers away is an understatement. Do have any idea how many commissioners the mayor has gotten rid of? Or how many he will not put on commissions or boards because they are not “his kind of people”. Ask around and you will be amazed how he works.

  10. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Matt, Maybe ask Don Nelson. He was on the board and even voted for three year guaranteed funding for the EDC if I remember right. I heard Mr. Nelson was impressed with Mr. Willet and thought Mr. Willet was sharp.

  11. common sense man Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Matt nice article and alot of good questions raised. A couple of the questions you raised are answered on the EDC website, and I find the answers to these questions…questionable.

    You ask how many jobs have been brought to north iowa by the EDC…they say 100 new jobs and 250 jobs retained…somehow I find these to be nice round numbers…sounds “made up” and would like to know where the 100 new jobs are.

    You also ask the benefits of the EDC to North Iowa they say 32 million dollars in new capital investment…that is a very big number. Where is that 32 million?

    Common sense would say…break these nice round numbers down by cold hard facts, show the people who fund this program the return on their investment.

    • Matt Marquardt Reply Report comment

      March 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      Thank you. As I stated, I think Brent Willett once took credit for putting a man on the moon too. He would probably take credit every time I hire someone, even though I never do business at the Commerce Center. It’s all a sham.

      • LVS Reply Report comment

        March 20, 2013 at 6:39 pm

        Hey Matt-one of the things they like to take credit for is Harley. They like to claim they saved all those jobs. No one but a idiot thinks Harley would have shut down. The most they would have done is move it to Clear Lake which in my opinion would have been OK. Look at the money Mason City would have saved. They use the same B.S. logic on all of their so called savings. They think we are all suckers and will believe them just because they are the Country Club and Mason City elite.

        • Matt Marquardt Reply Report comment

          March 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm

          LVS yes this is another one, and you can add Metalcraft to that list and I would keep going if I didn’t have a 7 o’clock HR meeting to attend. These are both successful businesses that would have expanded without the EDC. Where are the NEW jobs, businesses, industry brought here? There is none. you have to go to Charles City or Osage or Garner or Fort Dodge to see the success, and our EDC has no reach at those places. Why are they beating us?

        • LVS Reply Report comment

          March 20, 2013 at 6:56 pm

          @Matt-Cargil and Curries are a couple of others that were going nowhere. They would have expanded anyway. Curries is already starting to lay off after we spent money to keep jobs here. More LEAN equals less jobs for the hourly workers.

      • common sense man Reply Report comment

        March 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

        You may have hit the nail on the head Matt when saying the EDC may take credit when you hire someone. Does the EDC take credit when HyVee or Fairway hire a new checkout person? Even though the EDC really had nothing to do with creating that job, it is a new job hire. Or when say the demand for Jello goes up and Kraft retains a shift of employees does the EDC take credit for job retention?…even though the EDC has nothing to do with the demand for Jello.

        If this is the case then to me these are false numbers that the EDC is reporting. The EDC numbers should be based on new business that they have worked to aquire for the region….that would just be common sense.

        • Matt Marquardt Reply Report comment

          March 21, 2013 at 12:27 pm

          That is my point. Well-stated. If Brent Willett is spending his time at trade shows and working the phones, who is he calling, where is the gain, where are the fruits of this labor? Do trade shows and working the phones help already-established businesses expand? I doubt it. They expand due to their own success and the need in the market for their products or services, not because of anything the EDC has done. I’ll say it again, I see absolutely zero from the EDC as far as new jobs and new industry in Mason City or for that matter CG county or Clear Lake. By the way, Willett seems to think he should get credit for the Red Power expansion, too. He must have been in the room when the deal got done, so therefore, to him, he shares the credit. It’s all a sham.

  12. Nit reader Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    It’s happening in Charles City & Osage area’s!!
    Maybe someone needed to come courting us???
    Thought we were suppose to be out beating on the doors and going after the business??
    The City & County officials should be ASHAMED at what we have based on our positioning near the roadways, trains, airport, etc.

  13. Reggie Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    I too would like an answer to these questions. Unfortunately Matt you are probably not the one to ask them and expect any answers. You, Peter and other posters have bad mouthed,called names and belittled almost everyone that you addressed this letter to. Again unfortunately a lack of response on their part does not necessarily mean they have something to hide.

