Orazem plans retirement from city council, leaves legacy of economic revitalization


Sam Greene/Iowa State Daily

Peter Orazem considers a request from the Ames Bicycle Coalition for more bicycle friendly roads around Ames.

Chris Anderson

City council member Peter Orazem announced he will not seek re-election at the end of his term.

Orazem originally joined the council after being elected as an at-large representative in 2010. Orazem was elected to a second term as a representative for Ward 3 in 2014.

Orazem originally decided to pursue a run for council in 2010 after realizing a need for economic growth in Ames.

“We hadn’t had any jobs in 10 years and we closed two schools and we had a city council that said we were growing too fast,” Orazem said.

As an economist and professor in the economics department at Iowa State, Orazem saw the need for a change in climate in the Ames community.

“We needed to have a city council that was more open to trying to foster economic development,” Orazem said.

Orazem said when he first ran, he and his colleagues wrote down 16 things that needed to be done. He is now glad to say he has seen the council do something in all of those 16 areas. 

A large part of Orazem’s platform was acknowledging that Ames, which holds a close relationship with Iowa State, is a public-sector city. Orazem also acknowledged that the public sector might not be doing well at the federal and state levels.

“If that’s the case, we’re going to have to look at the private sector to expand, so we’ve added 6,000 jobs in seven and a half years. Disproportionality those jobs are in the private sector,” Orazem said.

A large part of the legacy Orazem will leave behind is the success in fostering economic development in Ames, which he helped oversee. A large part of this was increasing the transparency the city provides on how to develop in Ames.

Orazem said Ames now has a system in place that ensures all parties with a regulatory role sit around and discuss what is possible to make any certain economic development possible.

“Before you start investing dollars, you know what the process is going to be,” Orazem said. “We’ve been told we’re one of few cities that does that.”

When Orazem joined the council in 2010, Ames was still being hit by the 2008 recession. Orazem said Ames was one of the only public college towns not growing.

He also referenced an article by the Wall Street Journal that looked at recovery from the recession in college towns. According to data in that article, Ames recovered twice as fast as the average.

Although he played a big part in the economic recovery of Ames, Orazem is hesitant to take credit for the results.

“It could all just be dumb luck …,” Orazem said. “We are atypically successful, we’re one of the fastest growing labor markets in the country. We can’t take credit for all of that, but I do think we changed the climate.”

Among challenges still facing Ames, Orazem acknowledged a need to improve the business climate in Campustown more.

“I think we’ve improved Campustown and the business climate in Campustown, but we’re far from done,” Orazem said.

Orazem also said he’d like to see an improved downtown Ames. He would like to see higher population density and an area attractive to young professionals similar to Court Avenue in downtown Des Moines.

Private sector development was a key part of Orazem’s platform when he ran, and he said it is relevant now more than ever.

“I don’t think we can stop being attractive to new businesses,” Orazem said. “Half of new businesses fail within a year. You have to keep adding additional businesses to be successful.”

Although Ames is in a good spot and continuing to grow, Orazem also acknowledged the issues he still sees in the public sector, noting problems he saw with President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. The key to this issue in Orazem’s mind is to continue the climate of increased economic development in Ames he helped foster.

Orazem, however, is optimistic about the future of Ames.

“I think Ames is poised for greatness,” Orazem said.

Orazem will use his time away from city council to focus on his professional work including teaching and research at Iowa State.

He is also planning on taking a Fulbright scholarship to travel to Slovenia, the country his parents were from, in 2018 to study and research.