Newton, Iowa

Newton, Iowa

Newton came back from the brink once, after its biggest employer, Maytag, was acquired in 2006 by Whirlpool and shuttered all its operations there. Now the town is weathering a potentially more devastating storm.

So far, Newton seems up to the challenge. Certainly there's been an impact: Unemployment in Jasper County, where Newton is the largest town, hit 9.2% in January. But two new wind power companies will bring a total of 640 jobs, and Newton's entrepreneurs are holding their own.

Jordan Bruntz, chief executive of Springboard Engineering, says some downsizing companies are outsourcing new product work to companies like his. So while some clients are delaying projects, he's also won new customers. Bruntz, with 40 full-time employees, is projecting sales growth of 10% for 2009.

For Joanne Kunkel, owner of the Aleya Salon Suites & Day Spa, sales were flat last year, and she expects them to be flat in 2009. "But I just take it day by day," she says.

For others, the challenges are considerable. Central Iowa Energy, a biodiesel company, has been sandbagged by both falling prices and slackening demand. Sales for the fiscal year ended September 2008 were $84.6 million, but the company saw its line of credit trimmed to $2 million from $4.5 million, and auditors have raised questions about its viability. The company laid off six people last year, bringing its headcount to 24. Still, General Manager Derek Winkel is hopeful about its fortunes: "We have an environmentally friendly, American-made fuel." But until the economy revives, it's unclear if that will be enough.

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