    • Matt Marquardt Reply Report comment

      March 20, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      That is an absurd accusation, sir. Do you feel the need to lie in order to discredit my questions to these people? Do you feel that lying props up what little you bring to this discussion? I call it like I see it. I hit hard. I do not care if these people like me nor do I want to be their pals and chum with them over drinks. Meanwhile, I allow you to parade around NIT with your fake moniker under no scrutiny while you can call my character and methods into question. Let’s take a look at your name-calling across NIT and your personal track record outside NIT and see if it holds up.

      The truth is, these people cannot rationally support this organization nor defend the expense from Mason City taxpayers when the return on investment is investigated. And so far, none of them have the guts to try. Period.

      • Reggie Reply Report comment

        March 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm

        Matt you misinterpreted my post. I think you are asking the right questions but I don’t think you will get any answers from them.You call it hard hitting journalism , they see it differently. I just don’t think you will get answers from them. Again I think they are GOOD questions.

        • 50 MILES SOUTH Reply Report comment

          March 23, 2013 at 8:16 am

          I agree with Reggie. You are badmouthing someone who was agreeing with you. As I. I know from experience that hard hitting questions and a bull nosed attitude will make people run the other way. Also 99% of the comments here are under bogus names. so NO reason at all to bring that up again. I would be in favor of everyone requiring to have their real name. however as you well know, the posting will drop immediately to almost nothing. and so will NIT.

        • Reggie Reply Report comment

          March 23, 2013 at 9:04 am

          Thanks 50, Matt really blindsided me with his comments. I guess that will teach me to agree with him , ha ha.
          What I would really like to know is if Matt just asks questions,knowing he will never get an answer, or if he really wants an answer? If he really wants answers he is PROBABLY going about it the wrong way.

  14. rukidding Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I agree with this story and I hear these same issues raised from people all over town. The EDC does not have a good reputation with the people in town because we do not see results from our investment. Nobody believes bringing in retail or restraunt jobs are economic development. The EDC should be required to go infront of the council live and prove their worth.

  15. LVS Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Excellent article Matt. It will be interesting to see if you get any answers.

  16. VIRGINIA SCHAFFER Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    way to go Matt! great article. can you find out what the mayor, city administrator & city council members are paid in other cities comparable to mason city are paid? that was the reason given for the cut to human rights: money paid out in similar size towns to MC. what is the real reason?? why do we need a mayor & city administrator anyway?? is there that much for both of them to do? back in the good old days, all we needed was a mayor. Haven’t had a good one for years!! Max needs to run!!

    • anonymous Reply Report comment

      March 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      Max is the one that got the council the big fat raise! Some tax saver he is….. Can only imagine how much he’d garner for a mayors raise IF he ever ran. But he’s proved he’s a clown out for his own ego fix. And everytime a good company wanted to come to town he’d chase/insult them away.

      • Seriously? Reply Report comment

        March 20, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        Yep, Max voted for that raise just by himself and got it approved. Wow, sheep much?

        • anonymus Reply Report comment

          March 21, 2013 at 9:29 am

          He’s the one that brought it to the table and pushed it through. I am not a sheep. If I were I’d believe all the bs out of MC. However I can read and see for myself. So far all I see is consistent whining with no solutions offered from the whiners.

  17. wondering me Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    If anyone knows how to get on a board or a commission could you let us know. I am not a male, white or rich so if that is what it takes I guess you don’t need to bother answering. I’m smart enough to figure it out on my own!! I also would love to know what Brent does all day besides dress for success – he may want to change his suit it ain’t working.

    • anonymus Reply Report comment

      March 21, 2013 at 9:36 am

      A change in your attitude and some education would help.

      • LVS Reply Report comment

        March 21, 2013 at 10:27 am

        @anonymus-another city TROLL has spoken. Do you feel better now that you have tried putting down a lady who was just asking how to help. Then you want to know why no one goes to the City Council meetings? Grow up and get a life you jerk.

      • Iowa Reply Report comment

        March 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

        @anonymus-I agree with LVS & Yes anonymus you are a JERK!

    • Mason City is not this dumb.. Reply Report comment

      March 22, 2013 at 11:46 am

      This is what happens when corridor people with NO business knowledge or history are placed in roles they don’t qualify for.

  18. Peter Children Reply Report comment

    March 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    terrific article needs answers.