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Nolte: Parting thoughts on economic development

After 14 years and two weeks with the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD) I started writing some thoughts to leave with this amazing team that I have been so blessed to work with. I wanted to share those thoughts for what its work with my peers in the economic development profession as I step away to new endeavors.

Here are my parting thoughts:

1)  Don’t ever forget we are here to serve. While the organization and our own personal brands can be seen by some as being “important” or “influential” we only have value if we come with a spirit of service every day. And if you are always asking: “Who / How can I serve today?” you will stay open to the ideas, connections and solutions that our companies, job seekers, investors and the community at large needs.  Once you start thinking you have all the answers and that people should listen to you, the reverse happens, and you get stuck in the wrong playbook. 

2)  Problems change over time, thus the solutions need to adapt as well. This is the fun part of this work, seeing where you can be of service requires that you are open to new information all the time. What are the macro trends that can and will impact your community?

3)  Metrics have changed and you need to be open with your investors, community and board about this. If you are finding that you spend a lot of time trying to justify doing the old things, you will lose trust. Be honest with yourself and everyone you work with, even when the truth is you have no idea where things are going. You will find co-creators who will help you find a new way.

4)  The economy is changing in profound ways, part of the job is helping explain those changes in a way that can help shape a healthy new version at the local level. Tomorrow is about collaboration and rethinking how decisions are made that impact more than just the bottom line for businesses and families. The future of our communities needs to be holistic in nature.  

5) Our communities – which are the people who live here today and who will inhabit this place tomorrow – need us more than ever. Don’t let them down.

6) Enjoy the process. Take that meeting with the young person with a vague idea. Be there for that plant manager when they are facing the down times. Support that professional who just got their termination notice. Celebrate that entrepreneur when they get their first sale. If these people know someone in the community is in their corner, the community will build resilience. If they don’t, they will move away to find what they need and your local economy will crumble, one piece at a time. 

7) You can’t worry your community to success. In these roles we tend to shoulder all the fears of what could happen. That will crush you over time. Be mindful of where problems might occur, but don’t let the doubts keep you up all night. That doesn’t help anything.

8) Be present in your community, the best way to be its champion is to be part of it. Meet new people of all walks of life. Learn their stories as part of your community’s collective story. Their hopes and dreams are why we do this work.  

9) Iowa needs to modernize its incentives to favor Iowa owned companies who create both jobs and wealth in our state.

Mark Nolte is the President of Manufacturing at Moxie Solar. Prior to that, Nolte was president of ICAD since 2013 and had been with the organization since 2007.

Nolte: Parting thoughts on economic development | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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