Making Marshalltown a stronger community is the goal of local business leaders

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Iowa Business Council Executive Director Georgia Van Gundy, left, makes closing remarks at the organization’s “Vision to Vitality” forum Tuesday in DeJardin Hall at Marshalltown Community College. Looking on is Pamela Delagardelle of UnityPoint Health-Waterloo, Nicolas Aquirre of JBS, Jessica Kinser, city of Marshalltown and Theron Schutte, Marshalltown Community School District.

Marshalltown has done a lot of work – some it challenging – in nearly 35 years to assimilate the many diverse cultures into its mainstream.

Academicians who have studied Marshalltown’s dramatic change from a predominantly white Caucasian community to one now where Latinos, for example, comprise 30 percent of the population, have used 1985 as a benchmark.

That, they said, is when the town’s population slowly started changing to include Latinos, Southeast Asians and Sudanese who came for employment opportunities at the then Swift Independent Packing Co.

Over the years, the business community, educators, law enforcement and social service agencies have reached out to Latinos, Southeast Asians and those from African countries to welcome them to the community.

This has included employment, teaching them the English language, and importantly, helping them attain the American dream of being a business or home owner.

Importantly, Marshalltown has taken a leadership role in educating their children to be productive citizens.

However, more can be done, and it can be as simple as asking the ethnic groups what they want or need, as pointed out by Lennox Industries General Plant Manager Miguel Guiterrez.

That, and other comments were a few of the points that came out of a Iowa Business Council (IBC) sponsored panel in DeJardin Hall at Marshalltown Community College Tuesday afternoon.

The theme: “Growing a strong, diverse community.'”

the Iowa Business Council – a consortium of 23 top Iowa business executives – is tackling head-on the challenge of meeting a state-wide need of filling jobs.

The problem ranks number one or is high on the list as rated by academicians, business leaders and elected officials.

A potential solution: Take advantage of a strong diverse community where they exist – such as Marshalltown – or grow them.

Panelists from UnityPoint Health-Waterloo (of which Marshalltown hospital is in its region), JBS, the city of Marshalltown and Marshalltown Community School District told the audience about initiatives that would help those from diverse cultures assimilate; much of it based in gaining employment skills.

But several audience members provided thought-provoking comments.

“Go in their businesses, and not just their restaurants, because we all eat at the Mexican restaurants,” Bettie Bolar, a retired Iowa Valley Community College District official said. “We need to go into their grocery and clothing stores and get to know them one on one. It can not be a one-way street of us expecting them to assimilate 100 percent.”

Another said she had mentored a woman from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and believed she learned much about her new friend.

“She calls me when she has challenges and I call her when I have mine,” the attendee said.

JBS Human Resource Director Nicolas Aguirre summed up the panel’s work: “I think it is reflective of the Marshalltown community that we had a packed house here today to learn and truly be invested in the future,” he said. “Where we are at today, where we can go tomorrow and how to make it the best tomorrow … especially post-tornado. It was so refreshing to see so many people, from so many different walks of life and business, here for a great cause.”

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Contact Mike Donahey at

641-753-6611 or

mdonahey@timesrepublican.com