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Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank Highlights Economic Recovery Efforts in Iowa at Groundbreaking for New $75.6 million Convention Complex

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Commerce announces additional $2.9 million EDA investment to expand access to capital for area small businesses and entrepreneurs

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank joined U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, Mayor Ron Corbett and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new $75.6 million Convention Complex central to the economic recovery of the downtown area following historic floods in 2008.

Last year, Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) invested $35 million in supplemental disaster funding for the jobs project, representing the largest grant EDA has ever awarded. The 435,000 sq. ft. Convention Complex will be the second largest convention and events center in the state upon its completion in the spring of 2013, and will serve as a major catalyst for further economic development and investment in the city – creating hundreds of jobs and leveraging millions in private investment.

“Our Economic Development Administration has a vital role to play in supporting economic recovery efforts, helping America’s regions thrive and attract investments that make them more innovative, more collaborative and more globally competitive,” Blank said. “Revitalizing Cedar Rapids with this wonderful Convention Complex is just another realization of the Obama administration's relentless effort to help get Americans back to work.” 

“We appreciate the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s support for the new Cedar Rapids Convention Complex,” Corbett said. “Their generous grant will help Cedar Rapids rebound economically from the worst natural disaster in its history – the June 2008 floods – and to rebuild the largest economic engine in eastern Iowa.”

“This is a good day for Cedar Rapids,” Loebsack said. “The convention center groundbreaking is the result of the determination of the entire Cedar Rapids community throughout the recovery process, which led the Economic Development Administration to award the largest grant in its history to this effort. The convention center will promote economic development and job creation in Cedar Rapids and throughout the Corridor, and this investment to support small businesses will further support economic recovery.  Our work is far from over, and I will continue to partner with local leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, and the entire City to ensure recovery continues to move forward.”

Iowa continues to recover from the economic impact of the floods, which interrupted major manufacturing operations, devastated downtown commercial districts, and damaged or destroyed public infrastructure. Many of the affected businesses included specialty retailers, restaurants, professional offices, and local barber and beauty shops that have yet to return to the area. 

Prior to the groundbreaking ceremony, Blank and Fernandez visited Ovation Networks, a local wireless technology company that was displaced by the flooding in downtown Cedar Rapids. There they announced a new $2.9 million grant to the East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICoG) to provide business assistance and gap financing to companies still recovering from the floods. The investment will recapitalize the Council’s Revolving Loan Fund Business Assistance Program to increase access to capital for local small businesses and entrepreneurs and is expected to create or retain 600 jobs and leverage nearly $75 million.

“The new grant we announced today will directly benefit the businesses and entrepreneurs in Cedar Rapids that are creating the jobs of the future,” Fernandez said. “In 2008, we invested to help companies like Ovation Networks rebuild and return to the downtown area, and we look forward to helping more local businesses contribute to the city’s revitalization.”

Three years ago, EDA awarded the Council $1.5 million to establish the Revolving Loan Fund in response to the disaster, which was the worst in Cedar Rapids’ history. With that funding, the Council awarded a microloan to Ovation Networks. Since returning to their downtown location, the company has hired 25 employees and plans to hire 63 more in the coming months.

The Obama administration continues to invest in rebuilding efforts to strengthen local economies across Iowa. More than $1 billion in federal assistance has been awarded to the state to support flood recovery efforts. Of that, more than $850 million went to rebuilding public infrastructure. The Small Business Administration has approved more than $270 million in loans for Iowa homeowners and businesses, and in total, EDA has invested nearly $123 million to support local initiatives throughout Iowa to accelerate business growth and boost economic recovery.