Leaders in several Johnson County communities are agreeing to collaborate on growing businesses in the region. Area mayors say they’ll work together to attract and retain companies, instead of competing for them outright.
The mayors of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty have all signed a communication plan with the Iowa City Area Development group to help guide how to recruit, grow and retain businesses throughout the area. The idea is the region’s economies are so interconnected, the communities are better off marketing themselves as a unit.
Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth says the individual cities are stronger together than on their own.
“We all understand that we’re not one entity in and of ourselves. And it’s with all of us together we’re all better," Hayworth said. "We all know that the University of Iowa is extremely important to North Liberty as much as it is to Iowa City. The University of Iowa Hospitals, Proctor and Gamble, whoever the individual is, it makes a difference. Those people live in our communities or they may work in our communities, and that interaction makes us all better."
Coralville, North Liberty and other smaller cities are popular bedroom communities for Iowa City, and attracting new businesses and industries in their own right. Many area residents live in one city, but may work or frequent shops or restaurants in another.
Mark Nolte heads the Iowa City Area Development group, and says the goal of the agreement is to encourage business growth in a way that doesn't pit the communities against each other.
"It is one economy. It’s one workforce. And we want our companies to grow. And there’s times when they’re going to want to move. And we just thought it’d be good to spell out what are the steps when someone raises their hand and says, ‘I’m thinking about moving to this other community.' How do we…how do we handle that?" Nolte said.
The agreement outlines a set of protocols for how communities should communicate with each other and developers when a company decides to downsize or relocate. Having that framework in place is meant to ensure neighboring cities still have a chance to compete to keep jobs in the area, but aren't poaching businesses.
"How do we make sure the home community knows, has an opportunity to respond? How do we make sure the community that they’re looking at has an ability to compete? But at the same time, no one’s getting played off each other and that sort of thing," Nolte said.
North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue says he was somewhat skeptical of the necessity of the agreement at first, but believes the plan will formalize cooperation that's already going on between local leaders.
“At first I always thought, do we need an agreement like this? Because basically I trust these guys….But we set the rules while times are good and we’re friendly. But we don’t know who’s going to sit in our chairs in the future," Donahue said. "And so by having a set of overriding and abiding rules, that protects not only ourselves but our businesses and our business relationships in the future.”
Hayworth says competition between cities has undermined some business growth in the past. He hopes the agreement prevents that in the future.
“It’s not always been easy and I think companies then question the fact as well, is that some place I really want to go to if there’s that kind of lack of communication and lack of cooperation? So I think there has been instances of that in the past, but I think today it is much, much better,” he said.
Organizers hope to get more city and county leaders to sign on.