Help Your Networks With Housing and Utility Challenges

Help Your Networks With Housing and Utility Challenges

If you work in the field of economic development, and more specifically if you have an economic interest in the real estate industry, then you know the value of stability in the marketplace. Significant events with adverse economic impacts, such as COVID-19 and a derecho, can have a cascading effect on jobs, families, and the economy generally. That is why it has been important for government, non-profit organizations, and businesses to support activities that collectively create a safety net – to provide some measure of economic stability. It’s one of the reasons JEDCO and the City of Johnston participated in the Small Business Recovery Grant program. Other nationwide support systems such as unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program and various forms of natural disaster assistance have also been important.

To be sure, these are imperfect systems, and one can debate the effectiveness of various policy alternatives or the extent to which we can borrow from the future to pay for them. But there is no question that they have provided an important lifeline to many during these challenging times. While some programs have ended or are winding down, there are some that will continue for a few months longer. Two of them are designed to help people stay in their homes and businesses by assisting with rent and utility expenses.

Iowa COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention (EFP) Program

The Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) reported last week that rental assistance has been provided to just over 2000 applicants equaling approximately $4.8 million. On the foreclosure side, the EFP Program has awarded nearly $135,000 to 61 applicants. Approximately $15 million in funds remain in the program, which will remain open until funds are exhausted or until December, 2020, whichever comes first.

IFA reports that the program has seen a significant increase in the number of applications being submitted since August 1. On Tuesday, August 4, it was announced that Iowans who have been receiving $600 a week in federal unemployment stimulus benefits may now apply for the rent and mortgage assistance. For more information, visit

Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) recently announced that more Iowa small business owners and nonprofits are now eligible to receive financial assistance with electric and natural gas utility bills. Eligibility criteria for the Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program has been expanded to include utility assistance for eligible small businesses and nonprofits for electric or natural gas service provided between March 17, 2020 and October 15, 2020.

To be eligible, small businesses and nonprofits must have experienced a COVID-19 loss of income. Financial assistance of up to $7,500 is available. Payment’s would be made directly to an applicant’s utility service provider. The program will accept applications through October 31, 2020 or until all funds have been exhausted. The state allocated approximately $14.5 million of federal CARES Act funds for the program when launched in early July.

For more information, visit  or call 515.348.8914 (toll free: 855.300.2342).

Readers are encouraged to share this information with everyone in their various networks. Let’s do what we can to ensure that the individuals and businesses in need of this assistance get connected with these resources. It is the type of help that can increase economic stability for the benefit of all.

Telecommunications Company Seeks to Develop Fiber Network for Johnston Community

Telecommunications Company Seeks to Develop Fiber Network for Johnston Community

Metronet, an Indiana-based telecommunications company, has sought permission to build out a fiber network to serve the residents and businesses in the Johnston community. The network would serve “no less than 90% of the community, which is currently not being served by a fiber optic provider.” The proposed construction would begin in early 2021 and is projected to take less than a year.

An agreement between the City of Johnston and Metronet was approved by the Johnston City Council at their meeting on August 17, 2020 by a vote of 3-2. No city funds will be used for the project, although the agreement provides for broad access to the use of Right Of Way throughout the community. The agreement does not assure 100% access to high-speed Internet services within city limits, as there may be some locations which cannot be served due to locations being isolated or difficult to serve for financial reasons. However, it will provide an additional choice for many businesses and residents.


New Office & Warehouse Space Planned Along Beaver Drive

New Office & Warehouse Space Planned Along Beaver Drive

JEDCO member Mark McMurphy with ABACI Consulting has been engaged with representatives from Donovan Development to prepare plans for the development of two 11,400 square foot speculative office/warehouse buildings at NW 59th Avenue and NW Beaver Drive in Johnston. Generally, the designs represented assume that the space utilization will be 2/3 office and 1/3 warehouse. The Johnston City Council approved the site plan at their meeting on August 3, 2020.

Beaver Drive continues to be a hub for the warehouse and flex space in the Johnston community.

Highway 141 Corridor Study

Snyder and Associates has been hired to develop a master plan for the Iowa Highway 141 corridor from North of NW 70th Avenue in Johnston to Iowa Highway 415 in northwest Johnston.

Synder and Associates will focus on the build-out of the corridor, including right-of-way needs and intersection and traffic control needs. The project will also incorporate and build on work previously and currently being completed by the City of Johnston, City of Grimes and Polk County, additionally involving Iowa DOT District 1.

Polk County and Iowa DOT have partnered together to review traffic operations and safety history, as well as consider the future goals for the Iowa Highway 141 corridor. Local community growth has impacted traffic flows and increased the number of crashes in the area.

To learn more about Snyder and Associates’s plans for this section of the Iowa Highway 141 corridor, visit their website.



Ignit Project To Ignite Merle Hay Road Corridor

Ignit Project To Ignite Merle Hay Road Corridor

The Johnston City Council has approved a development agreement with Ignit Sports and Fitness. Ignit has proposed the construction of a 208,500 square foot recreation facility that will house an indoor track, field house, classrooms, meeting space, and multipurpose courts in addition to outdoor fields and volleyball courts. The project is located on Merle Hay Road directly south of ChildServe, and has a projected assessed value of $18-22 million. The project will generate an estimated $4.9-$5.5 million in property tax increment and is expected to attract 175,000 annual visits to the facility which will further the City’s goals to revitalize and redevelop the Merle Hay Road Gateway area.

