IOWA CITY — Johnson County’s three major cities signed a pledge Friday morning agreeing to work together on economic development, not compete.
By signing the document, the Iowa City Area Development Group, Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty agreed to avoid actively encouraging businesses to move from one city to another. The Economic Development Communication Protocol went into effect Friday morning and leaves the door open to other communities to join the pact.
“We set the rules while times are good and we’re friendly, but we don’t know who’s going to sit in those chairs in the future,” North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue said during the signing ceremony. “So by having a set of abiding rules, that protects not only ourselves but our businesses and our business relationships.”
The document mandates that if an individual business has not expressed interest in moving from one of the cities to anther, ICAD or the three participating cities cannot “actively pursue that business to encourage it to relocate.” It also outlines specific rules, including that participating cities must prohibit developers it signs agreements with from actively pursuing businesses in the other cities.
In the event a business in one of the cities contacts another or ICAD about relocating or consolidating, the document outlines a communication protocol to follow.
Iowa City Manager Geoff Fruin said the plan was something the communities have been thinking about for years now. He said the three city managers or administrators met with ICAD to draft the document and then presented it to city councils for approval.
“It’s a shift from individual community thinking on economic development to a regional economic development model,” Fruin said. He said the creation of ICR Iowa, a Corridor economic development organization, is another example of thinking regionally.
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“This is one more step. So we’re going to work collaboratively to attract new business to the region, to help grow existing businesses, and it’s the recognition that whether those businesses grow and expand in Iowa City, Coralville or North Liberty, it does help us out,” Fruin said.
ICAD President Mark Nolte said there was no specific issue that caused the creation of the plan. He said an agreement like this makes it easier for the communities to focus on regional issues such as housing and transportation.
“It buries the hatchet and it sets a new tone that the communities are going to work together,” Nolte said. “We didn’t have a lot of companies that were doing that, but when it happens we want to be able to do what’s best for the company with what’s also best for the taxpayers in each community. So it’s good.”
There have been issues in the past related to businesses relocating, most notably a controversy surrounding a major retailer’s move from Iowa City to Coralville.
In 2013, upscale department store chain Von Maur left Iowa City’s Sycamore Mall, now the Iowa City Marketplace, to open a larger location in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing after the city of Coralville offered the store more than $9.5 million in tax increment financing. The move led state lawmakers, business people and members of the public to question whether the economic development tool was being misused, and created some tension between the two cities.
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