KNOXVILLE — The Marion County Board of Supervisors is considering a development agreement with LDJ Manufacturing for a grant to improve traffic safety on Highway 163.

The company, located in Pella, manufactures diesel fuel and service trailers for the agricultural and construction sectors. CEO Loren Van Wyk is asking the county to apply for a RISE (Rural Innovation Stronger Economy) grant to improve the current gravel median crossing that separates the two sides of the freeway located on the opposite side of the property entrance from the company.

Van Wyk told supervisors on Tuesday he was concerned about the safety of his employees. According to Van Wyk, the gravel pad poses a risk to his employees who cross it daily due to dust, frequent potholes and traffic at speeds of 65 to 70 miles per hour.

“We had a lot of close calls, three or four accidents, but luckily no one was ever killed. But we don’t want to wait for that to happen. We want to try to be proactive,” he said.

The RISE (Rural Innovation Stronger Economy) grant program, distributed by the United States Department of Agriculture, provides assistance to “create and increase high-wage jobs, accelerate the creation of new businesses, support industrial clusters and maximize the use of local productive assets in eligible low-income rural areas.

Funds can be used to build or support a business incubator; provide training to workers to help and create new jobs; training the existing workforce with skills for higher paying jobs; and develop a base of skilled workers to improve their chances of securing well-paying jobs in new or existing local industries.

According to Marion County Engineer Tyler Christian, a city or county should apply for a RISE grant, “regardless of where the project is located.”

“The county needs to provide cash flow for the project,” Christian said. “The RISE grant would be 80% repayable. Thus, the county should first collect the total amount of the project, then be reimbursed a maximum of 80% by RISE.

Christian added that the county could enter into a development agreement with LDJ Manufacturing to have the company responsible for the remaining 20% ​​of the funds. He also suggested that the county have an agreement with the Iowa Department of Transportation for road maintenance so that the county would not be liable.

“The county could not incur any disbursements if there was any type of development agreement or other funding used for the game portion,” Christian said.

Based on a recent RISE grant project with the City of Pleasantville, Christian estimated the project would cost $300,000. This rough estimate would be equivalent to the consideration of 20% at $60,000. The duration of the grant is four years.

LDJ Manufacturing would also need to meet the job growth requirements outlined by the grant for the county to receive the full 80% reimbursement. According to Van Wyk, the company has grown from 70 to 111 employees over the past 10 years, with 15 additional job opportunities currently open.

“Our growth plans are to double the size of our facility over the next 10 years,” Van Wyk said. “We don’t see that as a challenge. Our market share is about 70% on the product we sell. We are very popular in the market. We are excited to continue to grow.

He added that the company plans to add a new product line, which would require $2.5 million in construction for an additional building. According to Van Wyk and Christian, the county would have to apply for the grant before any construction could begin.

“I would say if there was a way to do it on our own, we would, but there’s no way to apply for the RISE grant without help from the county,” Van Wyk said.

Board members Steve McCombs, Kisha Jahner and President Mark Raymie all supported the project.

“For me, the safety alone of getting that number of people on and off the freeway, you’re right, is a primary concern,” Raymie said.

“I would prefer to see a turn lane come in and be able to get your employees off and on safely, that would be beneficial,” Jahner added. “[It] would allow traffic to continue to flow and allow the growth of our county.

Christian will work to advance the grant application and development agreement between the county and LDJ Manufacturing.

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