The deal is an example of a public-private partnership with many facets including a shared utilization agreement for the benefit of Johnston residents, and infrastructure improvements that make the project feasible for the private company. The City of Johnston Parks and Recreation Department plans to expand programming offerings to include fitness classes, open gym space, recreational leagues and other activities in the Ignit facility for an annual cost paid to Ignit. The City of Johnston also plans to construct a city park and regional public infrastructure improvements to the Gateway, as well as an extension of Johnston Drive west of Merle Hay Road to the planned city park. The city will also construct a regional storm water detention basin. The plan calls for the import and placement of 262,300 cubic yards of soil at an estimated cost of nearly $3.3 million.

Ignit plans to begin construction this fall with intentions for the facility to be complete by April of 2022. City public infrastructure improvements are intended to follow a similar construction timeline. Paired with the Town Center project, there are significant redevelopments happening on Merle Hay Road! Watch for updates on this project.

Thrive 2040 Nears Finish Line

Thrive 2040 Nears Finish Line

The City of Johnston has just released a clean draft of the 2040 comprehensive plan. This follows months of community engagement and planning disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The comprehensive plan serves several purposes, including the following:

  • A guide for current and future land uses – a “road map,” if you will – that can inform citizens, landowners and developers about how certain land areas should be used and how different land uses should reasonably transition from one to another. For example, a simple goal would be to prevent incompatible uses to be next to each other, such as heavy industry and single-family homes. Another example is how land for housing would transition from lower density to higher density uses.
  • A strategic economic development plan for the city to lay out the main goals, policies and implementation initiatives that will address issues such as housing, transportation, natural resource use, parks and recreation and of course, land use.

If you have participated in any of the engagement discussions, the future land use categories and the proposed land use for several focus areas will be very familiar. We strongly encourage members of the development community to go to the City’s Thrive 2040 engagement page. Download the draft report, review it and add your comments. There is a comment text box provided for every few chapters. Be sure to view the “open house boards” – particularly boards 3-5. If you are planning to develop anything in Johnston in the next 5-10 years, we encourage you to provide your input. Watch for additional updates regarding the 2040 comprehensive plan.

Join a Virtual Chat. On Wednesday, August 26, 2020, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., City staff and the consultant team will be available to participate in an online interactive question and answer session regarding the draft Thrive 2040 plan. Drop-in anytime between this hour to ask questions or discuss any aspect of the draft plan.

To take part in the event, you must register here.

BEST of Iowa Finds New Direction Through Covid-19

BEST of Iowa Finds New Direction Through Covid-19

In an effort to keep the Des Moines metro economy moving forward, many prominent local businesses and organizations have come together in a collaborative effort known as BEST of Iowa (Business Expansion and Strategic Trends). Composed of local organizations such as MidAmerican Energy Company, Alliant Energy, Black Hills Energy, Iowa Area Development Group and the Iowa Economic Development Authority, BEST of Iowa serves as a statewide business retention and expansion program. Through in-depth interviews with local employers the use of online surveys to collect data, BEST of Iowa aims to learn as much as possible about how businesses are positioning themselves for the future and in their local communities.

Johnston Economic Development Corporation (JEDCO) has a history of working closely with representatives from BEST of Iowa to gather information and facilitate face-to-face meetings with Johnston-based employers such as Corteva Agriscience (formerly Dow DuPont/Pioneer), John Deere Financial, DLL Finance and others. However, these activities are now more complex due to the COVID-19 pandemic, arguably at a time when this data is needed most.

“There has never been a better time than right now to think differently and to elevate existing business call programs. The information received from calls will guide economic recovery and growth efforts to help position communities for long-term sustainable growth” said Kathryn Kunert, Vice President, Economic Connections and Integration, MidAmerican Energy

COVID-19 has made it increasingly important to focus on business retention efforts in Johnston and the Greater Des Moines region, and the leaders of the BEST of Iowa program have been working with the University of Northern Iowa and Blane Canada to revamp the data collection process in order to adequately address several topics related to COVID-19 and to understand current and future impacts on local businesses and industry leaders. New topic areas include operations, supply chain, infrastructure, workforce, recovery, and sustainability. In addition to these new topics being covered, the BEST of Iowa program will work to help communities overcome obstacles and provide possible find alternatives for in-person meetings, such as a web or video conferences.

JEDCO is pleased to be a part of this process, and we look forward to continuing our role to promote development in Johnston, especially during these challenging times. For more information please follow us on Twitter @growjohnston and sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter.

Small Business Recovery Grant Program Awards

Small Business Recovery Grant Program Awards

The Greater Des Moines Partnership, Polk County and the City of Johnston have completed the review of applications for assistance from area businesses affected by the COVID-19 closures and restrictions. Eighteen Johnston businesses are expected to receive financial assistance awards of up to $5,000. The total amount being granted is $85,000.00. Businesses were required to demonstrate the adverse impact of COVID-19. Businesses which had already received support from the Iowa Economic Development Authority were not eligible to participate.

Applications for assistance were accepted until May 20, 2020, and then were reviewed by Iowa Center for Economic Success. The initiative was organized by Polk County, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the City of Des Moines with financial support coming from area cities (including Johnston and Urbandale). The Johnston City Council had pledged up to $50,000.00 to the effort, and those funds were matched by resources from Polk County and private sector contributors. JEDCO also contributed $2,500.00 to the cause.

There were fewer applicants and awards than had been anticipated. “The good news is that almost all of the recipients qualified under the program received the maximum award amount, and that several Johnston businesses have already received support through the Iowa Economic Development Authority programs.”, said Adam Plagge, Economic Development Manager for the City of Johnston.

