A Closer Look: Tom Leners
Executive director, Madison County Development Group
Friday, May 15, 2015 6:00 AM
When it comes to Greater Des Moines development, Tom Leners says that Madison County is “kind of the last frontier.” It’s a frontier that gets a lot of attention from developers, who point to its growth potential with the eventual completion of a bridge over the Raccoon River and leading into Madison County as well as the extension of the Purple Heart Highway. Leners’ links to central Iowa date to the real frontier days, when relatives drove cattle from near the Warren County community of Churchville to Des Moines.
What led you to the Madison County Development Group?
My wife and I have lived in Winterset for more than 20 years. When the position came open I decided to investigate based on what I observed developing in Madison County. The key ingredients were present – a sense of place, good development sites and partnerships between local government entities and key local business leaders that are all working for development.
What in your previous experience led you to economic development?
My career before Madison County Development Group had been spent in commercial insurance sales. I was fortunate enough to work for both the Iowa Medical Society and the Iowa Bankers Association in their insurance program departments. Most recently, I worked at The Dana Company in Des Moines. The skills I learned working with business owners in an association setting transferred to this position nicely. Communicating clearly, meeting the client’s needs on a timely basis and providing a high service level are important components in this position as well.
What do you consider your major accomplishments during your nearly two years with the organization?
When I started we had two large industrial buildings for sale in Winterset, more than 360,000 square feet. Both of those buildings are now in the possession of new owners and are in the process of being repurposed to new productive uses. Also, a local developer and I thought we needed another hotel to capture more tourism and business traveler stays in Madison County. The developer and Madison County Development Group split the costs of the hotel feasibility study and researched hotel chains. The feasibility study showed conditions were very favorable for additional lodging in Madison County. The hotel, the Winterset Cobblestone Inn, will open later this month.
What are the future development prospects for the county?
The development future is very bright in Madison County. We have an inventory of industrial sites and buildings available as well as utility and local governmental partners that are ready and willing to assist a business owner moving to Madison County. A good deal of Winterset is New Market Tax Credit eligible. Madison County’s location is also a major asset. It is close to the metro area but we still maintain our own unique sense of place. It is a great place to raise a family.
What are the challenges in spurring development in the county?
I would say some of the normal challenges for a growing county. Those include following a logical zoning plan, housing, infrastructure, and staying true to what makes Madison County a special place to live.
If you could plot growth over the next 15 years, what do you see happening in five-year increments?
Wow that’s a tough question. Let me pull on my Carnac prognostication hat. Madison County has a lot going for it – mainly location and a positive attitude towards development. My thoughts are that the first five years would be incremental increases from business and residential investment. The following five years I’m guessing are going to be at a faster pace. Beyond ten years is very tough. If the economy stays stable I would say that development in Madison County would continue at an increasing pace over the previous five year periods.
What are your hobbies/what do you do in your spare time?
My wife and I are both Iowa State University graduates and are fans of the ISU basketball and football programs. I enjoy outdoor activities and travel. We are new grandparents so we try to visit our grandchild every few weeks.
How did you earn your first dollar?
Helping a farm neighbor bale hay. That’s hot, dusty work at $3 an hour.
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