There has been a plethora of recent articles in the Wall Street Journal that articulate the challenges that face small town America. One of these articles had as its dateline, “Mahaska County, Iowa” and chronicled the difficulty that community faces in retaining its high school graduates after their college years. It also spoke to the difficulties of recruiting talented individuals to fill critical vacancies.
This article hit home for me as MidWestOne has a very strong presence in Oskaloosa, the county seat. Several weeks ago, a particularly interesting article appeared that detailed the lack of internet connectivity that is encountered in much of rural America. Not only is this a lifestyle issue, but also an issue for businesses of all types as they try to compete in a national and global economy that increasingly requires access to high technology (I will confess this article also hit close to home as its dateline of Caledonia, Missouri is roughly 30 miles from my father’s birthplace and I still have many relatives living in this region).
How does this relate to banking? One of the things we at MidWestOne take pride in is our support of the communities in which we bank. We support all of our communities in various ways, but nowhere is this more noticed and appreciated than in our smallest communities. Of course we want to be supportive in the Twin Cities, Denver, Naples and Iowa City (our largest markets) and we are. But the reality is that in these larger markets, there are many resources to serve the broader community. When one goes to points such as West Liberty, Iowa, Elk River and Chisago City, Minnesota or Osceola, Wisconsin, a community bank serving these communities takes on – in this writer’s view – a disproportionate level of importance. As I have been fond of saying for years, you will seldom find a successful community in the Midwest without at least one (and usually) more successful community banks. And almost always, there is a strong leader guiding the local market who is integrally involved in the community’s affairs.
Thus far, I have talked in generalities. The rest of this article will show readers what our bankers mean to the communities they serve.
Michelle Anderson is the face of MidWestOne in Elk River, Minnesota. As our Market President, she continues to be integrally involved with her local Chamber of Commerce and has served in many roles, including Board Chair. She is also Treasurer and board member of Rivers of Hope, which serves victims of domestic violence in a two county area and also provides a “safe house” for women and children. Michelle recently served on the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge “Be Wild” capital campaign, which raised funds for the new learning center on refuge grounds (MidWestOne’s Foundation was a donor to this campaign). These are three of many organizations to which Michelle has volunteered her time and expertise to make Elk River a better place to live and do business. Very little of consequence happens in this community without her knowledge and involvement.
You would be hard pressed to find any organization in Osceola, Wisconsin where Mark Erickson is not or has not been involved. Each time I visit Osceola, I am impressed (but not surprised) by Mark’s network and depth of knowledge of his community. Mark is our Market and Regional President and lives in Osceola. His list of contributions is long and includes his tenure as Osceola Industrial Development Corporation President. This name is self-explanatory and refer back to paragraph one of this article for the importance of industrial development in small town America ( a recent success for this group is the commitment of two manufacturers to move to Osceola in the next six months, thereby adding 54 jobs!). Mark is also serving as Campaign Cabinet member of the MillPond Learning Foundation, which is a big deal in Osceola. This is a new 30,000 square foot building called the Discovery Center and will include City Hall, Police Station, Library, Teen Center, and Senior Center downtown Osceola (our foundation also contributed to this effort). He also serves as a board member of Success by 6’s St. Croix Valley Chapter, which focuses on early childhood education. Oh, and he also finds time to involve himself in the affairs of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.
Then there is Jason Gamble in Chisago City, Minnesota. Jason is the Market President in the Chisago City office, which serves the Chisago Lakes region. Workforce affordable housing is an issue in markets, large and small. Jason is the Chairman of the Chisago Lakes Area Housing Taskforce, which aims to facilitate more workplace housing in the region (the only banker on this taskforce). The Chisago Lakes School District recently passed a $64.9 million school bond referendum and Jason was a key member of the committee that worked to educate voters and persuade them of the existing need. Similar to Mark Erickson (above), Jason is the current President of the local Economic Development Authority and chairs the Chisago Lakes Area. Jason recently took a leadership role in an effort for the Lakes region to be named one of “America’s Best Communities.” While Chisago Lakes was ultimately not named a winner, it did make the final round, it was a finalist. As you can see, Jason is a key member of his community.
And, finally, let’s talk about Cindy Mays, our fine Market President in West Liberty, Iowa. We opened our West Liberty office in 2004. Cindy was our first and only choice for this job. She quickly became the “go to” banker in this community. Cindy currently serves on the Board of Directors of West Liberty Youth Dream Catchers, a program that empowers kids through mentorship and scholarship. She serves on the boards of the Muscatine County 4-H Endowment Board and the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine County as well as serving as a Deacon in her church. Cindy also finds time to teach kindergartners and second graders financial principles via Junior Achievement and also mentored two young ladies who recently graduated from high school. Cindy’s mentorship began in the 3rd grade! No one is a better spokesperson for the West Liberty Community than Cindy Mays. I highly recommend a tour of the community with Cindy where Cindy’s passion and robust sense of humor will shine through!
These are but four examples of many MidWestOne bankers who are volunteering their time in numerous ways to better the communities in which they reside. Where would these communities be without the leaders noted above or the support of a strong, generous and viable regional bank? Strong banks, strong communities – the two go hand in hand!