There was some concern that some smaller businesses were falling through the cracks. “But it seems that businesses that needed some help have received it through the combination of the federal, state and local programs. JEDCO was happy to be a contributor to the effort.”, said Phil Dunshee, Executive Director for the Johnston Economic Development Corporation.

A listing of area businesses which received assistance will soon be published. Follow us @growjohnston on Twitter and here at for updated information when it becomes available.

Investments in Infrastructure Move Forward

Investments in Infrastructure Move Forward

Several important and very visible infrastructure projects have continued to advance in Johnston despite the disruptions created by COVID-19. The Hansen Company has been hard at work building the new City Hall at Town Center. The exterior limestone panels, wood, and windows have been installed, and paving for the parking lot is underway. On the interior, plumbing, electric, and mechanical systems have been placed making it possible to begin installing drywall. You can expect this project to be completed later this summer. Upon completion, the existing City Hall will be demolished to make way for the upcoming Johnston Town Center.

The associated reconstruction of the Merle Hay Road and NW 62nd Ave. intersection continues to advance, as does the reconstruction of NW 54th Ave. between NW 86th Street and NW 100th Street.

Broadband Study Initiated –  The City is taking the initial steps to conduct a visioning study and needs assessment for improving the community’s broadband telecommunications infrastructure. This is not just an issue for rural communities, and it would not be an overstatement to say that hundreds of people who would ordinarily be working in a Johnston office building or corporate center have been working remotely from home. High speed Internet is a baseline for both businesses and households.

The City has issued an RFP for consulting services to conduct the needs assessment which is to include a review of current services, a community and business survey and a review of the City’s public sector infrastructure. The consultant will also be asked to help develop a community vision for improving broadband services. Proposals are due July 1, 2020. The City has budgeted up to $25,000.00 for the study.  Click here for more information.

The next significant infrastructure project ahead is the extension of sewer and water services to the NW annexation area, part of the larger Beaver Creek Development Region. The sanitary sewer segment extending services to the Beaver Creek golf course area is planned for the 2021 construction year. However, this plan could be affected by pending litigation concerning the delivery of water services. This issue needs to be resolved soon in order avoid a disruption that could delay the extension of services and associated development.

Community Recreation Assets Expand – Community amenities which enhance quality of life do matter when household decisions are made about where to live and when business decisions are made about location and expansion. That is why it is exciting to observe that the new Pioneer Parkway trail will be complete very soon.

Improvements to the Beaver Creek water trail are also just around the bend. At their meeting on June 15, 2020 the Johnston City Council acted to move forward with construction of a new access point at Lew Clarkson park. A ten-foot wide access trail from the lower parking lot at Lew Clarkson to the creek’s edge will be created.  A ramp will be cut into the bank to allow for easy water access for canoes and kayaks.  On the opposite bank of Beaver Creek a trail access to Terra Park will be constructed. Bids are now being accepted and are due by June 30, 2020. Construction is expected to occur this summer and fall.

Looking ahead to 2021. The NW Beaver Drive overlay project will improve the road from Merle Hay Road to NW 66th Ave. A trail extension is planned in conjunction with this project, and it will provide significant regional trail connections with the Neal Smith trail, Ankeny, the High Trestle Trail and the Walnut Ridge Recreation Area. This is also the year that reconstruction of the Trestle to Trestle bridge is planned, as well as the construction of a new trail on NW 86th Street between NW 62nd Ave. and NW 54th Ave. More health, fitness and recreation opportunities are also associated with the Ignit Sport & Fitness complex and further developments at the “Yard” at Town Center.

Members Corteva and John Deere Financial Help Fight Coronavirus

Members Corteva and John Deere Financial Help Fight Coronavirus

Corteva Agriscience and John Deere Financial have long been important figures in the agriculture industry, but they may now be more important than ever as we endure this pandemic. Not only does our food supply depend on companies like these two JEDCO members, headquartered right here in Johnston, but these companies have also both been going above and beyond to take extra measures to remedy COVID-19. As essential businesses, here are some of the many generous deeds Corteva Agriscience and John Deere Financial are taking part in.

Corteva has joined forces with MercyOne in order to increase testing for COVID-19. Corteva has in-house genetic screening technology and trained employees to help these efforts. The testing will have an initial focus local to Iowa but in time may have the ability to spread beyond Iowa borders.

“I am so proud of the members of our team who conceived this initiative and are driving its execution,” said Neal Gutterson, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Corteva Agriscience. “Our people have tremendous heart and are extraordinarily dedicated to making a difference in their communities; this is one of many great examples of that. We are honored to collaborate with one of Iowa’s leading healthcare systems to help address this important need.”

MercyOne President and CEO Bob Ritz reiterated that increasing testing capabilities for COVID-19 is critical for both the population’s health and our nation’s ability to reopen the economy.

Corteva is also offering 0% financing on herbicides to farmers and ranchers who may be experiencing hardships during these times. Providing benefits to farmers and ranchers affected by the virus helps ensure the flow of our food supply.

Similarly, John Deere Financial is encouraging its customers to contact them for necessary financial support related to COVID-19. They are also helping local hospitals and utilizing in-house capabilities to fight the virus.

John Deere uses 3D printing technology in their facilities, but they have since put them to use for their local communities during the pandemic. Employees have engineered 3D printing designs to create face shields and no-touch door openers. They have made the designs public to share with other companies with similar capabilities for public well-being.

Along with other protective eyewear previously owned by the company, John Deere has donated this personal protective equipment to doctors and nurses local to Iowa and in Illinois on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus. As a company, they have also initiated a 2-for-1 match to employee donations to local food banks and the American Red Cross.

