Robin Pfalzgraf is one of four challengers in Pella’s Ward 2, running against incumbent Harold Van Stryland, Calvin Bandstra, and Nicolle Picray.
Full interview with Robin:
Written Responses from the PACE Alliance City Council Candidate Forum:
1. What is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the City of Pella? What unique experience would you personally bring as a City Councilor to help address the challenge and opportunity that you identified?
“Growth! New opportunity is great for Pella but with that the dynamic changes as well. As current businesses expand and new businesses find Pella to be a great place to move or start their business we need to make sure we are able to accommodate those organizations. I have lived in the suburbs of Indianapolis and Minneapolis as well as Oskaloosa before I moved to Pella. I have seen it done well and done not so well. I have watched cities make good decisions that caused growth and bad decisions that hurt the community. I have served on many boards and feel that one thing I have done well is form collaborative efforts among the parties involved. I think that this will only help as we address the best ways to encourage positive growth for Pella.”
2. Whether earned or unearned, Pella has a reputation for not always being business friendly (e.g., difficult to open or expand a business, restrictive regulations, lengthy approval process, etc.). What role should the City Council play in helping the community overcome that perception? As a City Councilor what is your vision for encouraging our existing businesses and corporations to expand in or attracting new businesses to Pella?
“I think there are many times that Pella has been accused of not being “business-friendly”. If the parties had sat in a room and had a real discussion regarding the line that divides the business from the City either need not exist or could be resolved over one open dialog. I have never heard an elected official say they are against growth. I think sometimes the vision of the business and maintaining our community may be different but I think with compromise everyone can be happy. Unfortunately, I have seen the businesses frustrated with Pella but in the long run, I think the product that is approved helps maintain the beauty of Pella and the growth requested from the business.”
3. In thinking about your role as a City Councilor, how can the business and corporate community support you in your role on the City Council?
“Talk to us! Recently there was an issue in front of Planning and Zoning where a person just submitted an objection to the project. They did not show up at the meeting to address the Commission so we had no idea what their objection. If the citizens are not wanting something, not happy with something or think things should be done differently then they should let us know. Everyone won’t be happy with every decision but for the council to make the best decision they have to know what you, the citizens of Pella, feel and why you feel that way!”
4. Generally speaking, do you view population growth as a good thing for Pella? As a City Councilor, how would you work to support efforts to grow Pella’s population?
“I think population growth is a fantastic thing in Pella but we have to acknowledge with population growth also comes additional issues. Can we house them? Can we meet the needs of all ages or socio-economic backgrounds? I am confident we can but we have to do some thinking outside of the box which I have been doing for several years. I have a lot of thoughts about this particular subject! I know Pella can build more affordable housing. I know we can add amenities. I know we can encourage businesses to come here. How do I know that? I have worked on this issue for several years. I build houses full-time. I know an affordable house of $150,000 – $200,000 can be built. No entity would become wealthy doing my kind of development. If our businesses really want to meet the need of the people that want houses in that price range would they make an investment in Pella for those workers/homeowners? Those are conversations that have to happen. The City Council will possess the power to decide how LMI housing money will be used in Pella. I think there are options that will be available that would help with this affordable housing development. I work with grants all the time. I come across grants that help with amenities in a community and Pella is an easy community to sell. I think the city should invest in a grant writer. I think the money is there or could be there in the future and we need to again, think outside of the way we have always done things.”
5. Workforce Availability is the biggest challenge for our business and corporate community should the City Council play in attracting new workers and retaining them once they are here?
“When I write grants for my non-profit I am sometimes doing federal grants competing with other organizations all over the United States. I have quite a pitch I like to give about Marion County and Pella is the same. “Where can you live for an affordable amount, have a job you love for a great company with great benefits, be friends and neighbors with your co-workers, chat with your church friends at the grocery store and know your children are safe in your neighborhood and in your schools? Very few places but Pella is that place!” I know from personal experience Pella sells itself. My husband and I located here, he from Kansas, Missouri, Grimes, and West Des Moines and you already know my path to Pella. We walk a three-mile walk around Pella at least once a day and say so very often “we love living in Pella”. It’s a beautiful town, the people are great and that is why I am here, running for council. It is an honor to serve this community. Once they are here I don’t think many people leave. It’s that great a place to live.”
6. Think specifically about the recruitment and retention of young professionals (e.g. Millennials and GenZ). Research indicates that young professionals are choosing communities they want to live in based on affordability and quality-of-life factors such as recreation, robust restaurant and social or cultural attractions. As a City Councilor, how will you work to support the efforts of the City and the business and corporate community to attract and retain young professionals?
“I have been working on an affordable housing option for Pella for about a year. I think the answer is right in front of us. I don’t want to discuss something that ultimately is in the hands of another private party but I think that there is an option for affordable housing in motion. Now, when I say affordable housing I am talking 150,000 – 200,000. Some say that is not affordable and there is housing that is available for less than that but often needs a great amount of work. Again, I think there are financing options available that people don’t often think about that would allow for reviving some of those older homes. As far as restaurants I want to say that I don’t take “no” from those franchises easily. I show them how different Pella is and why “typically” Pella may not be their market but here it will succeed. I did this first hand when I went to Atlanta to tell Habitat why I needed an okay for ReStore in Marion County, to be placed in Pella. I sent them data about low unemployment, what other area second-hand stores were making and how Iowans love the reduce, reuse and recycle concept. When I was in Minneapolis I worked in the corporate office for a restaurant chain. One thing I learned is that we sometimes just need to pitch a new concept. For example, there are many large restaurant chains that would require a larger population than Pella. Let’s pitch a new concept for Pella. We have some great venues such as the Opera House that we could help promote. Do we need to consider some new types of entertainment that would appeal to millennials? We also have the opportunity to do far more in the downtown area such as concerts, events, etc. We’re also working on a concept to rejuvenate our Community Center. There is great potential ahead for all ages!”
7. One issue of importance to young professionals with children is having access to quality and affordable childcare. The Marion County Childcare Needs Analysis released in March 2019 found that 61% of parents in the community had difficulty finding childcare. Given the results of the Analysis, what role would you play as a City Councilor in assisting the City with the need for childcare capacity for the community?
“When my oldest son was a baby (30 years ago) I stayed home and ran a daycare/preschool program. Childcare has always been an interest to me. I often ask young families about daycare and hear that “mom is watching them until we can find something”. We have some great options in Pella. We have fantastic home daycares as well as a wonderful daycare center. I agree it may not be enough. I don’t know what the city can do to support childcare other than Tax Incentives to organizations that want to open a childcare center. I was just visiting Minnesota recently and love some of the answers to their daycare issues including Montessori and chain daycare centers that would be a great addition to Pella. Again, we need to encourage businesses to expand in Pella. I think convincing a daycare center to come here would not be very difficult.”