West Liberty Foods announced this week that it is giving the West Liberty School District a monetary donation of $500,000 to support its new athletic complex. West Liberty Foods is the community’s largest business and employs more families in the district than any other business or organization in town.
The West Liberty Foods board of directors met with Superintendent Shaun Kruger and Activities Director Adam Loria on June 3rd to learn more about the project and long-term district strategy. The board of directors, led by CEO Brandon Achen, consists of turkey growers from all over the state of Iowa, and after hearing a presentation about the school district’s plans for the new athletic complex, the board voted to approve a $500,000 donation. The $500,000 will be spread over five years and requires the district to match the funds, which is typical for gifts of this size. This makes West Liberty Foods the keynote sponsor for the complex and puts the district 60% of the way to the total fundraising goal of $2 million. Fundraising kicked off at a press conference on March 29th and the district has raised $1.2 million in under three months for the project.
“This is a game changer,” said Superintendent Shaun Kruger. “The meeting with the West Liberty Foods board could not have gone any better. The board is a group of accomplished business owners and Iowa growers. They had great questions and were very supportive of what we presented and towards public education in general. Many of them have served on their own local school boards. Their vote of approval reaffirms my confidence that we are doing the right thing with these funds to move the district forward.”
The gift from West Liberty Foods will have a wide-ranging impact and is about much more than putting in a new football field. West Liberty Foods prioritizes philanthropy and specifically initiatives that support education and youth. Most recently, the board approved a large gift to Iowa State University for the Stanley L. Balloun Turkey Teaching and Research Facility, the only facility of its kind focused on turkey production at a major university. CEO Brandon Achen said it makes sense to bring the investment to their flagship location.
“There’s no question this is the right thing to do,” said Achen. “West Liberty has been good to us, and our success depends on operations at the West Liberty facility. We have a great team in place and want to support them and their families as much as possible. We also need to recruit new team members as the company grows, and studies show that school district performance is one of the biggest deciding factors for families looking to put down roots.”
Superintendent Kruger agrees that new athletic facilities will bring several benefits to the district.
“I’m here for the long haul,” said Kruger. “Budgeting and fiscal policy is one of the most important parts of my job. I need to spend money that gets a big return for the district. Not only are our current track and field facilities inadequate and in need of significant repair, but the first thing families looking to move do is drive through town and check out facilities.”
Not only will the gift help with attracting talent, but many of the current West Liberty Foods employees will benefit. The company has more families in the district than any other business or organization in town. Several employees have children that played on the state qualifying soccer team this year. West Liberty has an outstanding soccer program, but does not have a regulation soccer field. That will change with this project.
“The new athletic complex opens up many opportunities for West Liberty,” said Activities Director Loria. “The amount of events we can host, the type of events we can host, the crowds we can accommodate will all grow. This brings people and money to town.”
West Liberty Foods has made several press worthy announcements in recent months. The company plans to build a new facility in the West Liberty area sometime in the next five years and announced Brandon Achen as CEO in May.
Achen grew up on a turkey farm in Wayland, IA, and his parents are among the original owners of West Liberty Foods and are still part of the company today. He graduated from Iowa State University and has worked at West Liberty Foods in various roles for 16 years. He and his wife, Kira, live in West Liberty and have four children in the district.
Economic Development Director Ken Brooks said the financial gift to the school, the new plant project and having the new CEO in town will have a major impact on West Liberty.
“I’m very excited about all three of these announcements. Two of the most important people in a small town are the superintendent of the school and the CEO of the largest employer. We have both of those individuals living in the community with plans to stay for a long time. That is extremely beneficial for long term strategy and community development,” said Brooks. “I work with a lot of companies large and small. Very few step up this way to move a community forward. That says a lot about West Liberty Foods, and you can bet their customers will take note.”
Brooks said corporate responsibility and philanthropy are expected as part of doing business now and will continue to be in the future.
“Companies looking for suppliers want more than just a product,” said Brooks. “They want a supplier that is socially responsible and gives back to make the world a better place. They are looking for partners in business and community betterment. West Liberty Foods is doing a good job of this.”
With the boost from West Liberty Foods, the school can now start seriously planning to finish out the entire athletic complex, which includes all the new outdoor fields, concession area and track and a new state-of-the-art indoor facility. The school still needs about $800,000 to reach its goal, but Activities Director Loria is confident they will get there.
“I am totally blown away with how quickly the fundraising has moved along,” said Loria. “We had a short list of companies and foundations that we thought could step up at the $500,000 keynote sponsorship level, and West Liberty Foods was at the top of the list. To have a local company supporting us this way is a true gift and worth as much as the money itself.”
The plan is to break ground on the initial dirt work sometime in August and begin construction on fields and facilities in the fall. The district hopes to host their first event in the new complex by fall of 2023. Between the new athletic complex, plans to expand West Liberty Foods and new leadership in various businesses and organizations in town, West Liberty is set to experience a boom in the next five years.
“I feel blessed to have been hired for this job at this moment,” said Kruger. “We are moving forward and it’s all positive. I’m so impressed with the community leaders, Brandon and the team at West Liberty Foods, and my staff. But, most importantly, I’m grateful for all the families that put their kids in this district and especially those that are volunteering time and giving money to make us the best district in the state of Iowa.”