by Tim Kenyon

LINN COUNTY – A major makeover took place recently at the Economic Planning Regional Corp.

CRST President John Smith stepped down, while former Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation President Dan Baldwin resigned and moved to California for another job.

Councilor Monica Vernon opted out and was replaced by Mayor Ron Corbett. Other new members include Pat Baird, who retired recently as CEO of Aegon companies and Cornell College President Les Garner, who will replace Mr. Baldwin at the foundation. Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President Shannon Meyer also is joining the board.

County Supervisor Linda Langston is the sole holdover from the board that formed in October 2008.

Downtown District President and CEO Doug Neumann also is no longer the executive director for EPRC. Mr. Neumann maintained his dual title for more than a year, guiding applications for federal grants and state I-JOBS funds to go toward flood recovery projects.

Mr. Smith, who was board chairman of the EPRC, said he and Mr. Baldwin met for lunch before the latter left town and talked about ideas for the organization’s future.

“When he announced he would be leaving the foundation, we planned an outline for some changes to the EPRC as we thought it would be a good time to bring in new blood,” Mr. Smith said.  

The restructured board will hold its initial meeting March 29.
Mr. Smith said the founding board members were successful in helping to assure Cedar Rapids got a fair share of federal and state disaster assistance and recovery funds.

He credited that success to the pitch work of Gary Grant and others.

The other big achievement isn’t officially sealed until federal officials announce approval for about $35 million to go toward enhancing the U.S. Cellular Center and adding a convention center adjacent to it.

A $17 million local contribution will need to be met. The city previously received $15 million from the I-JOBS programming for the project. Talk around town is that another hotel could be planned as soon as the federal grant is awarded.

Mr. Corbett views the future EPRC as using its muscle to bolster regionalism and economic redevelopment.

“Obviously, they played a key role in our flood-recovery efforts so far,” he said. “A couple roles the EPRC can play are it can advocate and energize our regionalism approach and economic development and service delivery and return us to more regional thinking. Since the flood, it’s taken a back seat.”

Mr. Corbett also believes the group can lead influence in larger projects and offer input to the long-term flood-prevention system.

“Many people are counting on a long-term system for residents and businesses to trust. As that builds, more people will invest in the community confidently,” he said.

Mr. Corbett sees Mr. Baird as a major difference-maker for the new EPRC board.

“Pat Baird has a long history of being involved in the community and has a lot of passion to see regionalism move forward,” Mr. Corbett said. “His ideas are going to lean heavy on the direction of the EPRC.”  

Things change quickly, and adapting to them is important to improve Cedar Rapids area and the entire Corridor, Mr. Baird said.

The changes in the board staff will help it move projects to completion and offer new expertise in relationships with federal officials and state lawmakers, he said.

Grant writing and commercial real estate development downtown will be two areas of focus for the EPRC, he said.

Greater collaboration will bring about success sooner, he said.

“This is anything but the ordinary course,” Mr. Baird said regarding flood recovery and reinvestment.

Ms Meyer expects extra advantages for business and the community because of relationships strengthening with more EPRC collaboration with others.

“The EPRC will now offer me the extended opportunity to work even more in depth with business leaders, and county and city officials on community development initiatives. We, as a community, are challenged with the significant amount of work that is still left to do to rebuild our community and I am encouraged that the EPRC will focus on some of these challenges,” she said. “I am confident that the EPRC members will continue to analyze the progress that has been made to date and set a course of action which will collaborate with and complement the hard work that is already being done by many other organizations.”

Mr. Garner said he is eager to jump in EPRC discussions and plans. He will bring a higher education perspective complimented by his freshness to the foundation’s top position.