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PACT: Promoting Appanoose and Centerville Together

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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The recent merger of the Centerville Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Centerville, and the Appanoose Economic Development Corporation into a single dynamic organization is the culmination of discussions between the groups over the past year. In 2021 the combined forces will operate as PACT, Promoting Appanoose and Centerville Together. The members of all parties are excited about the change and the opportunities they hope to bring to the residents and businesses of Appanoose County.

John Cosby, long-time Centerville merchant, who sat on the boards of two of the groups, now vice-president of the new PACT board, is excited about the merger. “In a small town of 5,500 people, it seemed to me we had different groups trying to do a lot of the same things. I thought we needed to merge.” Cosby said the idea for the merger wasn’t a new one, but for whatever reason, it never flourished. He explained how he and new PACT board president Ryan Stober sat down over coffee one day and started talking about how to bring about the change. “Once we started talking with some of the other people on the boards, we found the excitement. We're small enough, and we're big in some ways, but if we put everybody together here, I think this committee could work a lot better with everybody under one roof.”

Noel Gorden, Executive Dean of the Centerville campus of Indian Hills Community College, added that “the precipitating factor in making this happen this time was that we previously had three directors, one for each entity, economic development, the Chamber and Main Street. At approximately the same time, two of those directors resigned, so, with those two people leaving the board members talked amongst themselves and began to think about efficiencies that we could have by combining those under one umbrella and to end some of the duplication of efforts.”

Stober, who has served on all three boards, is excited about working with the new group. “We have a mix of each of the previous boards that make up the new board. We have, I think, the best Main Street director in the state. And I think we also have the best economic development/Chamber director in the state and the best office manager in the state”

As head of PACT, Michael Matthes sees the potential of the new group to have a significant impact for their constituents, not just in Centerville, but across all of Appanoose County. “A very explicitly stated goal was to have a wider mindset, a bigger purview than we've had in the past.” He wants to change the perception that Centerville gets everything while rural folks are ignored. Stober, owner of Centerville Produce, a livestock feed and animal nutrition store, strongly agrees with Matthes. Stober believes that the key to reaching the rural communities is through active engagement.

“You have to communicate with them and engage them. And you have to do it repeatedly, because you have to keep reminding them that they are a part of the chamber,” says Stober. “We're here to help take care of their needs.” He recognizes that many of the small towns have their own needs and activities, but it is important to partner and assist in their communities. He wants them to feel like they are more of a part of PACT than they were with the Chamber in the past. “I think in the past, we have done that as much as we should have. But I know over the last year, I've seen improvement where we've asked for their engagement,” Stober concludes.

The new organization is currently filling its remaining board positions and looking ahead to two key items they have on their agenda, jobs and housing. “To grow as a county to have more people move here, you have to have two things,” explains Matthes, director of the AEDC. “You’ve got to have a job for them, and you’ve got to have a place to live. So, the two number one things are: increase the number of good jobs and increase the amount of good housing. That's where we're going to spend a lot of our efforts.”

Matthes also believes that increasing tourism in Appanoose County will significantly impact the local economy. “The tourism piece is terrific because it pulls wealth from outside of our county into our county, and that lifts all boats so to speak.” Outdoor Magazine named Appanoose County one of the top five outdoor destinations in the country a few years ago, adds board member Gorden. “I think that we need to grow that identity even more.” For instance, she says that many people come from Ottumwa to eat and shop in Centerville’s heritage district. “It’s a very vibrant square.”

“Retail is a big thing for me”, says John Cosby. “Another thing too; I'm really looking at the buildings and the structure of these buildings. They were pretty much all built about the same time. They’re made of pretty much the same materials. And they're all crumbling at the same rate. Our town and the towns around us.” Investing in infrastructure repairs is an area of passion for Cosby, who wants the county businesses to remain economically viable. “We're working with some different facade grants to spruce them up, but still keep that hometown, historic look to them,” says Cosby. “Retail is important because that's how I make a living, but I also want to make sure we preserve our town to keep it.”

There is, of course, a financial benefit to the merger of the three groups, says Matthes. “What we had was three organizations all competing for resources in a crowded marketplace. Now that we're one, we can make one request instead of three or six. Because we're not competing for those dollars, we can really maximize the impact when those dollars get spent.” As a businessman, Cosby lightheartedly says he looks forward to only paying for one set of dues, instead of three.

“I can see now, this heading in a very, very great direction,” adds Cosby. He says that combining the Chamber, Main Street and the Economic Development is crucial to the community. “We all know now what the left hand and the right hand are doing. We work together as a main purpose. I think we have a fantastic team right now.”

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