Letter from Community Development Director

This article was written by Ryan McEwen for the Vibrant Magazine by Pluim Publishing.

What makes Orange City so vibrant? Why is our community thriving in comparison to the well-known downward trends of small-town USA (see The New Yorker: “Where the Small-Town American Dream lives on:)? There are multiple reasons, and I’ll only scratch the surface, but here is an outsider’s look at what makes Orange City vibrant and, ultimately, why our family moved to Orange City in 2020.

In 2020, Amy and I were visiting our son at Northwest College and went with friends to the Unity vs MOC-Floyd Valley basketball game. Most of the US was under significant COVID restrictions, with my Nebraska hometown being one of the worst. Our visit to Orange City was shockingly normal; businesses were functioning as usual, and gatherings were unhindered. There was clearly a proactive strategy by Mayor Deb De Haan and City Council to not hinder business and community. It was so refreshing to be here, and we left Orange City that weekend contemplating a move.

The impact of Northwestern College on our community cannot be overrated, and as the college excels into the future, so does Orange City. While working at Northwestern, I saw first-hand how excellence in leadership affects both the college and the community. President Christy and the leadership at NWC are thriving despite difficult trends nationwide for small colleges. Recent years of record enrollment add to the excitement happening on campus, where every year, an influx of ideas, hopes, and perspectives will be shaped by Northwestern’s Christian faculty and staff.

Consider our community’s first responders, law enforcement, fire department, and public works, a whole community coming together to provide safety, security, and cleanliness. Our public amenities working together to provide a big-city feel in the comfort and security of a small town. Our downtown is truly unique in comparison to most every other downtown with a highway running through it, and why the tens of thousands visit Orange City annually and leave with such a positive impression.

Our community is blessed to have both public and private schools thriving. Our new elementary school is an incredible jump into the future and will have a significant impact on Orange City and Alton’s growth and camaraderie. It will be a great day when Orange City and Alton have houses side by side, connected at the new elementary. Unity Christian’s impact on our community is equal with two major projects and over $15 million dollar investment over the past decade. IT’s also relevant to boast about our community’s continued support of major bond issues despite having both public and private school systems. That community-wide support is telling of how the majority in Orange City are progress-oriented and focused on the future.

Development in Orange City is thriving. Orange City Area Health System adds a significant impact to the vibrancy of our community, not only fro their award-winning care but also for their investment in development. The Kanaal Huis project, spearheaded by CEO Marty Guthmiller and in partnership with Vision Builders, will bring long-term solutions to our housing shortages. Alongside OCAHS, our Orange City Development Corporation has a significant impact on the future progress and development of our city, providing leadership and strategy for land purchase and assistance to small businesses.

Orange City private businesses are thriving, and for space, I’ll only mention our two largest private employers: Staples had a banner year in 2022 and continues to thrive, and Diamond Vogel’s brand new Innovation Center is a spectacular addition to our community. Our community banks are critical and forward-thinking, offering wonderful financial strategy and support to start-up businesses as well as funding mechanisms for growth that have funded many dreams.

As a former outsider who now recruits new businesses to Orange City, these are a few of the reasons why my job is so enjoyable. Keep it up, Orange City, what a beautiful, vibrant small town!