If It Plays in Dubuque . . .
September 21, 2009 Dan Burger
Keep your eye on Dubuque. It could well be the 21st century version of Peoria. You know, “If it plays in Peoria, it will play anywhere.” IBM is planning on it playing well in Dubuque. That’s in Iowa, in case you didn’t know. And what’s playing there are a couple of projects with a high priority for Big Blue.
Just last Friday, the Dubuque City Council put its stamp of approval on a partnership with IBM that makes it the first American city to participate in IBM’s Smarter City Initiative. The mayor of Dubuque called it “another defining moment in Dubuque’s history.” And the city manager described it in even grander terms saying, “IBM and Dubuque are bound by a common commitment to aggressive innovation, the kind of innovation that has transformed the oldest city in Iowa to become one of the newest and strongest regional economies in the country.”
These verbal bouquets were tossed shortly after the Council approved $850,000 in funding for the “Smarter Sustainable Dubuque” project, which ties technological advancements to improvements in basic municipal infrastructure items such as water, electricity, and transportation. The $850,000 is designated for improvements in the water metering system, which is where the infrastructure improvements begin. The city has applied for grants totaling $87.5 million to assist with the bigger picture. It has already collected $10.6 million in grant money.
The Smarter Planet program, an idea that IBM has widely promoted as perhaps the most prudent way for the U.S. government to invest in its economic stimulus program, landed in Dubuque after IBM finalized plans to open a tech service center in this Midwestern city of 60,000. The tech service center celebrated its opening just a few weeks ago. Currently it employs several hundred, but IBM anticipates that to grow to 600 by the end of the year and 1,300 by the end of 2010. That would make IBM one of the biggest, if not the biggest, employer in the community, which last year was recognized as the nation’s most livable small city by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The tech service center is one of more than 80 such centers that IBM has in place worldwide. Its purpose is to be a hub for IBM customers located in the United States requiring hardware, software, and security tech support.
When plans for the tech center were announced in January 2008, IBM said its Dubuque investment would total about $100 million. In addition, it made a commitment to work with higher education institutions in an area that includes parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois to recruit and train potential employees.
According to an article in the Des Moines Register, at least half of IBM’s $100 million investment will be recouped. The incentive package Iowa presented IBM included $12 million in forgivable loans, $8.5 million in job training assistance, and $2 million in tax incentives and other assistance. City and state projections currently total about $53 million in incentives for the Dubuque project.