Successes celebrated by Perry Economic Development Inc.

Retiring board members Bill Clark, Rich Jones honored for career commitments to local economy

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Longtime members of the Perry Industries Board of Directors Rich Jones, left, and Bill Clark, center, were presented with plaques Thursday by outgoing PEDI President Tom Berkgren in appreciation for their longstanding commitment to the growth of Perry's economic base.

Members of the Perry Industries Inc. investment group and the nonprofit Perry Economic Development Inc. (PEDI) gathered at the Hotel Pattee Thursday night for their annual meeting, honoring their outgoing board members and welcoming the new members.

Some 50 people attended this year’s meeting, which featured a keynote address by longtime rural development specialist Bill Menner of Grinnell and special honors to longtime board members who were stepping down. Regular business also included annual reports and election of new board members and officers.

Menner, a longtime advocate for Iowa’s rural communities, was director of USDA Rural Development for Iowa from 2009 to 2017 and currently runs a rural development consulting firm called the Bill Menner Group. He is also the executive director of the Iowa Rural Health Association and executive director of the Iowa Rural Development Council.

No stranger to Perry, Menner recalled chairing the Iowa Great Places program at its inception in 2005 and visiting Perry with the Great Places team.

“Perry was confirmed as an Iowa Great Place by acclamation on the bus ride back home,” he said. “That’s how impressed we were with Perry.” He is also a friend of Eliza Willis, emeritus professor of political science at Grinnell College and a fourth-generation scion of Perry’s founding family, who thinks “resilience” is Perry’s hallmark, he said.

Menner spoke about the challenges facing rural communities — economically, demographically, culturally — and noted Perry’s strengths in housing and community facilities. He also emphasized the importance and benefits of broadband internet access in rural communities. He called high-speed internet “an essential public utility” and praised Deb Lucht at Minburn Communications for working to bring fiber optic cable to businesses and eventually to residences in Perry.

“For cities to step in,” Menner said, “and say, ‘We think the internet is so important that we’ll do it ourselves. We’ll lay fiber just like we like lay water and sewer to our residents, because we think it’s that important.’ And cities are actually the most interesting area  where you see broadband investments coming, because they are not able to convince their phone companies and the cable companies to make those investments.”

Following Menner’s speech and a tasty hotel dinner of stuffed pork loin, boiled new potatoes and green beans almondine, PEDI President Dr. Tom Berkgren brought the annual meeting to order.

Berkgren capped his president’s report with a presentation of plaques to two longtime members of the Perry Industries Board of Directors, Bill Clark and Rich Jones, in appreciation for their longstanding commitment to the growth of Perry’s economic base.

For more than 40 years, Jones and Clark have been among the “foundational pillars” in projects of commercial and industrial growth in Perry, Berkgren said.

“It’s been fantastic to see all the accomplishments over the years,” Jones said in accepting the honorary award. Clark also praised the many hands, some now sadly gone, whose strength helped build the community through the decades.

Additional reports were delivered by PEDI Vice President Matt McDevitt and Secretary Eddie Diaz, who outlined the group’s recent successes, notably the acquisition of the Hotel Pattee and La Poste as eventual city properties. PEDI board members Mike Van Houweling briefed the attendees on the progress of the capital campaign for the hotel’s purchase and maintenance.

PEDI also had a hand in growth at the Perry Industrial Park, earning certified-site status in 2015 and then facilitating the recent expansion of Percival Scientific and the relocation to the park of TBD Wearables. The list of accomplishments stretches back to the mid-1950s and the original attraction of a nationwide pork processor to Perry.

Before adjourning, two new board members were welcomed to PEDI: David Finneseth of Farm Bureau Insurance and Jeff Huitt of Tri-County Ag. Burkgren rounded out his two-year PEDI presidency and became the new PEDI past-president upon handing the gavel to the new PEDI resident, Matt McDevitt of the Raccoon Valley Bank. Deb Lucht of Minburn Communications will serve as PEDI vice president. Eddie Diaz, director of the DMACC Perry VanKirk Career Center, will continue as PEDI secretary, and Monica Scheib of Osmundson Manufacturing Co. will continue as PEDI treasurer.

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