MidAmerican takes steps towards customer financial support

MidAmerican takes steps towards customer financial support

A recent press release from MidAmerican Energy Company assures Iowans that they are here to help after the effects of the February cold snap.

In light of the recent cold snap that affected most of the central U.S., JEDCO member MidAmerican Energy Company sent out a press release last Wednesday, February 24, detailing what they are doing to mitigate the financial impacts their customers may be anticipating. With so many already struggling from the effects of the pandemic, they understand a rising gas and electric bill are the last thing their customers want.

“We understand that many are worried about an upcoming sticker shock for February heating, so we’re doing everything we can to lessen the financial burden on our customers,” Mike Gehringer, MidAmerican’s vice president of customer operations, said.

What to expect

According to company projections, residential customers in Iowa are likely to see, on average, March bills $13 higher than in February.  Higher gas bills will continue throughout the year as the effect of this increase is spread across months. When comparing that to the five-year annual average of a MidAmerican residential gas bill of $566, customers will see an estimated average increase of $214, or the equivalent of approximately $18 per month.

This is a little different for commercial customers in Iowa. Their average March bill will likely be $95 higher than that of February’s. Again, when compared to the five-year annual average bill of $2,233, customers will see an estimated increase of $1,182, or the equivalent of approximately $98 per month. 

These increases are not insignificant, but they are substantially lower in relation to much of the central U.S. Especially the staggering cost hikes seen in Texas and other parts of the South where their infrastructure was less equipped for that kind of cold.

What is MidAmerican doing to help Iowans?

Something important to note is that MidAmerican supplies gas to its customers as a pass-through cost without a mark-up or profit. Due to this unusually strong winter demand and sudden decrease in natural gas production in the Southern U.S., it led to extreme market jumps. Increasing costs on both ends. 

However, MidAmerican’s underground gas storage, liquified natural gas storage and advance purchase contracts that locked in prices prior to this month’s events, helped mitigate market price impacts to customers. Shielding customers from more than $400 million in costs.

The company also filed a request late Wednesday, February 24 with the Iowa Utilities Board. In their request, MidAmerican asked the board to suspend a rule requiring the company to collect all the February heating costs during a limited billing window that currently ends in August.

In addition to this, the company plans to discuss additional proposals at a scheduled meeting with the Iowa Utilities Board on March 12. It will include extending the payback period for February’s higher heating costs beyond August.

What can Iowans do right now?

“For nearly a year, customers have been dealing with extraordinary circumstances that have taken their toll and stretched paychecks,” Gehringer said. “We don’t want these increased bill amounts caused by the cold weather to be another worry. There are resources available to help.” 

MidAmerican recommends, for those who qualify, to apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It assists eligible low-income households with their heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance, weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

The company also sponsors its own residential payment assistance program, called I CARE, managed by community action agencies throughout its service area. Through this program, members of the community can donate what they have to help local community action agencies provide heating and bill assistance and home weatherization to those in need in their neighborhoods. 

Finally, MidAmerican also offers a Budget Billing Program to help customers ease bill fluctuations. It’s a free program for customers and simply averages utility charges that vary by changing seasons and different energy usage patterns. Customers can enroll by calling MidAmerican at 888-427-5632, or through the My Account link on the company’s website at www.MidAmericanEnergy.com.  

City Council Development Update

City Council Development Update

The Johnston City Council and staff taken several actions recently in support of developments in Johnston. Here are some key highlights.

  • Budget plans are nearly complete, and it appears the City will keep the property tax rate the same: $10.63 per $1,000 of valuation. City staff have prepared an infographic explaining the main budget initiatives including projects to be funded by the local option sales tax. For more information about the budget plans – see the January 20 post.
  • A 2021 Strategic Plan has been adopted by the Council. Economic development continues to be a priority with a focus on the Town Center, the Merle Hay Road gateway and reinvestment district, redevelopment in the NW 86th street commercial district, and infrastructure to support future development in the NW Beaver Creek Development Area (HWY 141 north). Expanding broadband access is also high on the list – although specifics are to be determined through the broadband visioning study currently underway and as the pending MetroNet build-out proceeds this year.
  • In correspondence with the economic development strategic plan, a new economic development staff position to work with City Economic Development Manager Adam Plagge is in the works. A specific timeline for the new hire has not been announced.
  • The ordinance amendment to allow for some additional activities in the Birchwood Crossing PUD has been completed. See the January 20 post.
City of Johnston Business Survey Takeaways

