Bienvenidos a Lime Springs

Jesse Stevens talks with Fran Burke about where to house new workers.

Jesse Stevens talks with Fran Burke about where to house new workers.

By Marcie Klomp

That means “Welcome to Lime Springs” in Spanish.
It might be a good idea to learn that phrase because it looks as though it will be said quite a bit in the years to come.

Businesses in Howard County, especially manufacturing businesses like Featherlite and Alum-line, have been begging for workers for several years. They want to expand and grow but are stifled due to a small labor force.
LimeSprings Beef will be hiring around 80 workers this fall. Some of those employees will come from around the area, possibly from the two mentioned above, making other businesses short on manpower. It’s a vicious circle.

Trying to staff LimeSprings Beef has been a worry of President of the Board Jess Stevens for a while. “I’m trying to help our general manager, Michael Spinks, figure out where employees are coming from.”

Part of the answer may be to invite international workers to the area.

Stevens contacted Himar Hernandez of Iowa State University Extension, who spoke to some Howard County visionaries on April 28 at Hawkeye REC.

Jason Passmore of Howard County Business and Tourism addressed the crowd. “We know what census numbers are doing to us. They’re not fun to look at. John [Carver, superintendent of Howard-Winneshiek School District] knows what the school numbers are.”

The population of the area is down. There are more jobs than people. The question is “How do we fix it?”

Hernandez lives in Ottumwa, one of the first communities in Iowa to embrace international workers. He has been instrumental in helping other communities get personnel to fill jobs.

It may sound scary to have international workers come to Howard County but they can be the answer to many problems.

• Hernandez explained most workers want to buy homes instead of rent. They want to invest in where they live. That means more tax money for the area.

• Buying a home usually means raising a family. That equates to more students for our schools.

• Most internationals are family-oriented. Children usually stay near their parents. That means the population will grow instead of decline with our own children leaving the area.

• Not all the workers will fill manufacturing jobs. “These newcomers are very entrepreneurial. I can see growth of small business . . . mom and pop stores and restaurants. They generally go to the downtown area,” Hernandez stated. No more vacant stores on Main Street.

• Faith is a major part of internationals, not just Catholic, but other denominations as well. Most churches have been seeing a decline in membership over the years. Perhaps internationals will give them a numbers boost.
Those are all good things that could come with opening our area to internationals.

Obviously it won’t be all peaches and roses. There will be kinks to work out.

• The language barrier is one issue. The school district will help with students. There are Spanish classes available at NICC.

• The American way of life is different from other cultures. A liaison will help let internationals know generally-accepted practices in the area communities, such as having a dog on a leash or not parking on the street.

• Stereotypes may be hard for some old-timers to ignore. The area will need to be educated on international culture.

For many years, Howard Countians have been content to live their own lives and keep northeast Iowa a secret. Well, how has that been working? Not the greatest according to census numbers.

Howard County’s population is 79th out of 99 Iowa counties. It has pretty much seen a decline in citizenship since the 1900 census. International workers may be the answer to any number of problems in the area.

More meetings will undoubtedly be held. Leaders will talk to city councils and community organizations to get the word out about the pros and cons. Stay tuned to your local paper. And adios!


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