'Think Cedar Rapids first,' says City Council

Officials say region and economic development still important but focus will be inside city

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Mayor Ron Corbett did his part in December to help celebrate with Safelite Solutions when the company announced it was moving its Cedar Rapids-based Alliance Claims Solutions business unit to Hiawatha and adding 200 full- and part-time jobs.

But the notion, what is good for the metro area and the region is good for Cedar Rapids, only goes so far.

On Tuesday, the City Council adopted its new goals for the fiscal year that began July 1, and one of the goals reads this way: "Make bold moves in economic development; lead regionally, think Cedar Rapids first."

Putting Cedar Rapids first will allow the city to maximize its property-tax revenue and to diversify its economic base, the cityís goals statement says. The city, the statement says, needs to improve how it markets and brands itself as Cedar Rapids. Cedar Rapids needs to set itself apart and differentiate itself from other places, the statement says.

Mayor Ron Corbett on Tuesday said the councilís new goals represent nothing different from the plan he outlined in his State of the City speech in February when he said the region around Cedar Rapids canít be successful without a strong Cedar Rapids.

"We really have been aggressive in the last couple years as we have watched our tax base slip away," the mayor said. "We maybe had a slight reputation of being difficult to do business with, but we think weíve turned the corner on that. Developers are excited about doing business in Cedar Rapids."

In the last few years, Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha in particular have competed head to head to keep businesses and attract new ones. That competition flashed into the headlines in 2010 when colorful Internet firm Go Daddy decided it would move its Cedar Rapids office to Hiawatha and expand it despite a last-minute push by Corbett to keep Go Daddy in Cedar Rapids.

Then in December 2012, the same month that Safelite announced its decision to move to an empty upscale Class A office building in Hiawatha, the Cedar Rapids City Council extended an attractive incentive package to developer Joe Ahmann and his plan to build a $34 million upscale Class A office and retail project, called The Fountains, east of the Transamerica campus at Edgewood Road NE and Blairs Ferry Road NE.

At the time, Corbett said he didnít want Cedar Rapids to be without available Class A office space again.

Since then, too, the Cedar Rapids council has shifted $1 million in funds from its enterprise departments like water and water pollution control to a special city revenue fund for economic development.

In addition, Joe OíHern, who had been the cityís flood recovery director, now has a new position and title in the city managerís office, executive administrator for development services.

"Joe OíHern is the cityís first economic development officer, and itís paying dividends already," council member Scott Olson, a commercial Realtor, said on Tuesday.

Olson said the city is now going out and talking to existing businesses in the city to see how the city can help them thrive in Cedar Rapids.

The city, he said, will continue to think about the region and its economic development, which is a focus of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

"But as City Council members, our concern is that we do as much economic development inside the city limits of Cedar Rapids as possible," Olson said. "What weíre tasked to do is maintain the cityís quality of life and to try and increase the tax base inside the city. I think that is a new focus. We need to be more aggressive on our own behalf."

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