City of Johnston Business Survey Takeaways

In conjunction with a community/citizen survey, the City recently sponsored a survey of Johnston businesses to gauge their opinions on topics such as the quality of city services, the impacts of COVID-19, broadband telecommunications services and rating the City as a place to do business. There were 80 Johnston business owners/managers who chose to have their voice heard. Sometimes it is difficult to discern what is important when viewing survey results, especially if you are looking for something that might be the basis for taking action. This is admittedly a somewhat subjective exercise, but here are a few messages we can get from these responses.

  • Eight-six percent of the respondents said that as a place to do business, Johnston was “excellent” or “good”. But 12% said Johnston was “average” and 1% said “poor.”

Takeaway – A wish that we had greater insight about what those 13% think should be done to make things better. And it is not just about City services. This is something to be explored.

  • Most respondents said that Johnston is “inclusive” and “welcoming to all people”. Two percent indicated the City is not very welcoming and inclusive, and 17% said they did not have an opinion. So, we’re good on that, right? Answer: probably not as much as we would like to think. The survey didn’t break down the race or ethnicity of respondents, so we don’t know how diverse the response pool was.

Takeaway – We should keep exploring this question. Conversations we have had with some of our major employers in recent years indicate that there is some work to do. The City Council’s recently adopted strategic plan includes this topic.  Specifically, it states that the community needs to “ensure that Johnston is a welcoming community, with a proactive Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan to support citizen/business engagement.” What will the tasks for achieving this goal be? It is still to be determined.

  • As with the City’s community survey, the business survey results suggest a high satisfaction with most City services. Notably, 12% of the respondents (remember this is a business survey) are dissatisfied with the availability of public transportation.

Takeaway – Again, we need more information. Are they referring to DART services from downtown to Johnston? Are they expressing a need for better access for their employees? Or are they just expressing a need for public transportation between the east and west sides of the community?

  • Fifty percent of the respondents say they are still experiencing distress as a result of COVID-19, and yet seventy-six percent say they are very prepared or prepared “to meet the needs of changing industry as a result of COVID‐19 and similar challenges that may occur in the future.”

Takeaway – One thing we observe in our day-to-day interactions with businesses is that there is resiliency and strength among business owners and managers. They work hard every day to survive and you can feel their hope for the future is strong. Nothing scientific about this. But the survey results do seem to reflect this condition.

  • Eighty-four percent of the respondents say they already have broadband services at their business, and twelve percent do not. That said, 32% of the respondents said that “it is very important that their internet service is improved, because their current service is not meeting their needs.”

Takeaway – Johnston has Century Link, Mediacom and now Metronet. Issue solved? Too soon to say. The community should complete the visioning study recently started, identify gaps in service, and explore solutions. To be competitive in the future – 100% broadband access should be the goal, and in the process, maybe there should be a conversation about what speeds are required to meet those business and community needs.

Think you might reach some different conclusions? You can download the report and identify your own takeaways.



Merle Hay Gateway Reinvestment District

Merle Hay Gateway Reinvestment District

Johnston Seeks Support for MHR Gateway Master Plan

In 2013 the City of Johnston undertook a significant Master Planning and public engagement project for a 123 acre area called the Merle Hay Road Gateway. Following this effort, the City submitted a portion of the area to be admitted to the 2014 inaugural round of the State’s Iowa Reinvestment District Program. 

The program allows a portion of new sales, service and hotel and motel tax to be collected within the district for use within a Reinvestment District for up to 20 years. The City’s submission was not approved in favor of other projects at the time. Since then the City has undertaken multiple projects that were laid out in the 2013 Master Planning project in the Gateway area. Such projects already finished or underway are: Terra Park & Terra Lake, two kayak launch installations, planned dedication of land for a dog park, trail investments, proposed Merle Hay Road and Johnston Drive improvements, the proposed Ignit project and more. Click here for a document summarizing the full timeline of the Master Planning project and what may be expected in the next couple of years. 

