What began with the construction of a senior living community on the north side of Indianola has led to $93 million in total commercial and residential investment in the Warren County community over the past three years.


To say things are looking good, after residential construction in particular was virtually nonexistent just last year, is an understatement, City Manager Eric Hanson said.


Permits for residential construction have risen nearly 300 percent over the last year, with 43 issued through the first 10 months of the year compared with 11 for the same period last year.


"Last year was not good," Hanson said. "But the fact that it has rebounded the way that it has is a positive sign."


Other economic activity: the downtown square has come back to life in recent years, thanks in large part to a city incentive that used tax increment financing to rehabilitate storefronts.


And you can't ignore the impact of Summercrest Hills, a 160-acre commercial and residential development led by the Three-Sixty Group of West Des Moines and KDG Investments of Indianola.


A senior living community was the first project developed on the site, opening in 2010, with additional construction expected to be completed this year. Theisen's Farm Home and Auto Store opened in 2011.


The development is turning into something of a medical hub, Hanson said, one that could lead to the construction of additional retail outlets such as a strip shopping center and hotels that would help the city and county pull pack some of the $60 million that local residents spend in areas such as Jordan Creek Town Center and its surrounding retail centers in West Des Moines.


The opening of Mercy Clinic Indianola has led to the development of other clinics that will fly under the Mercy flag, including a surgery center, and specialties such as orthopedics, cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, and CT imaging. UnityPoint Health also has a medical clinic in the area. In addition, a dental office has opened, and the city plans to team with Mercy and the YMCA of Greater Des Moines to offer aqua therapy at the newly opened 60,000-square-foot YMCA.


"Those are critical services that generally you find in more urban areas," Hanson said. And, they draw patients and clients, some from the Missouri border, about 60 miles away, who spend additional dollars at restaurants and hotels and other retail outlets.


"Retail almost always follows medical," he said.


Although the Vintage Hills senior community launched development of Summercrest Hills, it was the YMCA that turned heads, Hanson said.


"There's a direct correlation from when the Y got moving and started coming out of the ground -- our interest level grew exponentially," he said.


Capturing retail dollars is important to the city and county. According to a study earlier this year, Warren County loses more shopping dollars than any other county in Iowa. In addition to the $60 million that residents spend away from home, a potential $325 million is lost by people living in southern Iowa who skip Indianola to shop elsewhere in the Des Moines metro area.


Construction will begin in February on changes to U.S. Highway 65/69 that should  improve travel from the north and south as well as provide easier access to Summercrest Hills. The city and state will spend more than $4 million on intersections, highway medians and a leveling of the road.


In addition, the city plans to pave a gravel road, Hoover Street, from 65/69 west to County Road R-63, which has become a major north-south route through the county.


Maybe some retail dollars will leak into the city off those routes.


"Realistically, there is $100 million in business without trying real hard," Hanson said.