Small Town Dreams Make for Big City Changes
Tucked into the Des Moines River valley, more and more people are discovering the extraordinary town of Fort Dodge. But what’s drawing them there? Is it the beautiful homes, both old and new, that can be found for families of all sizes? Is it the diverse job opportunities that abound? Is it the cutting-edge schools and hospitals that offer residents a safe and secure place to live? Is it the culture of Fort Dodge, which boasts art galleries, a symphony, biking and walking trails, golf courses and shopping? In truth, it’s what lies at the heart of Fort Dodge: the people, who have banded together as a community in order to make their city great.
Few cities in Iowa have grown at such a fast rate as Fort Dodge, and it’s because of a care for the community that the people have manifested in inspiring ways over the last few years.
“Everybody is always asking, ‘What can I do to make this community better?’ Everyone is working so hard – usually with some organization – to try and make this an awesome place, and that’s so nice to see,” said Megan Secor, the Marketing and Social Media manager of Soldier Creek Winery. “It’s not a stagnant community. We’re trying to grow and make ourselves better, and I love seeing that.”
Between the efforts of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, the city government, and the tenacious citizens, Fort Dodge has become a successful town of over 25,000 that is growing and prospering more each day. As charming as any small town, with all the offerings of a city, Fort Dodge and the people who live here are determined to make it a place that everyone – old or young, rich or poor – can live a happy and meaningful life.
“The changes that Mayor Bemrich and his staff, as well as our engineering department have made not only to the city itself, but also how the city is run, is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Trey Seiser, Project Manager at Woodruff Construction. “The city has a willingness and eagerness to follow up and follow through with development plans that have given Fort Dodge the status of a new and developed city. Without them, nothing could be done.”
Woodruff Construction certainly knows about the physical growth of the city. Having just celebrated their 63rd year in town, the company has a long history of being involved in some of the most meaningful and major constructions in town since 1956. In 2014, Woodruff Construction completed a portion of the city’s gorgeous Municipal Building renovations. In 2015, when Duncombe Elementary school in Fort Dodge discovered that their building had structural issues on the cusp of a new school year, Woodruff Construction stepped in, tearing away the old building and taking the new building from structural steel all the way to the completed product, increasing the capacity for the ever-growing community and their children.
“That’s one of the ones we’re really proud of,” Seiser said.
Over the past five years, over 1700 new jobs have been created, and wages have increased over 15% in Fort Dodge. Global companies like Nestle, Cargill, and Silgan continue to invest in the future of the city. But that doesn’t mean that a new business owner won’t stand a chance. In fact, thanks to Main Street Fort Dodge, new businesses aren’t just being moved into new buildings. They’re finding a home in the historic downtown area.
Main Street Fort Dodge is a non-profit organization that supports economic growth in the downtown through business support services. Part of Main Street Iowa, a group that works with a select group of communities throughout Iowa that are committed to downtown economic development, Main Street Fort Dodge helps to keep historic preservation alive, connecting property owners to state and/or federal programming that can help them fix up old buildings in a cost-effective way, making them more attractive to new business owners. Kris Patrick, the executive director of Main Street Fort Dodge, relocated from southern Iowa to take the position, and she couldn’t be happier about it.
“What I find most rewarding is working with the business owners on façade renovation, to expand their businesses, and make them feel part of this downtown community and neighborhood,” said Patrick. “They realize that they aren’t alone and that we are working towards a common end. Seeing that change in attitude is really rewarding because with that we have more people coming downtown and it’s really becoming a destination place which is our goal.”
Jim Bird, a life-long Fort Dodger, who works with Main Street Fort Dodge, has owned Olde Boston Restaurant & Pub downtown since 1981. “There’s something special to the downtown area. I still have ties to it, I still have passion for it and I still want to see it be better than it is now,” said Bird. “Over the last seven to ten years that’s turned around. We’re getting parking lots resurfaced; we’re getting people to renovate storefronts. I think the Main Street program is really going to help accelerate turning things around.”
A healthy workforce and downtown community are important but having the health of the citizens thrive is also a top priority in Fort Dodge. The hospitals, health and dental care are top notch, and invaluable community services.
“We offer a non-judgmental, open and inviting environment. Whoever walks through that door will be helped, just like everyone else,” said Renae Kruckenberg, the Chief Executive Officer of Community Health Center of Fort Dodge. “We’ve added new things to the business, like behavioral health in 2016. We have a financial advocate that can assist patients in applying for insurance. People who are new to the area find that very beneficial.”
Community Health Center of Fort Dodge is a community health center whose top priority is making sure healthcare is accessible to all. “We also have a social worker now, so if someone has concerns with housing, food, travel, clothing – anything like that – they can meet with our social worker and get assistance with those things that are outside the normal healthcare.”
All those involved in health and dental care are willing to go the extra mile in order to make sure the citizens of Fort Dodge are well-taken care of.
“I love helping the patients. I find it really rewarding,” said Dr. John Clay of Clay and Associates DDS, PLC. “I’ve lived in Fort Dodge since 2003. I moved here out of dental school because my entire extended family is from here. We all have to take pride in our community, and we do that by putting together these give-back programs.”
The give-back programs that Clay and Associates DDS have taken part in have not only directly affected the lives of their patients, but of those who have never stepped foot inside the practice. In May of 2018, families from all over Fort Dodge were encouraged to go onto the Facebook page of the practice to register for a give-away of two family pool passes. Two random names were drawn, and two families have enjoyed their summer splashing away in the community pool. On top of that, they donated $50 last December for every new patient they got to the community school foundation, raising a few thousand dollars. It shows how every extra step that each community member makes affects someone else.
Just as all towns need to be healthy, wealthy and wise, so too do they need to be entertained. Many head to Soldier Creek Winery on Friday nights to listen to live music free of charge. Just northeast of Fort Dodge, nestled amongst corn and soybean fields, Soldier Creek Winery is the place to be on weekends for people of all ages.
“Every town should have a winery,” said Megan Secor, the Marketing and Social Media manager at Soldier Creek. “We have thirteen wines, we have sweet wines, dry wines, and they’re all Webster County grapes.”
Made in Iowa, by Iowa, and for Iowa, the wines are just the beginning of what’s great about Soldier Creek Winery. Once again, it’s the people who make it truly special.
“Everybody in the family does something for the winery, but my two sisters-in-law and I cover the day to day of everything. #LadyBoss!” said Secor. “I really love engaging with people online and then seeing them in person. I like having that personal connection. On the whole, we are just really thankful to have a community that backs us as a business. People come out and they support us and in turn we try to support them. And it’s really nice to have that relationship with people.”
The town may look different every day during this revitalization, but you’ll always recognize Fort Dodge by the smiles on the faces of the people who live there, and the helping hand they extend to everyone in the community.
Visit thisisfortdodge.com for more information.