Wednesday, April 19, 2006

WOW in Wall Lake!!!

An 18,000 sf, $1.2 million community center done thru donations in a town of 800? I hadn’t heard of such a thing, so I was thrilled to get into town early for my talk so that I could tour such a town. And, my tour of Wall Lake, IA (actual population 841) didn’t disappoint me.

“My uncle Gus Schroeder, who was mayor for 10 years, and his wife Lil started off the campaign with a $250,000 donation but we got funds from just about everybody in town. Even Andy Williams, who was born and raised here, gave $25,000 in memory of his mom and dad. In all we raised $800,000 in donations, got $200,000 from the state and still have a note for $200,000 on the building,” Tom Schroeder, City Manager for Wall Lake told me as we toured the town. I did some quick math in my head and calculated that Chicago would have to raise over $1 billion in donations to be able to match what a town like Wall Lake did on a per capita basis. It couldn’t be done, in Chicago that is! And that is why I just love to tour towns like Wall Lake and meet the people who make towns like this what they are. They are incredible!

Tom wasn’t done with only the community center. He also showed me a new $50 million biodiesel plant funded by 600 area investors who raised $22 million in equity for the project in eight days. An old gravel pit is being converted into a 220 acre lake with 125 new housing units planned around it. We also visited a 70 bed nursing home that was built by the town and turned over to the churches in town to run. And, we stopped by the 660 megawatt wind turbine that was funded through a $500,000 bond issue and $250,000 Iowa ED grant. The project supplies 25% of the town’s energy needs.

One of the more colorful businesses in town that I visited was Cookies Best BBQ (, which was started 30 years ago in the town. Speed Herring, who owns the business wasn’t there that day, but when people in other towns around Iowa heard that I’d been to Wall Lake, they asked about Speed. Cookies plant is a modern 105,000 sf facility that includes a test kitchen, production facility and warehouse, employing 12 people.

When 300 people showed up that night to hear me talk, I was really impressed. I couldn’t even come close to doing a calc of how many people in Chicago would have to come hear me talk to get to the ratio of people interested in their town and how they could make it better.

Wow!!! Wall Lake blew me away!

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