Difference Makers — A visit with former NEDC president and former councilman Gary Clem

Gary Clem shares memories of his time in community leadership in this story.
A former NEDC president, Gary Clem, brought his business, ALMACO, to Nevada in 1982, and when he recalls the events that helped shape Nevada’s economic development future, he thinks not only of the NEDC but also about the Nevada Chamber of Commerce.
The two entities, the chamber, and the NEDC, were tied together much more in the early days, and both needed help when it came to establishing themselves as strong agencies for the growth of the community.
Fawcett Family Made an Impact
“When I look at what’s happened with economic development in Nevada, I attribute Harold Fawcett and his family as the people who created the biggest economic impact in this community. Their gifts, various things that some people don’t event know about, … well, let me tell you a story,” Clem said.
“I got a call one day from Harold Fawcett, who wanted to know if I’d come see him. So, I made an appointment and drove over to his house. He came out the door and had some papers in his hand. He said, ‘Get in the car.’ He had an old beat-up Ford,” Clem had to throw in this detail because he loves old cars! “He said, ‘I’ve got to get some bread at the bakery.’”
As they drove uptown, Clem said, “he tossed some papers over to me, and along the way he was explaining to me that he had the title to this building that was next to the bank and he wanted to give it to the chamber. He said (about the paperwork), ‘Look it over, I’m going in to get my bread.’”
Those who haven’t lived in Nevada as long wouldn’t remember this, but the old State Bank building was right next to the present Main Street Nevada office.
Those who haven’t lived in Nevada as long also wouldn’t remember that at the time Clem is recalling, the late 80s, early 90s, the chamber was operating out of a small office inside Nevada National Bank.
“Our chamber wasn’t that active. But some of us had gotten together, like Annette Forbes at the newspaper and Francy Scudder from the downtown and there were others. We started working on the chamber to try to improve it.” After all, the chamber was the hub of anything having to do with business or economic development.
“What Harold wanted to do was give us this building, but we’d have to pay the back taxes on it, and the back taxes were pretty significant,” Clem said. It was a building Fawcett, a banker, had sold on contract and eventually repossessed.
“So, the chamber met, but we had no money. We had to turn the offer down. I had to go to Harold and say, ‘We can’t do this.’ Well, he changed his mind, and he paid the taxes, and he gave us that building.”
Clem said the City Council, which he also became involved in, eventually was able to give some funding to the building and put on a new roof and make other upgrades.
Hiring LaVon was Big
Clem was on the hiring committee when LaVon Schiltz, former chamber and economic development director, was hired. Eventually the two positions (chamber and NEDC) became separated, but at the time she was hired, the chamber and NEDC executive director position were joined.
“I don’t think there’s any one person you can point to who was the main driver (of economic development) than LaVon Schiltz,” Clem said. “We had made very little headway until we hired her.”
One of the first things he recalls about moving economic development forward was getting certified by the State of Iowa to participate in economic development leads.
“Then LaVon really started pushing us forward, and we ended up with the two development parks,” he said.
Many people have played a part
Other names Clem mentioned as he talked about how Nevada grew included Arlo Huse, Harold Brinkman, Bill Burke Sr., and Bill Burke Jr., Mike and Jane Neff, Lisa Nady, David Anderson, Jim Christy, Keith Hobson, Kathy Strum, Jim and Clare Frevert, the Hertz family, Ray Kassel, Al Kockler, Fred Samuelson, Dennis Henderson (the first city administrator), the Haley family, Rich Parker, the Huffakers and Keith and Mary Cooper.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of wisdom that’s come out of all these people, and there’s more who I’m forgetting to name,” he said.
“I particularly think that Ken Huffaker and the Coopers had a lot to do with founding Lincoln Highway Days, and that was important for the growth of Nevada, because it brought the community together. Years ago, that was quite an event.”
Clem said he and others were learning that to bring businesses to Nevada was dependent on a lot of things. “We recognized that important issues in our community to draw businesses to it revolved around things like ‘What’s your school system?’ and ‘What about your recreational facilities?’”
Clem credits the Nevada Schools for making tremendous improvements through the years and he looks at SCORE park as one of the “most wonderful facilities in all of central Iowa. It is a big draw to people about what’s available to them and their children.” And the SCORE land was given to this community by the Fawcett family, he noted.
Clem continued to recognize the people who played a role in moving the town forward during the 1990s.
He mentioned Rich Parker’s ability to help manage the Fawcett/Tope funds, which have helped spark so many projects in this town, as a big responsibility that was done well.
“We hired our first city administrator, Dennis Henderson. There were a lot of people opposed to that, but with the regulations out there today, you have to have a professional person to do the job.”
Then there was Jim Christy. “After a mayoral resignation, we were able to appoint Jim Christy who did a wonderful job of uniting this community. Not only did he fill that term, but he ran again, and his name can be tied to a lot of our successes.”
During Clem’s time of leading the NEDC he recalled the huge Donnelley Marketing facility being left to the NEDC. “We had to take care of that building. LaVon and I spent a lot of time with that building. We had it rented out for storage for a time. It was so big that the majority of people who looked at it were overwhelmed.”
In the end, the NEDC worked out trading GFS the Donnelley building for its building along 11th Street. Then Burke eventually purchased the 11th Street building from the NEDC.
When asked what he takes the most pride in as a former leader in the community and NEDC, Clem said it’s definitely SCORE park. He noted that the new city hall was a bit of a controversy at the time, but he thinks it was a good idea to build it. He recalls getting the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant as a big deal, says the NEDC stubbed its toe on the coal plant idea, and notes that the DuPont thing falling through was nobody’s fault.
He’s happy to see the new company VERBIO, come in to utilize the facility.
The biggest misconception that some may have about economic development, he said, is “that it’s easy! It isn’t easy. You’re dealing with personalities and people from all walks of life who are wanting to volunteer their time. You have to hear them out. They all have an opinion.”
Giving back was important
When asked why he took on the roles of leading the chamber, leading the NEDC, serving on the City Council, all while running a successful business, Clem thought for a moment.
“I think you have an obligation to your community to spend time in it … working for it, improving it, both as a business person and as a person. I felt I could use my background in business to try to convince people to do things in what was “my way,” but there were also people who were involved in things that were every bit as important as what I was, who had their own ideas. Everyone’s got to find their own niche, but then use it to help grow the community,” he said.
As a business person, Clem said it is his belief that economic development never ends. “There’s a saying, ‘If you don’t continue to grow, you’re falling backward… I think the same is true with the community. We have to try to generate additional income for the city every year.” And how you do that, he noted, “is growing the tax base with new and expanding business.”
Clem is proud that his business has deep roots in Story County. “We run a business that started in the 1880s.” He’s retired from the day-to-day operations of the business but still likes to keep up on what’s happening. His two sons and a son-in-law are now running the business, along with a great leadership team at ALMACO.
“I’m proud that my family and our ALMACO employees are active in the community,” he said. “We just want to keep the ball rolling.”
–Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada
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