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Iowa Attracting Entrepreneurs

posted on November 20, 2008 at 11:11 AM

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Under the radar, there is a significant in-migration of non-Iowans to the state establishing their own businesses and quietly boosting local economies. Who are these people and why do they move to Iowa? How can more of them be encouraged to come to Iowa? And, can the state harness the new residents' motives and enthusiasm to help recruit more people to live and work here?

One look at this menu that includes crawfish ... Andouille sausage ... a shrimp Po-Boy sandwich ... and chocolate-filled Beignets ... one would most likely assume the chef at this small town Iowa café is not from around here. The assumption would be correct.

Chef Ben Halperin and his wife blew in on the winds of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding of New Orleans.

Ben Halperin, Augusta Restaurant, Oxford: "Everything stopped in New Orleans for like several months. So the restaurant I worked at closed. Our place, my place was flooded. Jeri's place was flooded."

Jeri Halperin, Augusta Restaurant, Oxford: "When we were leaving, we thought we were going back. I even left my cat there to stay with my friend because I said I'd be back in, you know, two weeks."

The Halperins moved first to Chicago, where Ben had family. The couple later moved to Iowa, where Jeri has relatives in many Iowa towns ... but not in Oxford – where in January, they opened a restaurant.

Ben Halperin, Oxford: "A friend we knew from New Orleans, Jeri knew actually, we stopped through to visit and he said, 'Hey, there's a place available and the rent is reasonable and what do you think?'"

Jeri Halperin, Oxford: "We went back home packed up our bags came back found a house to rent that was a lot or a bit, quite a bit cheaper than the apartment we were renting in Chicago."

Affordable housing is just the beginning of benefits cited by many non-Iowans moving into the state.

A Denver attorney, and her husband, moved to Pocahontas in north central Iowa where she opened a yarn shop. The couple liked a Pocahontas home they saw Online and were searching for a safe environment in which to raise their children.

Leslie Petri, ewe-Phoria Yarns, Pocahontas: "We have two little girls who are twelve and nine and we wanted to have them have a chance to grow up as kids and be able to go places. So we looked for spots all over the U.S. and around kind of by fate finding Pocahontas.

Children, and family history, were part of the reason a native Californian, his wife and some of his wife's family moved to Elkader, in northeast Iowa. Adam Pollock's wife and mother-in-law had family ties to Elkader but they never actually lived here.

Adam Pollock, Fire Farm, Elkader: "The first thing we did when we visited, was go and look at the public school system. They still had band. They still had shop. They still had all the programs that had been cut out of the school system in California."

Pollock said the "side benefit" of the move to Elkader was he decided to not close out the lamp manufacturing business he operated in California. When his inventory was moved to Iowa, he received so much local help to unload the truck, he saw a potential workforce.

Adam Pollock, Elkader: "Obviously jobs need to be made out here and we can help create some and decided to reinvest in it and bring it back to life."

Probably one of the more unusual reasons for moving to Iowa is from two men who opened an Algerian restaurant in Elkader. One of the men is originally from Iowa. His partner is the son of an Algerian diplomat who chose Elkader because the town was named after an Algerian Muslim leader.

Frederique Boudouani, Elkader: "He's the George Washington of Algeria, a big revelation to me. We looked it up on the map and the next time we were in Iowa we made a visit and kept coming back and making friends and here we are."

Being made to feel welcome is a common thread among the new residents who arrived in Iowa without any economic incentives from the state or private sector.

Yet many point out that the state incentives offered to recruit large businesses can eventually help foster the small businesses they've opened.

Ben Halperin: "I understand why they bring big companies. The small companies sort of come when the big companies are here. When there are people to serve."

Even so, there was a learning curve for this New Orleans-trained chef in opening a business in rural Iowa.

Ben Halperin, Oxford: "In the beginning I remember I bought mussels and they didn't make it. I had to throw them out. Nobody wanted them."

So Halperin gave the rural café customers what they did want – the large pork tenderloin sandwich, albeit with his own southern twist of spices and breading. It was a successful addition ... as the Iowa Pork Producers recently named the restaurant as having "The Best Tenderloin in Iowa."


Tags: children economy Elkader entrepreneurs families Iowa jobs


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