With the sale of the last available lot in the original plat of Spencer Technical Park, the 50-plus-year history of Corn Belt Power Cooperative’s first economic development project comes to a celebrated end.
In September, IGL Construction purchased a five-acre lot in the industrial park, the last section of land available in the original plat. The company will provide “business vaults,” which are basically storage units that have electrical, gas, sewer and water services, to small business operations. Start up or existing businesses that locate in the business vaults will help grow power sales on Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative’s lines.
With so much emphasis today on bringing new industry to rural areas, it would be easy to assume that economic development efforts are a relatively new phenomenon. In Corn Belt Power’s system, though, economic development work started more than a half century ago, with establishment of the Spencer Technical Park in the early 1960s.
Corn Belt Power developed the 320-acre industrial park on the west edge of Spencer in northwest Iowa’s Clay County with the objective to increase industrial growth on electric co-op lines. Previously in 1958, Corn Belt Power had purchased the site as a future well field area that would provide a water source for the nearby Wisdom Station. It later became apparent the plot wouldn’t be needed for well fields as the increased demand for electrical generation was met by power plants on the Missouri River.
Jim Humphreys, who at that time served as Corn Belt Power’s business manager, proposed using the land for industrial sites. His 1967 statement about the project is as relevant today as it was then: “New industry creates new jobs. Industry on rural electric lines also benefits our farm members. Power gets cheaper as more is generated and industry also tends to flatten out the peaks and valleys of the farm load, thus making a more efficient operation for the cooperative.”
The first section of land developed was a 120-acre portion that sits north of the railroad tracks. Throughout the years, the project has been used as a blueprint for success for developing industrial parks in other co-op territories.
Jim Vermeer, vice president, business development, Corn Belt Power, comments, “We’ve used the Spencer Technical Park as an example for other distribution co-ops of long-term investment in rural areas. Growth is slow because it takes time to find prospects and for businesses to expand. Without the park, the businesses don’t have the opportunity of having a location to grow.”
A second area of the park – a 72-acre section south of the railroad tracks – still has three lots available for development. Some of the area would require the addition of a sewer lift station and second access point, which can be expensive developments that usually secure an interested prospect before the investment is made.
“I think, with the sale of the last lot, it’s a good time to look back on the foresight that Corn Belt Power had. It took commitment and a leap of faith from Corn Belt Power’s directors to invest in the future. We’ve realized opportunities that wouldn’t have happened without the industrial park being available,” Vermeer comments.