JEDCO is proud to have membership from companies like Corteva Agriscience and John Deere Financial located in Johnston that are helping our communities through times of hardship. It is wonderful to see that they are not only taking measures to keep our food supply running during this pandemic, but they are also taking the extra steps to use their own property, technology, and money for the greater good to fight COVID-19.

Acknowledging Great Efforts from Member MidAmerican Energy During COVID-19 Pandemic

Acknowledging Great Efforts from Member MidAmerican Energy During COVID-19 Pandemic

During times of crisis, MidAmerican Energy has not only been taking measures to keep their employees and customers safe, but they are taking the extra step to care for our local communities as well.

As an essential service provider, MidAmerican has pledged to continue providing reliable service for electricity and natural gas that their customers rely on. This includes emergency calls, outages, reported gas leaks, downed power lines, and broken poles. Here are the precautions MidAmerican has been taking for the safety of both employees and customers:

  • MidAmerican has changed various workplace practices as a precaution to COVID-19.
  • For any customers facing financial hardship, disconnections due to unpaid bills have been suspended. If you are struggling to make ends meet as a result of this pandemic, contact MidAmerican Energy for more details.
  • Employees ask questions to customers prior to visits about symptoms, self-isolation, or possible contact with any individuals who have contracted the virus to assess the risk. If the answer is yes and it is an immediate emergency, employees will wear additional personal protective equipment.
  • This is unfortunately an opportune time for utility scams. Utility scammers may demand money over the phone by threatening to disconnect services. They may also ask for prepaid money cards and money orders. MidAmerican Energy never asks for immediate payment over the phone by way of money cards and orders, so be aware.

While they are taking care of their immediate customers and employees, MidAmerican has not forgotten about surrounding communities within their service area. The MidAmerican Energy Foundation has donated a staggering $500,000 for COVID-19 relief efforts. While not limited to just one effort, MidAmerican has been focusing on hunger relief and the food crisis so many are facing as a result of this pandemic. They have donated to over 30 organizations to fund local food banks, community foundations, and the United Way. This is part of a longtime effort titled MidAmerican Energy CARES (Community enhancement, Arts and culture, environmental Respect, Education/STEM, and Safety) in which MidAmerican assists year-round to communities within its service areas.

Here at JEDCO, we are so proud to call MidAmerican Energy a member and supporter of the Johnston community. During times of crisis, MidAmerican has exemplified that they are truly invested in the well-being of their employees, customers, and the communities that they live and serve in. Let MidAmerican Energy lead the way for everyone to show that a little bit of help and kindness can go a long way, no matter how big or small.

Businesses Prepare for Venture Into Nomanneslonde

Businesses Prepare for Venture Into Nomanneslonde

What is the proper metaphor for the situation in which many business owners and managers now find themselves? How do you describe the territory in between the critical need to get business and the economy moving again, and the need to protect the safety and well-being of the people making the economy function?

Printing and distributing new money to keep businesses and people afloat increases debt and can be the cause of serious, unintended and long-term consequences. Moving people into settings where a highly contagious new virus with many unknown factors is still present can also produce bad, sometimes terminal, results. To borrow a very old term, the most appropriate metaphor seems to be “No Man’s Land.” Many are choosing sides. Out of fear and concern for public health and the safety of family, some wish to continue to keep things closed. Others, whose viability as a company, organization or even household are at stake, wish to get back to work and start earning income again as soon as possible. The space in between is where the solutions must be found.

It’s not an easy problem to solve for many organizations with a business model built on a certain volume of activity. Theaters, stadiums, commercial airplanes, restaurants and bars require certain numbers of customers to break even or make a profit. Impose a 50% capacity rule or require a six-foot “set-back” between customers, and the previous profit and loss calculations just may not work anymore. So, what should a business do as the temporary financial assistance programs begin to expire?

Make a Plan for Alternative Scenarios

It’s tough to plan in the midst of a crisis, but it is a necessary exercise. Based on the current rules that apply to a particular business type, consider the following scenarios.

  • What would happen if those rules are extended for an additional one, two or six months? Longer? Do the math.
  • What would happen if some rules are relaxed, such as occupancy limits of 50% or 70% of maximum capacity? Or what happens if customer behavior doesn’t return to “normal” after rules are relaxed? Again, do the math.
  • Account for changes in the workforce. Will 100% or 50% of employees be available to return to work, and will they feel safe in returning to work?
  • Account for changes in the supply chain. Will the resources and materials required to make the product be available, or has there been a disruption in supplies and materials? How much can be produced given alternative conditions?

Companies and organizations must do this planning. Larger companies and manufacturers are already doing this, and resources such as CIRAS at Iowa State University are helping them. Smaller businesses also need to be doing this planning. What business plan or path will provide the greatest opportunity for success? What steps are needed to implement it?

personal protective equipment workplace covid

As availability of PPE remains limited, how do you plan to protect employees willing to return to the workplace? What about clients?

Take Steps to Provide a Safe Work Environment

Federal and state public health officials are publishing and regularly updating guidelines or suggestions for operating safely as things begin to be “reopened”. Review them carefully and decide what the best options are. Here is a short list of recently published information from authoritative sources.

Communicate With Business Partners and Employees

Now is not the time to hunker down and wait for the next proclamation. Make a call or set up a video conference with the appropriate professionals, including the accountants, lenders, employment professionals, attorneys, landlords and business peers. Put the facts on the table and ask for advice and help. They want and need their customers to survive and succeed.

Employees and contractors also need to be part of the conversation. Answer their questions. Ask for their input. Show them what is going to be done to provide for a safe work environment. Explore best practices and options. There is no one “best practice,” so welcome ideas and use a consensus-building approach.

