MASON CITY — City and economic development officials expressed regret Friday at the news that Prestage Foods of Iowa is no longer interested in locating in Mason City.
And a North Iowa pastor, one of the vocal opposition, urged opponents not to gloat but to help the city heal.
Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and Chad Schreck, head of the North Iowa Corridor EDC, said they are ready to move on with other projects.
Prestage officials expressed their decision Thursday night.
Since the announcement March 21 that the North Carolina-based company wanted to build a $240 million pork-processing plant in Mason City, employing close to 2,000 workers, citizens have been divided on their views. After initial support, the Council followed suit.
Proof of the division in the community was a 3-3 council vote on May 3 which defeated the city’s development agreement with Prestage.
Proponents saw the opportunities for more jobs, a broader tax base and chances for further economic and population growth. Opponents raised mostly environmental concerns.
Bookmeyer, who strongly backed the project, said Friday he wanted to extend the city’s best wishes to the Prestage family and staff, and he regrets the results in Mason City.
“There is a city in Iowa that is going to get a tremendous family company and community partner,” Bookmeyer said.
He said he was also disappointed for members of the city staff, economic Corridor and Chamber of Commerce members and he saluted their efforts.
“I am also thankful for the three ‘ayes’ and Mr. Schickel for having the courage to continue to seek solutions,” Bookmeyer said.
Council members Janet Solberg, Travis Hickey and Brett Schoneman voted in favor; Bill Schickel, John Lee and Alex Kuhn voted against the deal on May 3.
Bookmeyer said, “We have six great council members that will move forward together. We are already on to the next projects and will continue to sell Mason City as a great city in North Iowa.”
Schreck said Friday, “We respect their decision and wish them success in finding the best location for their new venture.
“It was important for the company and our community to have closure on this issue, and now we can all move forward and evaluate where we go from here,” he said.
“North Iowa is an incredibly attractive area for business and lifestyle, and the recent interest from companies big and small proves it. We will all learn from this experience, regroup, and build for the future,” he said.
Rev. Nathan Gann, of the Rhythm Church in Mason City, who opposed the project, said Friday, “Our community is fractured, hurting and angry. Healing is what is most important, which will mean seeing past the disagreements and moving forward. That won’t be easy.
“The people who were against this, please don’t gloat. All of us can focus on the positives in our community going forward. Our city is not dying.
“And all of us can help our city leaders, who were on both sides and displayed so much courage in the face of daily criticism, to keep this community exceptional.”
Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, who also opposed the project, said, “I have been continually impressed by the involvement of the citizens of Mason City in this entire process. When they spoke in front of the City Council they were articulate, had researched their facts, and showed how strongly they cared about our community. I am looking forward to seeing that energy bring our community together in a positive manner.”
Steve Noto, head of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said, “Throughout this process, we found the Prestage family and Prestage Farms to be honest and forthright. While it was our preference for the economic growth and viability of our community to see this plant built in Mason City, we continue to hope it will be built in North Iowa, so our region can benefit from the associated economic and population growth, including increasing our diversity.”
He said Chamber goals have been and will continue to focus on population growth and increasing the skill sets of the labor force.
In announcing its decision on Mason City Thursday, Prestage said in a press release, “While we appreciate the outpouring of support and efforts made on our behalf to secure support for our project, it is our belief that additional efforts are counterproductive to our company as well as Mason City. It is clear to us that this project exposed deep divisions among the citizens of Mason City.
“We are grateful to the local and state officials, city and county employees, business and education leaders, farmers and everyday citizens who offered their support. Obviously we did not adequately address the misinformation campaign that our opponents effectively used to influence public opinion.”