Bridging Opportunities

Glenwood State Bank President and CEO Larry Winum (second from left) meets with Iowa public officials—from left, George Maher, Paul Hartnett and Roger Wehrbein—who helped secure funding for the Highway 34 bridge project.
Glenwood State Bank President and CEO Larry Winum (second from left) meets with Iowa public officials—from left, George Maher, Paul Hartnett and Roger Wehrbein—who helped secure funding for the Highway 34 bridge project.

After 20 years of persistence, Larry Winum completes an economic quest to span the Missouri River

By Carol Patton

If anything, Larry Winum is persistent.

As president and CEO of Glenwood State Bank in Glenwood, Iowa, president of the local economic development foundation and co-chairman of a 15-county regional development organization called the Southwest Iowa Coalition, Winum was determined to promote economic development in this rural bedroom community in southwest Iowa, along with all the communities along the Highway 34 corridor that Glenwood borders.

The eastward-westward highway, which travels across the southern part of the state, stops at the edge of the Missouri River, separating Iowa from Nebraska.

Since Glenwood sits roughly five miles from the river, the idea was to build a new bridge over the river to connect the two states. Although two older toll bridges already existed, north and south of Highway 34, a new bridge would carry traffic much more efficiently between rural southwest Iowa and the metropolitan cities of Omaha and Bellevue, Neb. Easy access to any city often translates into new industry and business, which increases the community’s tax base.

That was the vision of Winum and others more than 20 years ago. While spearheading this effort, he never lost hope that the $115 million bridge would be built. After two decades of deliberations with county, state and federal officials—often traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators to secure federal funding, and speaking at countless public meetings on both sides of the river to explain the bridge’s benefits—the bridge to enhance southwest Iowa’s future finally opened in October.

“This is just another example of what community bankers do all over the country,” says Winum, adding that Glenwood State Bank, which operates four retail locations and manages about $170 million in assets, was the project’s main driver. “It was nothing exceptional. Most community bankers are involved in their local economic development organizations, trying to make [their community] a better place to live, and create more opportunities.”

At the new bridge’s opening ceremony, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said the Highway 34 span will foster significant new economic growth and development for Iowa and Nebraska. “The bridge and adjoining roadways will significantly increase the traffic capacity in the region,” he said. “More traffic means more people to the communities supporting existing businesses and the growth of new businesses.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a policymaker whom Winum worked closely with over the years to obtain critical federal funding for the bridge’s construction, praised Winum for his far-reaching vision and his work over 23 years to ensure the bridge was built. “Larry is a great example of the truism that you don’t have to be on the public payroll to be a public servant,” Harkin said. “Thank you, Larry, for your great leadership and vision. We wouldn’t be here today without you.”

Despite the project’s bumps and curves, however, Winum recalls a moment when the fate of the bridge could have gone the other way. He was attending an Iowa Department of Transportation Commission meeting in October 2005. Despite $32 million in federal funds that were recently earmarked for the project, he learned that the commission still did not include the bridge in its five-year plan.

“At that point, I probably got about as aggressive as I have ever gotten before the commission,” Winum recalls. He challenged its members to justify why they were ignoring the state’s largest earmark. Nancy Richardson, the new director of the Iowa Department of Transportation then, soon became involved in those discussions.

“She went to bat for us,” Winum says. “That’s when I realized we had a director who was committed to getting the project done.”

Winum’s says the project’s next phase may be just as demanding—to grow the economy in communities along Highway 34, which extends roughly 110 miles. Now dealing with an assortment of new challenges like developing infrastructure or obtaining land options for future development, he says the goal is to lure new businesses, enhance existing businesses, and offer a better way of life to area residents.

Winum already has a clear vision in mind. He says the next step related to the Highway 34 project is laying a “four-lane” transportation artery to connect together other existing highways serving Omaha and the surrounding areas of southwest Iowa. One related issue involves getting levees rebuilt along the Missouri River to meet current federal structural guidelines, which would help open the way for further development in the area.

“Over the next 20 or 30 years,” Winum says, “hopefully, the whole corridor will look a lot different and we can look back and say we really did make a difference.”

Carol Patton is a writer in Nevada.