In 2020, the State funded the Reinvestment District program with $100 million for the first time since 2014. The City then put together a new Reinvestment District pre-application for a 75-acre area in the Gateway District. For a map of the proposed area click here. The intention of the pre-application is to lay out the City’s vision for the Reinvestment District, provide as much detail as possible on possible projects and identify funding gaps. 

The City is requesting $4,399,740 to help fund gaps for potential projects identified in the pre-application and to advance Phase I of the Gateway Plan. With two other applicants asking for $30 million each, the competition for funding is expected to be fierce. 

This Reinvestment District area will include future projects such as:

  • Ignit Sports and Fitness:  which is expected to generate 396,396 visitors annually; 71,898 of these annual visitors are expected to arrive from over 150+ miles away. Catch Des Moines estimates the overall direct annual economic impact at $57,000,000. This can be found in the Economic Impact section of the pre-application.
  • Gateway Park: Proposed City park, trail and road infrastructure improvements supporting the Ignit facility and adjoining Reinvestment District properties.
  • Western Gateway: Proposed hotel and commercial development integrated with Ignit and connected through Gateway Park improvements.
  • Central Kayak Launch: Proposed City infrastructure improvements to include historic sign renovation, construction of a central kayak launch, a sports rental facility, and a relocation site for the Inter-Urban rail building (currently located on Johnston Drive east of the bike trail).
  • Eastern Gateway: Proposed mixed-use development including an ecological themed hotel capitalizing on the Central Kayak Launch improvements.
  • Heard Gardens Mixed-Use: A proposed mixed-use redevelopment site located east of Merle Hay and north of Johnston Drive.
  • Western Parcels: Key commercial properties with private redevelopment or renovation opportunities benefiting from proposed infrastructure improvements.

This plan will also economically benefit the majority of the sub-areas that are either underdeveloped or undeveloped. An independent economic impact analysis is planned to be completed prior to submission of a final application. So there is more to be included if the City’s pre-application is advanced. The City plans to invest a total of $122 million in the areas natural amenities as described in the Master Planning project.

One of the challenges for the project is a requirement that the City prove that the district is “unique in nature”:

‘“Unique nature” means a quality or qualities of the projects to be developed in a district which, when considered in the entirety, will substantially distinguish the district’s projects from other existing or proposed developments in the state.”

In the pre-application, the City notes that the district will contrast traditional auto-centric commercial development and be a unique multi-modal district to the metro and Iowa. It will reinvigorate the Merle Hay Corridor, connecting the Johnston Town Center and Merle Hay Mall districts. This would then create an environment and opportunity for commercial development to thrive while maintaining and enhancing the natural resources in the area that will distinguish this project as being truly unique. Ultimately, benefiting the local, regional and state economy.

According to the Iowa Economic Development website, pre-applications will be scored and approved by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) Board. This process is designed to allow applicants to make reasonable changes to the proposed district plan before the final application is considered. Final applications are then due prior to next years application filing window. As the applications move forward, the City will continue to update the Johnston community and area developers.


MetroNet Construction Plans Underway: Information Shared with Residents

MetroNet Construction Plans Underway: Information Shared with Residents

MetroNet facilitated a community meeting on Wednesday, February 17, to answer any questions surrounding the development and installation of MetroNet fiber optics in the City of Johnston. Here are some of the important topics discussed during the meeting:

MetroNet began construction efforts in the City of Johnston in December 2020. Residents were made aware that there are a series of communication alerts that residents will receive from MetroNet before they come to their area for installation.

    • A letter letting residents know that they will be coming to their area in the next 30 days and what to expect. 
    • A construction postcard, notifying the resident of construction in the area. 
    • An easement flyer notifying residents that they may need to enter onto private property to get to the easement. 
    • An underground utilities flyer. which encourages the residents to let MetroNet know of any underground utilities in their yards, so they can avoid damaging those when digging.

