NEWTON, Iowa — Newton was once known as the “Washing Machine Capital of the World.”
The Maytag assembly line is long gone, but the city is using its proud manufacturing past as a template for its future.
Located 30 minutes outside of Des Moines, Mayor Michael Hansen said the city of 15,000 fills a unique niche in Iowa that is hard to find anywhere else.
“I grew up here, I went to school here, and I decided to come back here after military service,” Hansen said. “It’s a sense of hometown pride.”
Newton retained most of its population after the Maytag headquarters shut down in 2007, but Hansen said the focus now making the town an attractive place for Iowans of all ages.
“I want to hopefully retain our bright students and bright young people, to have them stay here and make Iowa a place to live and raise a family. That’s quite a chore,” Hansen said.
The first item on that list is developing new housing, including within the complex that has stood tall in Newton for more than a century
The former Maytag headquarters now owned by Des Moines Area Community College, who is in the process of transforming it into a self-sustained neighborhood known as Legacy Plaza. The former Maytag administration building is being transformed into a boutique hotel, while a larger brick building across the plaza will become lofts.
“I understand the importance of rural communities in Iowa,” said Des Moines Area Community College President Rob Denson. “It’s important to make them a destination so that not only the people who live there can have a vibrant livelihood, but that it’s also a destination site for the larger communities.”
The plan won $14 million in funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority last year, and Denson hopes the marquee Maytag projects can open by late 2023.
“Maytag built buildings right. They did not do anything halfway,” Denson said. “These buildings are well-constructed and they’re going to last for a long time.”
“We’re using Maytag to build the future that we want in the community,” said Legacy Plaza project manager Kim Didier. “We want to share that with the whole state of Iowa and anyone traveling along I-80.”
Newton is also luring people to move into the city with the promise of cash.
“We give $10,000 to the homebuyer,” Hansen said. “They can use that $10,000 however they want, we actually write a check to them.”
The $10,000 program has been in place for eight years, and Hansen believes it is already helping Newton avoid shrinking like many other rural Iowa communities.
“Newton grew by 3 percent this past census,” Hansen said. “That may not sound huge, but it’s the highest population in Newton’s history. I’m optimistic that we will continue to have the success that we’ve had since 2014 and we’ll continue to build.”
While the large projects at the Maytag site are still in progress, smaller improvements at Legacy Plaza are already done. The Iowa Wild helped build a hockey rink on the plaza this winter, and Gezellig Brewing Company has become a social hub for the complex.
“You can be a blue-collar worker or a white-collar worker, but when you have beer in common, you can sit down, have a beer, and have a conversation,” said Gezzelig Brewing Company head brewer Joe Kesteloot.
All of these factors combined makes Hansen believe that Newton has the strength and vision to thrive in the 2020s and beyond.
“I often brag because I’m proud of the resilience of our community,” Hansen said. “We are a group of folks, business leaders and citizens alike, where we do not give up.”