By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — After nearly three years as the executive director of the Ottumwa Economic Development Corp., David Barajas Jr. announced Monday that he will be stepping down at the end of the year and that he has accepted a new position in Marshalltown.
His new position title will be CEO of The Marshalltown Regional Partnership, a new organization that will combine the economic development, chamber of commerce and convention and visitor’s bureau functions into one entity.
“This is a new initiative for the community, but it’s really taking those functions that have been in place for a long time … and working with the directors that are in place right now … to provide even more opportunity for progressive growth and development,” Barajas said.
According to Barajas, various board members of several organizations in Marshalltown have been studying the use of regional partnerships in communities like Des Moines, Ames and Burlington for the past few years. Thanks to feedback from the community, the board members decided it makes sense for Marshalltown to combine the functions under one roof, and in late May they asked Barajas if he had any interest in taking the new position as head of the organization.
In the months following, Barajas and his family have done plenty of research and had several discussions about whether it would be the right fit for them.
“[My family and I] have really taken our time in taking a look at the opportunity,” he said. “It’s very important for me, when I take a look at opportunities, that it makes sense for not only me but for my wife and two daughters. We’ve been taking a look at it slowly and making sure we have done our research.”
Barajas has been executive director of OEDC since early 2011, when he came to Ottumwa after being president of Freedom Bank in Sterling, Ill., and director of economic development for the Greater Sterling Development Corp. While in Ottumwa, he has helped with many programs and projects, including the creation of the Young Professionals Organization, which will be “very important going into the future,” he said.
He has also been working on broadband fiber optic and laser optic cluster initiatives, which will help Ottumwa be more connected and bring new businesses to the area. With help from the strong fiber optic and robotics programs at Indian Hills Community College, future leaders are being trained here that should entice new businesses to the area, Barajas says, and the broadband fiber optic initiatives provide the community with new infrastructure to help support growth.
“We have the skills here and the workforce,” he said. “We are saying to those companies, ‘Come here.’ That can be something very productive and important as we look into the future.”
Although he is leaving some of these projects unfinished, Barajas knows he is leaving them in good hands, and the community will continue moving forward.
“Those projects are moving along in a very positive fashion,” he said. “I’m confident that the different people here working on the projects will do well and continue to move them forward. Ottumwa has a lot of great opportunities. I truly believe that Ottumwa really has its best days ahead.”
Even though he is leaving, Barajas said he is excited to hopefully work with his colleagues in Ottumwa further to enhance the true regional economic development of the area. Marshalltown is still relatively close, so working together to form a more regional partnership is certainly not out of the question.
“We are still going to be in close proximity from a regionalism standpoint,” Barajas said. “I truly believe, as we move forward, there will be opportunities for myself and my colleagues here and in Marshalltown to be able to work together on some initiatives. I’m excited about that.”
In regards to the position that Barajas is leaving, the process is under way to find a replacement, according to Steve Black, Chairman of the OEDC Board of Directors. After Barajas makes the transition to his new position at the end of the year, Megan Framke, OEDC Initiative Manager, will step in as a part-time solution. Black said last time they had to fill the position it took four or five months, so a new director probably won’t be named for a little while.
“I hate to see David [Barajas] leave because he is not only a friend, but a neighbor,” Black said. “But I think this is a good opportunity for him. We are lucky in that we have Megan [Framke], who has agreed to fill in for the part time.”
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