Johnston residents can find out when they are coming to their neighborhood by checking out the interactive map on their website. The map represents MetroNet’s first set of planned construction areas. Additional planned construction areas will be added on an ongoing basis as their plans develop. MetroNet offers fiber television technology, high-speed Gigabit Internet, and local and long distance phone service. They have a variety of different packages to meet residents needs. To learn more about their services and pricing, click here to visit their website. For those who choose to pre-sign with one of their plans, they will be first to be installed when MetroNet starts construction in their area.

MetroNet will have permanent people stationed in the area (technicians and a storefront). Employees will follow COVID-19 Precautions during the installation process. All workers will wear masks, gloves, disposable booties (if entering your house), sanitize their equipment between jobs, social distance, and sanitize areas that might have been touched after finishing the job.

Watch this video from the City of Johnston to learn more!

Johnston City Council Budget and Planning

Johnston City Council Budget and Planning

January is shaping up to be a big decision-making period for the Johnston City Council. On January 4, 2021 the Council approved the Capital Improvement Plan for the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. With this action the Council made the following decisions which will affect economic development  in Johnston:

  • Move forward with planning and construction of sanitary sewer service and water service extensions in the Beaver Creek Development Area (sometimes referred to as the NW annexation area) – if litigation with Xenia RRW can be resolved
  • Construct the NW Beaver Drive overlay
  • Complete the reconstruction of NW 54th between 86th street and 100th  street
  • Begin planning for the reconstruction of 100th street from 54th to 62nd Ave.
  • Construct the roadways required for the Ignit recreation complex – Johnston Drive west of Merle Hay Road
  • Proceed with several important community recreation and quality of life projects including the Trestle to Trestle bridge replacement, the public park associated with the Ignit project, the NW 86th street trail from 54th to 62nd Ave., and enhancements to Lew Clarkson Park, and much more

View the complete CIP plan here.

But there is much more. On January 19, 2021 the City Council held a work session to continue deliberations on the City’s fiscal year 2022 budget. A January 14, 2021 memo from City Administrator Jim Sanders and Assistant City Administrator Teresa Rotschafer provides detailed background information about the City budget, the impact of COVID-19 and the general economy on City revenues. It also describes the strategic priorities recommended by the various department heads. Staff budget recommendations are included in this memo. Planning will continue into February and culminate in the adoption of a new budget at a public hearing on March 15, 2021. Here are a few key points included in the staff recommendations.

  • A property tax rate of $10.69 per $1,000 of valuation was recommended. This would be an increase of $0.06 over the current year. There would be no change in the debt service levy
  • Property tax dollars collected would increase by $659,978.00 or 3.97%
  • The City would maintain a reserve of 24% of the general fund operating expenditures
  • The disposition of several development-related decision packages are addressed in a separate document. Items of interest include the following topics:
  1. A decision package to create a Project Development fund with an initial investment of $25,000.00 remains under consideration. Often development projects require special effort and in some cases would require outside technical assistance. This would provide a pool of resources to support this work
  2. A decision package to create a marketing plan and program for the Beaver Creek Development area (a.k.a. the NW annexation area – may be deferred until a future budget year)
  3. Staff requests to enhance GIS web mapping, purchase a large format multi-function device, and to purchase a high-quality video camera remain in the running for approval

Note: At the work work session the Council encouraged the City staff to explore other ways to fund certain decision packages with the goal of keeping the property tax rate at the current level: $10.63 per $1,000 of valuation. More discussion will occur before final decisions are made in March.

Readers interested in the City budget and topics related to economic development are encouraged to review these materials, and when appropriate to express viewpoints to Council members.


Recent City Council and Planning & Zoning Updates

Recent City Council and Planning & Zoning Updates

The Johnston City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission have taken several actions recently in support of developments in Johnston.

