Norwalk was one of only four metro communities whose per capita retail sales revenues increased from 2007 to 2013. That figure went up 16 percent during that period. (The three other cities that  saw per capita growth - also smaller suburbs - were Windsor Heights, up 101 percent; Pleasant Hill, up 6 percent; and Altoona, up 2 percent.) 

Norwalk’s overall commercial sales revenues are much smaller than in many Greater Des Moines cities ($4,845 per citizen in 2013, compared to $27,262 for the same year in West Des Moines) but they are a testament to Norwalk’s steady growth on nearly every front.

The small, residential community southwest of 
Des Moines has seen its share of positive change in recent years. Driving south into the city on Iowa Highway 28, newcomers are greeted with ample open land advertised for development. Quickly, the signs give way to developments such as The Legacy Golf Club, a commercial anchor that paved the way in 2000 for new residential development. The golf club set the stage for other businesses to open in Norwalk, including Holmes Chevrolet, Fareway, Kum & Go, McDonald’s and a retail center housing several smaller establishments.

“Over the last few years, there have been a number of developers and companies that have shown interest in Norwalk,” said Jason White, executive director for the Warren County Economic Development Corp. “I think the Des Moines real estate community is deeming Norwalk as one of the next big suburbs to really take off.”

WHY growth?

“There are opportunities here for commercial growth and the community continues to grow residentially, so that continues to grow the retail side of things,” said Josh Heggen, Norwalk’s community development director. “We’ve stayed fairly consistent -- we’ve had no huge boom or down years in residential growth.” However, anyone with a hand in Norwalk’s growth will agree that the U.S. Highway 65/Iowa Highway 5 bypass played a key role in jump-starting both residential and commercial development in the city. According to Heggen, Norwalk has added an average of 96 residential units per year for the past five years. The bypass has created easy access to the city for those who want to live there and commute to larger areas, such as West Des Moines and downtown Des Moines.

“What benefits us is number one, location, and number two, the transportation system,” said Norwalk City Manager Marketa Oliver. “You combine those, and the ease of getting around is fantastic.”

What the city did

Overall, the number of residential building permits this year is outpacing 2013, said Heggen. If rooftops drive commercial growth, Norwalk is on the right track.  

The city also has the support of Warren County Economic Development Corp. and its efforts through Grow Warren Now, an initiative that has helped Norwalk and other Warren County cities take a more aggressive approach to attracting business and industries.

White said the city has done well by investing in its infrastructure, which will be important in encouraging development moving forward. The Southwest Connector project, which will cross Iowa Highway 5, will open Norwalk up for additional growth, he said.

What businesses/developers did 

Hubbell Realty Co., original owner of the land now housing Norwalk’s Legacy development, was one of the first developers to invest in the city. Rick Tollakson, president and CEO of Hubbell, said he saw the project as a way to attract more residents to Norwalk, which in turn, would spur commercial growth opportunities.

“If I’m a retailer and I look at the population and it’s not growing, that means I have to steal business from one that’s already there,” Tollakson said. “What I’d rather do is look at a community that is growing. That way my business can grow off the population growth.”

Tollakson estimates that Hubbell has invested close to $100 million in the city of Norwalk. He also said the company has a “full pipeline” of development plans in the community, including two apartment complexes and a new plat for single-family housing.  

Two local companies, La Quercia LLC and Rowe Electronics, both recently completed expansions in an industrial park on the south side of Norwalk. Capital City Fruit Co. relocated its facility in 2012, which allowed the city to extend Colonial Parkway and opened the area for development, Heggen said. Loffredo Fresh Produce Co. Inc. also is building a $7 million facility for that area.

“Those two businesses don’t produce retail sales in Norwalk, but they open it up for commercial valuation growth and additional interest in things that will produce retail sales growth,” Oliver, the Norwalk city manager, said.

What is predicted in the future 

Hy-Vee Inc. plans to build a new supermarket in Norwalk near Capital City Fruit. The Greater Des Moines HomeShowExpo will be held this year at The Ridge at Echo Valley, a residential development adjacent to Echo Valley Country Club. The city is working with the state to get a 55-acre parcel of land on the south side of town certified and recognized by state economic deveopment promotions as “shovel-ready” for commercial or industrial development. The city is in the third stage of the process, Heggen said.

Norwalk by the numbers

2% annualized yearly growth in retail sales revenues, FY 2007-FY2013

11% population increase from 2007 to 2012

77% commercial share of Norwalk’s total property valuation in FY2012

72% commercial share of Norwalk’s total property valuation in FY2007