As events unfold, expect to see professional firms and trade associations step forward with legal, human resources, financial and general business advice. For example, here are two specific webinars with companion slide decks and resources published by legal and employment service providers with operations in the Des Moines area.

Business owners and managers should ask their affiliated professional service providers to help get them connected with similar privately sponsored but publicly accessible resources. Importantly, share this information with your colleagues, peers, employees and contractors as it becomes available.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership has launched a new resource, DSM Forward with industry specific and business function “playbooks” and an FAQ, which provides a framework for business owners and managers to develop action plans for reopening. These playbooks are not recipes for reopening, but rather are outlines that can be used by individual businesses to make decisions about how various issues will be handled based on their unique characteristics and circumstances.

Do you have a need for more specific information, or do you have suggestion for a topic or issue that should be included in a future DSM Forward playbook? DSM has published a short survey to organize those questions and suggestions.


Reopening is like stepping into a “Nomanneslonde” in many respects. There are many unknowns, but we think it is possible to move the economy forward with thoughtful business planning, care for the health, safety and well-being of everyone at work and in the marketplace, and open and frequent communications with business partners and co-workers. Onward!

Have an idea or best practice for reopening? Share it with us!


Originally published on the Enterprise Iowa blog.

Small Business Recovery Grant Program Launched

Small Business Recovery Grant Program Launched

The anticipated Small Business Recovery Grant program launched today. Businesses may seek grants of between $1,000.00 and $5,000.00. Applications are now being accepted online here.

To help businesses assemble the required application information, an “Application Preparation Worksheet” has been developed. The idea is that the applicant would use the worksheet to organize financial information and prepare answers to questions required on the online application.  Think of it as a dry run. When ready, the business would log on to the website and complete the online application.

Applications for assistance will be accepted until midnight on May 20, 2020.

The initiative has been organized by Polk County, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the City of Des Moines with financial support coming from area cities (including Johnston and Urbandale) and from area businesses. The Johnston City Council has pledged $50,000.00 to the effort, which will be matched by resources from Polk County and the private sector contributors. JEDCO has pledged $2,500.00 to the cause as well.

Small businesses, especially those that may not have benefited from other federal or state programs, are strongly encouraged to submit an application. Questions should be directed to the Iowa Center for Economic Success at (515) 283-0940 or

COVID-19 Response – How Well Have We Done and What To Do Next?

COVID-19 Response – How Well Have We Done and What To Do Next?

Step back and think about the magnitude of what has happened in the last seven weeks. Here’s a short list: a national pandemic and health crisis, widespread business closures, record unemployment, and unprecedented federal and state assistance for businesses, non-profits, individuals and governments. There have been many bumps along the way, but the response and coordination between government and business that has occurred would not have been thought possible before. Every trade group, association, health care organization, government agency and many, many individuals have marshalled their resources for a common cause – to defeat a virus and to restore a sense of security and normality. Altogether, it is overwhelming.

Everyone in the economic development world has worked to play a part in this by communicating information and connecting businesses and people with the resources and programs that have been created. Many businesses in the service industry – anyone with a business model built around the congregation of people at a place or event – have felt the immediate economic and personal impact of the disaster. Other organizations with a business model more easily adapted to working from home and businesses considered essential just kept on going. It seems inevitable that everyone will feel the pain as the debt for all of this assistance comes due and the residual effects of the disruption ripple through the rest of the economy.

The community of Johnston is home to corporate centers, a military base, and many small businesses and sole proprietors. As an organization charged with supporting business growth in the community, the Johnston Economic Development Corporation (JEDCO) has participated in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Without claiming any scientific rigor, the opinions of business owners and operators were sought concerning their status and the extent to which the recovery efforts have helped them in the near term. Nearly 60 responses to an electronic survey were received from businesses representative of the community. The largest group was in the category of 2 to 5 employees, but businesses of all sizes responded, ranging from sole proprietors to larger corporations. Here’s what we learned.

About 55% of the respondents said they had either closed due to government proclamation or were adversely affected by the pandemic. Meaning that 45% of the businesses were able to adapt to the changing situation and keep producing.

Of the businesses that reported adverse effects from the pandemic:

  • Less than half applied for an SBA disaster assistance loan, and most of those who applied did not know of the disposition of their application at the time of the survey; apparently little near-term benefit.
  • Almost 60% applied for the SBA Paycheck protection program, and most of them had been approved in the first round of funding. Some had applications in, but the program ran out of funds before their applications could be processed. The second round of funding may have helped, but their actual status is not yet known.
  • A number of businesses reported that they were being helped by their suppliers and other business affiliates with deferred payments for rent or loans. Responses indicated that in most cases the assistance was provided with the expectation that full payment would be made at a later date.
  • Two thirds reported that they had applied for assistance through the state programs. The application window was small, resources were limited, and the volume of applications was high. Based on a review of published award recipients, it appears that only two Johnston businesses have received financial assistance through those channels.
  • Survey participants were asked how much they were being helped by the various programs and activities. On a range of zero (no help at all) to 100 (my business will survive and thrive), the average score was 34. For businesses reporting that they were adversely affected by the disaster, the average score was 23.

Phil Dunshee, Executive Director for Johnston Economic Development Corp. and Adam Plagge, Economic Development Director for the City of Johnston provided a presentation of Johnston survey results at a recent Des Moines Economic Development Practitioners conference call. Review the presentation here.


Again, making no claim to scientific accuracy, the biggest aid to small businesses appears to have been the Paycheck Protection Program. While not directly addressed in the survey, it also seems clear that the unemployment benefits being provided to employees furloughed or laid off has substantively benefited the Iowa workforce until employers can call people back to work.