  • Initiated an ordinance amendment to allow for some additional activities in the Birchwood Crossing PUD. Specifically, the Industrial Commerce Park District uses would be permitted for Parcel D located on the eastern edge of the development. More specifically, outdoor storage would be allowed as a use at 7901 Birchwood Court – with requirements for screening and placement.
  • Approved a site plan submitted by SETPOINT Mechanical Solutions for the construction of an 8,861 square foot office/warehouse building at 8951 Thomas Avenue in Windsor Office Park. The site is adjacent to AKC Marketing and will also be a neighbor to Impact7G.
  • Awarded a $2.76 million contract for the construction of the NW Beaver Drive overlay. The project would resurface NW Beaver Drive from Merle Hay Road to NW 48th Street, and would include a 10 foot wide shared use path along the northeast side of NW Beaver Drive from Merle Hay Road to the intersection with NW 66th Avenue.
Virtual Annual Meeting: Recording & Event Recap

Virtual Annual Meeting: Recording & Event Recap

As JEDCO kicks off 2021 it is important to reflect back on 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic may consume the thoughts of many when they think back on the past year, but the City of Johnston has plenty of Economic Development accomplishments to be proud of in 2020! Each year the Annual Meeting provides JEDCO and the City of Johnston with an opportunity to share the previous years accomplishments with the development community. In addition to looking back on the year both JEDCO and the city are able to provide a look ahead to expected development in the coming year.

This year the Annual Development Meeting was held virtually on Thursday, January 14th at 4:00 PM. The meeting was a live webinar which included a JEDCO Business Meeting and Board of Directors election. Congratulations to re-elected board members Grant Taylor (The Hansen Company), Ross Harris (SEH) and Brian Erickson (Knapp Properties, Inc.). Congratulations to newly elected board member Dave Melling (First National Bank). 

JEDCO provided a recap of activities in 2020 and a preview of 2021 activities. Information regarding the upcoming broadband for business forum was shared. Adam Plagge, City of Johnston Economic Development Manager closed with an update on development activity in Johnston as well as an overview of the Annual Development Report. Thank you to those who joined us for the live meeting and webinar.  If you were unable to attend you can listen to the webinar recording or download the webinar presentation for review.


Plans for 86th Street Trail – 2nd Beaver Creek Access Advance

Plans for 86th Street Trail – 2nd Beaver Creek Access Advance

The Johnston City Council recently received an update on plans for constructing a new trail or “Side-Path” on the east side of NW 86th street between NW 54th Ave. and NW 62nd Ave. The project has been included in the City’s capital improvement plan, and bids are expected to be solicited sometime in November. Construction would be expected to begin in the spring of 2021. One of the technical challenges of the project involves the relocation of utilities. The familiar pine trees adjacent to the road and neighborhood would be removed and replaced by a landscaped berm. Construction costs are currently estimated to be about $1.6 million.

Detailed plans show how the path would flow from the commercial corner on NW54th Avenue, past Chambery and Windsor Parkway, and then from Crescent Chase to NW 62nd Avenue. From there, users could connect to the NW 62nd Avenue trail and also the trail along Beaver Creek to NW 70th Avenue and the water trail access point. At Windsor Parkway, users could cross NW 86th and connect with the Greenwood Hills Park trail intersecting with Long Meadows Drive.

See the City of Johnston City Council Work Session Presentation

Construction of the new water trails access point at Lew Clarkson Park is also underway. Beaver Creek needs some water for navigation, but the access point is expected to open by the end of November, 2020. Below is a panoramic view of the new access point as viewed from Lew Clarkson and including the Terra Park trail access.

Comprehensive Plans Are Living Documents

Comprehensive Plans Are Living Documents

The Johnston City Council recently approved the Thrive 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The document covers a wide range of topics including land use, natural resources, transportation, housing, economic development, utilities, and parks, trails and recreation. Does this mean the plan is set in stone for 20 years? Absolutely not. Many things affect city planning and communities must be prepared to adapt to new factors including market conditions, changing demographics and evolving landowner goals. Two possible changes to the new plan are already under consideration: one involves a request to increase the amount of high density housing development south of Windsor Parkway and west of NW 86th Street, and another would make a minor modification to a property on the northeast corner of NW Beaver Drive and NW 66th Avenue – converting it from commercial to residential.

These proposals emerged late in the Thrive 2040 planning process. Rather than make a substantive last-minute change, the City opted to defer consideration until after the main plan was adopted. Now that the Comprehensive Plan has been approved, the City will consider proposed amendments to the plan, ensuring adequate opportunities for public comment concerning the proposed changes.

Planning is an ongoing process and every property owner, residential or commercial, should be prepared for change and be ready to adapt.

