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Keokuk Drawing Interest from Businesses

Jason Parrott
Steve Bisenius with the Lee County Economic Development Group says bio-tech businesses are showing an interest in one of Roquette America's former buildings in Keokuk.

Steve Bisenius admitted early on in his presentation to the Keokuk City Council that he would not be able to get into specifics about the businesses that are showing an interest in the city. But the head of the Lee County Economic Development Group (LCEDG) said they are out there and there is a lot of activity going on behind-the-scenes.

Bisenius said three bio-tech firms have recently visited the city.

"And all three are still in contention," said Bisenius. "The key question is they are attracted for various reasons. A lot of times, it is the (available) products and byproducts, especially with Roquette (America), all of the products produced there have an interest so we are very fortunate to have that as a draw."

Bisenius said the companies also expressed an interest in a building near the downtown district that is currently owned by Roquette America. The complex along Exchange Street features nearly a dozen laboratories and plenty of office space.

"Not very many buildings, or communities, have that kind of sophistication," said Bisenius. "We think in talking to the Iowa Economic Development Authority, (it is) pretty confident that this is a major draw to attract new industries to Lee County, especially Keokuk."

The building is on the market for $299,000.

Bisenius said representatives from several of the companies have toured the building. He said, based on those conversations, the site could house several businesses working in collaboration.

Another site being considered is the former Elkam-Carbon plant, though Bisenius is quick to point out that site requires a great deal of clean-up before it can be developed. He said that increases the price tag compared to a ready-made site like the Roquette property.

The presentation prompted a brief discussion by the Keokuk City Council about the availability of that building for industrial use.

Pam Broomhall, who serves as Community Development Director for Keokuk, said it is not zoned for laboratory use, despite the presence of the laboratories. In response, several city council members suggested the city look into the necessary rezoning to help market the site for re-use.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.