Governor-elect Terry Branstad this morning announced a northwest Iowa woman who has led economic development efforts in the Sioux City area for the past 15 years will serve as director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.
Debi Durham, the Republican Party’s 2002 nominee for lieutenant governor, has been president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce since 1995.
“It was a very emotional decision for me, but I do believe for everything there’s a time and there’s a season and it is my time and season to leave,” Durham said during this morning’s news conference. “And the opportunity that the governor and the lieutenant governor has given me do not come along very often and I’m ready for a challenge.”
Durham’s first job will be drawing up the plan for the new public-private partnership between state government and the Iowa business community, an entity that will replace the existing Department of Economic Development.
“My approach to everything is extremely collaborative and you will also find that I will work with all parties — with labor, obviously, and management — all of that is important because there is nothing more worthy than putting Iowans back and raising the median income for our citizens,” Durham said. “So I can’t imagine any greater job.”
Durham also plans to do what she called an “honest assessment” of the staffing levels in the existing agency, but she also used this morning’s news conference to send a message to the employees in the Department of Economic Development.
“Campaigns are very difficult for staffing of governmental bodies and we all know that,” Durham said. “And I have worked with this team at the Department of Economic Development and I know it is comprised of very dedicated individuals and I look forward to joining them in their efforts as we move this department forward.”
Branstad told reporters Durham was his top choice for the job.
“The fact that Debi has done so well in Sioux City when you’re competing with South Dakota which is a very competitive…low-tax state I think is indicative of her ability to accomplish great things under difficult circumstances and we’re excited about that,” Branstad said. “Plus, I think she knows how to get it done. She’s got the right connections.”
Branstad also cited Durham’s work at the local level in recruiting businesses to relocate in Sioux City, as he said while companies consider different states for expansion, the final decision hinges on a specific location.
Durham has also been the leader of two other groups in the Sioux City area — The Siouxland Initiative, which is a regional economic development effort that stretches from Iowa into Nebraska and South Dakota, as well as the Siouxland Chamber Foundation.
Listen to this morning’s 17-minute news conference: DebiDurham
(This story was updated at 10:42 a.m.)