The recession threw up a roadblock to the growth momentum at the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center. But the road now seems clear for development as the industrial park closes out a record year and a half of construction projects and increased interest.
Located in the northwest corner of Davenport, the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center saw more new tenants arrive and building projects go up in the past 18 months than in any single year in its history.
In addition, the park — epitomizing the real estate mantra of "location, location, location" — is in the hunt to become one of Iowa's first large certified sites. That designation would show potential developers it is a shovel-ready industrial site.
Built on 500-plus acres of former farmland at Interstate 80 and Northwest Boulevard, the Greater Davenport Redevelopment Corp. has sold ground for five projects since early 2012. That nearly rivals the seven projects that have sprung up there since 2000 when what now is called the Blong Technology Center became its first tenant.
“We had a terrific year last year,” said Tim Wilkinson, who was hired as the organization's executive director in February 2012 and is tasked with "selling dirt" and marketing the industrial park. “A lot of projects had been put on hold by the recession.”
In fact, between 2008 and 2011, the park's only sale was a four-acre parcel to the Iowa Department of Transportation for right-of-way for roads. But Wilkinson said that some of the most recent projects had first shown interest in the park as early as 2007, before the recession hit. One of corporation's sales was to the city of Davenport for the development of a transload facility to serve the rail spur.
"When you look at the land sales, you can see when things were not happening," said Brock Earnhardt, Greater Davenport Redevelopment Corp. board chairman. He said some of the projects that did materialize took years to complete because "it wasn't the right economic climate."
But with the economy improving, synergies among the park's new occupants and a refocused effort on sales, interest in the real estate is on the rise.
"I've seen nine prospects here in the last 18 months," said Wilkinson, a retired Alcoa Davenport Works executive who was involved in park's creation when he was part of the former Quad-City Development Group.
He credits the majority of the recent prospects to Quad-Cities First, the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce's marketing arm, which succeeded the development group.
"The last few years have been the kind of level of activity and successful development of the sites that the community envisioned," said Tara Barney, the chamber's CEO.
"It can't all happen in one-year increments. Some of it happens in 20-year increments. That's why you've got to have a 5-, 10- and 15-year plan."
The pace of development can be slow and frustrating, but the private-public partnership behind the industrial park is a best practices that the Quad-Cities needs to see more of, she said.
"It's very easy to say we want more, faster. But what we see lately in this country is having existing industrial parks and buildings is the difference between landing deals and not."
Today, the park has a mix of light and advanced manufacturers, logistics companies, a truck stop, state and federal agencies as well as the Blong Technology Center, a training center operated by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. The latest property owners to put down roots are Sadler Brothers Properties, which is about two months away from opening its new Sadler Power Train facility, as well as Penske Truck Leasing, Roemer Machine and Love's Travel Plaza, which all occupy their new buildings.
Wilkinson said he works closely with Quad-Cities First and the city of Davenport and Scott County economic development staff.
"I really depend on them as we do all the partners, all the cities and local economic development organizations," he said. "If someone is looking for an industrial park with large lots and wants to be in a Foreign Trade Zone, they come look at us. If someone wants to come to Davenport and our site doesn't fit, we try to find a spot that fits in Davenport."
$78M in capital investment
The shovel-ready park has more opportunities for growth. Earnhardt said the corporation has sold 160 of the 500-plus acres to 10 owners/11 tenants over the years. Those owners have made $78 million in capital investment and created 468 jobs.
“The pattern here is tremendous," said Earnhardt, retired president of Iowa American Water who also was involved in park's early development in his former role. “If the remaining 70 percent of the property produces jobs at the same rate, we’ll be over 1,600 jobs out here.”
In addition, he said the current $78 million capital investment could blossom to $268 million if all the remaining ground is sold.
The next boost could come from the park's efforts to become one of the state of Iowa's new large certified sites. Tory Brecht, the city of Davenport's business development manager, said the park is competing against other sites for the certification from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
"We're already in phase 2," he said. "We've been approved through Phase 1, and we're going to get a site visit from the state in November."
The certification, he said, "allows you to say you are shovel-ready and you have done a lot of the necessary due diligence for companies that may be looking to come in and build a plant."
According to Brecht, the Davenport park is the only contender in the Quad-City region for the designation. The next closest is a site in Marion. To be considered a large certified site, the site must be a minimum of 100 acres. The industrial center has 142 contiguous acres remaining for sale.
Sites that make the list, he said, "are being more actively marketed by the state when a lead comes in. If someone comes in and says, 'We're interested in putting a facility in Iowa, where should we go?' then we're on a list of pre-qualified sites."
Project began with a vision
Wilkinson said that from the park's beginnings, "the concept was patient money. You put the money in and you don't expect the return for a while."
He and Earnhardt credited John Gardner, former president of the Quad-City Development Group, for having the vision for the park.
"Twenty years ago, we weren't thinking about a global economy. John led the charge to get all the right people at the table," Wilkinson said, adding that many of the tenants operate in the global business arena.
Barney said that the Greater Davenport Redevelopment Corp. board "really recognized the importance of having infrastructure in place and having design and development standards that make sure they took the most advantage as possible of the great location on the interstate."
Asked about the tenant mix, she said, "I think they thought it would be tenants that wanted very big sites. But since then, manufacturing has become very tighter ..."
The physical space needed by manufacturers has been decreased by changes in processes, robotics technologies and the shift in supplier relationships. "There are few manufacturers that are doing everything in one space."
Barney said she is excited by the Greater Davenport Redevelopment Corp.'s interest in expanding the park.
"This is the perfect example of the high-quality development we need from our cities, our collective cities, to make sure we have sites to land prospects in," she said.
The corporation recently purchased a 70-acre parcel north of the park from Scott County farmer Glenn Keppy, Earnhardt said.
"The option came due; we had it for 10 years," he said. "We would not have been acting responsibly if we didn't exercise it."
Rather than going back to the corporation's original investors, he said they borrowed the $2.2 million from the bank. The corporation originally was a public/private partnership that included the city of Davenport, Scott County and MidAmerican Energy Co.
Earnhardt recalls how the project's site stirred some controversy back in the 1990s.
"This was some of the best farm ground in eastern Iowa, but it also was some of the best industrial ground in eastern Iowa because of its location," he said.