Johnston businesses who participated in the survey identified the following areas where help may be needed in the near term and the coming months.

  • Financial assistance to help with overhead. Payroll assistance is one thing, but financial resources to help cover rent, utilities and fixed costs were identified
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Some businesses identified this as a need for being able to reopen when authorized
  • One-time property tax relief. Most businesses (93% according to Polk County reports) had already paid their property taxes when the pandemic started. Some are looking ahead to the next payment in September and are hoping for some relief at that time
  • Getting the economy restarted. Businesses are concerned about health and safety, but they also want to get back to work and start earning income again.

For various reasons participants in the survey expressed concern about the administration of the financial assistance programs at the beginning of the crisis. The time frames were too tight. Many who applied to the state programs did not receive assistance, and there is a perception that some who received assistance received more than needed.

One More Source of Financial Help

The next, and perhaps final round of financial assistance for small businesses in the Johnston area will likely come from a new program coordinated by Polk County and the Greater Des Moines Partnership with some financial support coming from area cities including Johnston and Urbandale. The details are still being worked out, but the general focus of the program will be small grants targeted toward very small businesses. It is hoped that this program will be up and running sometime during the first full week of May. The Johnston City Council has pledged $50,000.00 to the effort, which will be matched by resources from Polk County and private sector contributors. JEDCO has pledged $2,500.00 to the cause as well. Watch for more information to be posted here and on various partner websites very soon.

The Next Phase of Recovery

Think of all these assistance programs as a short-term disability policy. They are providing critical financial support during the initial period of “disability.” It doesn’t last forever and is intended to get you by for a while. Other survival tactics will need to be employed.

So far it looks like getting businesses restarted is the main theme for this next phase even as the pandemic and the search for treatment continues.  The time to prepare for or get started with this is now. Trade associations, development organizations and government agencies are already pivoting in that direction. Here are a few examples:

  • Reopening Guidance published by the Iowa Department of Public Health – April 27, 2020
  • Guidance for Restaurant Reopening published by the Iowa Department of Public Health – April 27, 2020
  • Column by Steve Strauss published by USA Today – April 30, 2020
  • Getting Back to Work webinar hosted by Nyemaster Goode, P.C. with support from Community Bankers of Iowa – May 4, 2020
  • The Return to Work webinar hosted by Oasis – A Paychex Company – May 1, 2020

Business owners and managers, economic developers and policy makers should take advantage of these opportunities as they determine what the appropriate next steps for reopening will be, once allowed.

The Johnston Economic Development Corporation will continue to do everything we can to help our economy recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. And on one final note, for the past many weeks your elected officials have been working together and meeting weekly via web conference with the private sector members of JEDCO to engage in all of these mitigation and recovery activities. This includes Mayor Dierenfeld, the City Council and staff, Supervisor Robert Brownell, Senator Brad Zaun, and Representative Karin Derry. We express our thanks to them and to all of the members of JEDCO for their commitment to the Johnston community and the northwest Polk County area. Better days are ahead!

COVID-19: Continued Economic Impact & Disaster Mitigation

COVID-19: Continued Economic Impact & Disaster Mitigation

We are one month into this disaster called COVID-19, and while we give our primary concern to the health and well-being of everyone in the community, region, state and country, we have a mission to care for our economy, businesses and workforce. It is anything but business as usual, and there are some things every Johnston business and resident should know.

First, we have encouraged businesses and people to apply for the various programs that have been advanced by the state and federal government. After examining the benefits and the requirements, if it makes sense, businesses have been encouraged to apply. Here are a few programs or solutions currently available to businesses. Note: some programs such as the State of Iowa Small Business Relief Fund are no longer accepting applications.

  • Individuals affected by required business closures have been able to apply for expanded unemployment benefits.
  • Businesses not affected by the required business closures have been encouraged to maintain employment by participating in the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (this is a significant and unprecedented source of financial relief that is intended to help businesses maintain their workforce and capacity to restart when the crisis declines).
  • Businesses have been able to apply for other loans through the SBA and grants through the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
  • Government at all levels has implemented tax deferral policies.
  • Many, many companies are supporting their employees by enabling them to continue to work remotely.
  • Businesses that provide services to individuals and other businesses are taking steps to help customers through payment deferrals, waiver of late payment penalties, and, in some cases, payment waivers for two or more months. Check with your suppliers and other business partners to learn what they may be doing to help.

“We’re all in this together” is not just a catch phrase. Everyone is living it, every day.

Second, disaster mitigation and recovery efforts are underway. Johnston Economic Development, our business members and your public officials at the city, county, and state level are working together to identify additional needs and gaps in assistance. JEDCO members, Mayor Dierenfeld, council members and city staff, Polk County Supervisor Bob Brownell, Representative Karin Derry and Senator Brad Zaun, and others have been participating in regular web conference calls, or Connect or Zoom meetings, to compare notes and get the latest “on-the-ground” updates from lenders, developers and businesses about the status of things.

It is likely everyone can agree that not every state or federal program is operating at a peak performance level right now, primarily because the scale of activity is truly unprecedented. The best we can do is show patience and to make the things over which we have control as helpful as possible.

Small businesses should be aware that there is an active discussion about a new public/private partnership to provide financial assistance to companies in Polk County that may not have qualified for any of the federal or state program in operation thus far. Watch for more information about this initiative very soon.

