OTTUMWA — It's time for Ottumwans to make friends around the globe.
"It's a small world, and it's getting smaller," said David Barajas Jr., Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation director.
Communities are working together even with thousands of miles between them. The people in Europe have been able to meet some of Ottumwa's brightest annually for several years. Chef Gordon Rader leads a team of student chefs from Indian Hills Community College on a trip abroad.
It's not a vacation, he warns them.
"This is a 12-week [cooking] course condensed into two weeks. The students have Spanish language lessons in the morning, then [study] cooking the rest of the day. It's very intense," said Rader, chair of the IHCC culinary arts department.
He's been trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to tell people back in Ottumwa what an incredible opportunity is available to our community. Chefs there are impressed with Iowa kids and have given them internships or jobs in well-known European restaurants. Business people from Spain want to talk about starting small, food-based manufacturing operations in Wapello County. And food suppliers want to hear more about the proximity of Ottumwa to food crops.
"Closing yourself off [from the world] is not what young professionals are looking for," said Barajas, who, along with other leaders in the business community, joined the IHCC group in Spain.
And the Spanish chefs, especially the young ones trying to make a name for themselves, want to come here or otherwise collaborate with us, Rader said. The Spaniards they met believe they can gain from an association with a small city in the nation's breadbasket. We have farmers doing their own thing out here, they said, like growing mini lettuces or using access to fresh produce to create, for example, interesting Iowa cheeses.