Impact7G Considers Move to Windsor Parkway

Impact7G Considers Move to Windsor Parkway

Photo From: Impact7G


Impact7G, an Iowa environmental services, planning and consulting firm, is considering a move to Windsor Office Park in Johnston.

On November 16, 2020 the City Council will review a development agreement with the company to construct an 11,000 square foot office on lot 10 of Windsor Office Park (8951 Windsor Parkway). The estimated value of the project is $2.1 million, and the agreement would provide financial assistance in the form of a forgivable loan of up to $245,000.00. The office building is to be used as the corporate headquarters office for the business. If approved, construction is expected to be completed by September, 2021.

Impact7G provides a diverse portfolio of environmental services, and their team includes environmental scientists, planners, geologists, biologists, foresters, drillers, geographic information system analysts, and regulatory specialists. We look forward to having them in the community. Welcome!

Thrive 2040 Plan Soon Final – City Planning Continues

Thrive 2040 Plan Soon Final – City Planning Continues

UPDATE – November 5, 2020

Following months of work and a final review of recent comments received about the Thrive 2040 – City of Johnston Comprehensive Plan, the Johnston City Council formally adopted the plan at their meeting on November 2, 2020.

The Johnston Economic Development Corporation submitted our final review and comments in a September 15, 2020 memo to the City Council (available here). JEDCO supports many elements of the plan including changes in certain land use categories, the goal of maintaining a balanced housing supply with housing available for people at all income levels, the goal of maintaining a competitive financial incentive policy and economic development toolbox, and continued investments in community amenities that add to the quality of life for our workforce and residents.

A community comprehensive plan is a living document that is not fixed for the next 20 years. Circumstances and markets change. Developers, residents and property owners will seek amendments to the plan. And there are many topics that will be subject to ongoing planning by the City. Here are a few things to look for in the next year.

  • A Johnston Broadband Visioning plan will be conducted by the City with the assistance of JEDCO member HR Green. The process will assess community access to broadband telecommunications services and develop a vision for future access to high speed bandwidth.
  • The City will soon undertake an updated community and business survey to gather input from residents and business owners about City services and community needs.
  • The annual process of developing the City’s Capital Improvement plan is just beginning. Draft plans identify the following as key projects:
    • Completing the Town Center intersection and NW 62nd Ave. and Merle Hay Road
    • Completing the reconstruction of NW 54th Ave.
    • Reconstructing the intersection of Johnston Drive and Merle Hay Road to facilitate the Ignit recreation center project
    • Constructing the NW Beaver Drive overlay from Merle Hay Road to NW 66th Ave.
    • Constructing a new trail on 86th Street between NW 54th Ave. and NW 62nd Ave.
    • Making improvements to Lew Clarkson park and further developments for the Beaver Creek Water trail

Community development and planning is an ongoing process and the items highlighted here represent only a portion of the scope of work that occurs on topics ranging from sewer and water infrastructure to housing to parks and amenities.

Upcoming Business Developments

Upcoming Business Developments

The September 2020 City of Johnston Building Permit report shows that investments in commercial projects totaled nearly $1.7 million through the first three quarters of the calendar year. Investments in single family housing development led all categories at more than $14 million, followed by multi-family projects ($5.2 million) and townhomes ($2.2 million). New investments are in the pipeline, including the following:

  • Setpoint Mechanical LLC is planning for a new 8,861 square foot office/warehouse building. The development is located just northwest of the intersection of NW 86th street and NW 54th at 5519 NW 88th Street.
  • Donovan Development is moving forward with plans for the development of an 11,500 square foot one-story building with office/warehouse space at NW 59th Avenue and NW Beaver Drive in Johnston. Construction costs are estimated to be $1.2 million. The company and the City have entered into a development agreement that provides economic development grants of up to $85,000.00 for the project.
  • Childserve is planning a 3,600 square foot expansion to create a three-story connector between the north and south portions of their campus. The expansion is designed to facilitate the addition of patient rooms and therapy beds.
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 https://www.iowafinance.com/covid-19-iowa-eviction-and-foreclosure-prevention-program/.

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 https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/Business/energy-recovery  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.