At this writing it appears that our current circumstances will continue … let’s just say for a while longer. In addition to our Coronavirus Response page, we’ve assembled a supplementary document with additional links to some of the most useful information about the collective efforts to prevent the spread of this disease and to find information and assistance for your particular situation. Review these resources to get the answers you need. If you can’t find the answer here, or if you need any type of specific assistance, contact one of your elected officials or send us an email at

#JohnstonStrong #DSMstrong #DSMUSA

FY 2021 City Budget Approved – Tax Rate Reduced

FY 2021 City Budget Approved – Tax Rate Reduced

The Johnston City Council fulfilled a pledge to use most of the proceeds from the recent local option sales tax increase to reduce the property tax rate. The combined tax rate will be $10.63 per thousand dollars of taxable valuation compared with a rate of $11.65 in the current fiscal year. According to figures published by the City, 65% of the estimated sales tax revenue – $2.15 million – will be used to reduce the City’s property tax rate. The rest will be used for additional new staff positions and various equipment, services and activities. All of this was a part of the fiscal year 2021 budget approved by the Johnston City Council on March 16, 2020. What we don’t yet know is the actual amount of property taxes that will be paid by businesses and residents when the new combined levy rates are applied to the higher assessed property values established by the Assessors last year. How will the amount paid compare to the current budget year? That should be known soon. Notable projects and public improvements included in the budget for fiscal year 2021 are:

  • Reconstruction of NW 62nd Ave. and Merle Hay Road intersection (part of the Town Center project)
  • Reconstruction NW 54th Ave between NW 86th Street and NW 100th
  • NW Beaver Drive Overlay and Trail
  • Pioneer Parkway Trail and Lew Clarkson Water Trail Access Point
  • Trestle Bridge Reconstruction
  • Broadband Visioning Study (Needs Assessment)

Interested in more information? Download and view the staff report and presentation slides.

COVID-19 and GDMP Survey

COVID-19 and GDMP Survey

Public officials at all levels are working hard to figure out what the best steps are to protect public health and the economy. On the health front – we are focused on information being provided by authoritative sources including the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health. Things are changing rapidly. On the day of this writing Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has issued a proclamation closing restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and theaters. Gatherings of more than 10 people have also been prohibited. Health concerns justify these extraordinary actions.

As an economic development organization, we ask what can be done to sustain businesses. We have encouraged our elected leaders and our regional economic development leaders to explore options to help small businesses and some non-profits in particular; this might include extraordinary tax relief , or short term low interest loans with an extended pay-back period. We make no claims about what ideas are best – but we simply encourage some action. With respect to non-profit service agencies which provide services to people – the kind of work that can’t be done remotely – closing schools will have a big impact on their workforce, and restrictions on group activities could also affect their revenue streams. Some temporary loosening of certain regulations could help them get through this period.

Complete the GDMP Business Survey ASAP – Sometimes it is difficult for policy makers to determine what course of action is best. Having reliable information for decision making is very important. For this reason, JEDCO strongly encourages area businesses to respond to a survey published by the Greater Des Moines Partnership. They are looking for business input about how businesses and organizations are being affected, how they are addressing the situation, and what the GDMP can do to help. We are too. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey, and encourage the business leaders and owners you work with to do the same.

Johnston Economic Development Forum Postponed – Some upcoming JEDCO events are being postponed or altered. For now we have need to postpone our annual development forum that had been scheduled for April 9, 2020. For now, we are declaring this to be a postponement with the hope that it can be rescheduled for a later date. Other steps we are taking include the following:

  • Our bi-monthly JEDCO Board meeting will be converted to a web conference
  • Most of our JEDCO team members are now working remotely – face-to-face meetings will be limited

For further updates, continue to follow us here on the website, and through our Twitter account @growjohston. We wish everyone good health and safety in these challenging times.

MHR Recreation Complex Proposed

MHR Recreation Complex Proposed

Image Credit: Ignit

The City of Johnston and Ignit Sports and Fitness are actively considering a collaboration to bring one part of the Merle Hay Road Gateway vision to fruition. As currently described, a 30 acre site west of Merle Hay Road and just to the south and west of Lithia Motors would be developed for a 189,000 sq. ft. recreation facility, and outdoor field space for soccer, football, baseball, cricket, volleyball and other activities. Users of the Beaver Creek trail which passes under Merle Hay Road will be very familiar with the open space that would be developed for this project. Construction costs are estimated to be more than $20 million.

Tangible steps are being taken to make this happen.

  • The Johnston City Council has approved an amendment to the East Central Urban Renewal area to include the site
  • The City of Johnston has already entered into a lease agreement with the City of Urbandale for the use a portion of the property which falls with Urbandale’s City limits
  • A purchase agreement for five acres along the western portion of the site has been approved by the City of Johnston
  • Several parcels of property are reputed to be under contract by Ignit
  • The City is engaging with a civil engineering firm to develop a master grading plan for the site
  • The Johnston City Council approved a term sheet with Ignit to define their respective and mutual responsibilities for the project. This particular term sheet is not yet binding. The City and Ignit will now engage in a due diligence process which would become a formal development agreement – significant work remains before the project is finalized

It is hoped that his project will energize redevelopment in the Gateway area. The project would also represent a public-private partnership to create a community amenity that might not otherwise be feasible if it were to be an entirely public initiative. One of the benefits of such a partnership is that it would reserve a portion of the facility utilization for Johnston residents during both peak and non-peak hours. The partnership may also involve Ignit staff support for some City recreational activities. The project is an example of the time and effort required to make a community development plan happen. The use of this area in Johnston as a site for parks and recreation was described in the MHR Gateway Master Plan – Final Report which was published on September 16, 2013.


