GDDC officials stress need for investment, increasing population at annual meeting

Local economic development leaders on Wednesday highlighted work already done and future efforts needed to make Dubuque a thriving community.

About 250 people gathered at Q Casino for Greater Dubuque Development Corp.’s annual meeting, at which officials shared successes from the past year and future goals, primarily in the area of recruiting and retaining population and workforce.

“As great as we are today, in order to get to where we want to be, we need to kick it into high gear,” said Alex Dixon, president and CEO of Q Casino and DRA, who began his term as chair of the GDDC board of directors Wednesday. “… We are ready to take off as a community. You can either be an investor, or you can sit on the sidelines.”

Dixon discussed GDDC’s work in the past year to address the key challenges facing Dubuque, examining data in both a housing needs assessment and child care analysis to determine how to increase the availability of both. Progress already has been made to start work on new housing units and increase child care slots locally.

“It’s about taking an issue, taking it into bite-sized chunks and getting after it,” Dixon said.

Dixon also spoke about major investments happening on Chaplain Schmitt Island, including the more than $75 million renovation to Q Casino and the more than $15 million outdoor amphitheater planned at the former greyhound racing track.

It also was announced at the meeting that a $500,000 naming rights deal was reached with ImOn Communications for Dubuque Ice Arena. Dixon said the name, brand and logo will be revealed at a later time.

In addition to sharing strides the community has made in recent years, Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of GDDC, also addressed what he called the “elephant in the room.” He referred to Telegraph Herald articles about communications that members of the business community sent to Dubuque City Council members this spring outlining issues businesses have faced working with the city, which they have said have caused projects to be delayed or canceled.

Dickinson said a roundtable discussion with developers, business leaders and city officials soon will be resumed, with the first scheduled for Thursday, July 27, to talk further about how best to move projects forward. He said over 70 people have been invited to attend, with 40 committed.

“Here at Greater Dubuque Development, we walk a razor’s edge between the public sector and private sector,” he said. “… But that’s our lot, and we accept it and believe we are effective.”

Dickinson also discussed progress made on the five goals in GDDC’s 2027 capital campaign. Goals for Dubuque County to have a median household income of $76,000 and have construction investment of $1 billion by 2027 are both on track. Work also is underway to reduce the county’s poverty level by 5%.

One goal is increasing Dubuque County’s workforce to 64,000 jobs, with 61,300 jobs recorded in May.

“We are now beyond the pre-COVID levels,” Dickinson said. “But the greatest challenge to that statistic and our job growth is available workforce.”

Another goal is to increase the county’s population to 105,000. Census data for 2022 put the county’s population at 98,677.

“That is probably our most aggressive goal,” Dickinson said. “That goal is going to take every single one of us doing everything possible.”