“A new community park is planned as a primary component to the West District on the former industrial property and open fields below the upper tier commercial businesses. This new park facility is envisioned as not only a destination for the community of Johnston, but potentially the broader Des Moines metropolitan area boasting unique recreational opportunities, strongly tied to outdoor recreation and adventure sports.” – Page 30


To view a map of how the area was envisioned at that time, see page 33 of the report, which can be downloaded from the City of Johnston website.


Note: Ignit is pronounced like the word ignite (ig-nahyt)

Land Use Typologies – What?

Land Use Typologies – What?

Examining Johnston’s Thrive 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the evolution of land use categories in Johnston.

A city comprehensive plan has a strong focus on land uses – answering the fundamental questions: “How can I use my land?” and “What can I develop on my property?” A key companion question is “Given the presence of neighbors next door, what can I do that will not unduly infringe on their ability to use and enjoy their property?”

Comprehensive plans are documents that attempt to answer these questions without addressing the details that are involved with a zoning ordinance. It is an important foundation-building document that developers, and everyone else involved, can use to guide their own planning and decision-making.  It is important to also note that a comprehensive plan is a living document that can and will be modified and updated over time – because let’s face it, things just change.

The City of Johnston is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, looking ahead to the year 2040, generally. One of the elements of the draft planning documents is called Land Use Typologies. The 2030 Plan referred to these same elements as Land Use Categories.  Whatever word you prefer to use – types, classifications, categories – it simply refers to a way of organizing different kinds of land and land uses.  If you are interested in digging into the details, you can view a side by side comparison here.

So, What’s New and Different Here?

What’s the difference between the 2030 land use categories and the proposed categories for 2040? Land is land, right? Well, one way to describe the difference is “refinement”. The community development staff and consultants have provided further elaboration on the meaning of several land use types, and they have added some new elements “mixed use” areas and some additional choices with respect to residential uses.  The following is a brief comparison and description of some of the proposed changes.

Two Types of Mixed Use

The 2030 plan provided for Community Mixed Use and Neighborhood Mixed Use, and so does the draft 2040 plan. But the new plan provides a clearer distinction between the two.

Click to expand.

Modified Housing Density Gradient

The draft 2040 plan inserts a new housing land use category called Suburban Mixed Residential. This adds a new option for developers and in some cases will allow for transitions between housing areas to be more gradual than simply low-medium-high. The following is a comparison of the land use category labels and the characteristics of the different use type for each plan.

Click to expand.


This is a new category that blends the previous categories “Business Park” and “Office.” It includes professional offices and services, showrooms, warehousing and light industrial. It also includes larger business park developments. It is unclear how this would be reflected in any updated zoning ordinances, but it appears to provide a range of flexibility to developers subject to the constraints of neighboring land uses.


This is an existing category that includes retail and service uses. There appears to be some overlap with the Business/Employment category (which includes professional services such as medical facilities). The new description also seems to provide a cleaner distinction between Community and Regional commercial uses and Neighborhood commercial uses. Community and Regional Commercial areas would be close to primary transportation corridors and serve a regional population, while Neighborhood Commercial areas would be adjacent to housing and focused on serving the needs of local residents. This could be viewed as two separate land use categories, depending on how it is reflected in subsequent zoning policies.

For a number of categories, the descriptions are similar when comparing the 2030 Plan with the draft 2040 plan. Some title changes are proposed. For example, Public and Quasi-Public would be changed to “Public/Semi-Public,” but the definitions are similar. The title Park/Open Space is changed to “Parks and Open Space.” Very little substantive change is apparent in the categories of Industrial, Army Corps, Camp Dodge, and Agriculture.

So, How Can You Provide Feedback?

The latest information about the comprehensive plan has been posted on the Thrive 2040 website, which provides citizens, landowners and developers with a means to provide comments about the current draft of the plan. An interactive map is provided for the Land Use section. Comments may also be submitted to

NEED HELP? Would you like some guidance on how to submit comments regarding the land use typologies (categories)? Click here for instructions and a video demonstration.

The Johnston Economic Development Corporation strongly encourages everyone, including business owners, landowners, developers, and the institutions which serve them to participate in this engagement process.

Johnston Thrive 2040 Comprehensive Plan Moves Forward

Johnston Thrive 2040 Comprehensive Plan Moves Forward

The City of Johnston is moving forward with a significant update to its comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan serves several purposes, including the following:

  • A guide for current and future land uses – a “road map,” if you will – that can inform citizens, landowners and developers about how certain land areas should be used and how different land uses should reasonably transition from one to another. For example, simplified goal would be to prevent incompatible uses to be next to each other, such as heavy industry and single-family homes. Another example is how land for housing would transition from lower density to higher density uses.
  • A strategic economic development plan for the city to lay out the main goals, policies and implementation initiatives that will address issues such as housing, transportation, natural resource use, parks and recreation and of course, land use.

Keep in mind that a comprehensive plan is a guidebook – it is not a zoning ordinance. Also, it can be amended. Things change over time, and there are circumstances – such as market forces – that would cause a planned land use to change. But having a plan in place helps bring some order and sensibility to development. It makes for a stronger community and local economy overall.

The latest information about the comprehensive plan has been posted on the Thrive 2040 website, which provides citizens, landowners and developers with a means to provide comments about the current draft of the plan. Specifically, it enables people to comment about three aspects of the plan: Vision & Guiding Principles, Policy Directions and Planned Land Use. Online surveys are provided for the Vision and Policy sections. An interactive map is provided for the Land Use section. Comments may also be submitted to

The Johnston Economic Development Corporation strongly encourages everyone, including business owners, landowners, developers, and the institutions that serve them to participate in this engagement process.