Freedom Racing Tool and Auto, LLC Recognized for Local Economic Impact in Southern Iowa
Several years ago when Tad Whittom was searching for tools to perform a modification on his 2006 Ford Mustang GT, he was frustrated with national backorder on parts and high costs. He told his family, “There has to be a better way.” Whittom’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to find that better way; he soon started selling out of his home, using his garage, basement and bedrooms as storage space. Jump ahead to 2017, and Whittom’s vision has evolved into Lamoni-based Freedom Racing Tool and Auto, LLC with staff of 12 and a warehouse stocked with 10,000 custom parts and tools ready for next-day shipping to customers around the country.
For its remarkable success and economic impact in the community, Freedom Racing Tool and Auto, LLC has been awarded the Iowa Farm Bureau ‘Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur Award.’ Freedom Racing and Tool primarily sells their products online and ships directly to customers, but they also have a storefront right next to the Lamoni Airport. The evolution from an in-home startup to a large warehouse and shipping facility with 12 employees is a great success story, and Whittom has an optimistic outlook for growth, and he hopes to hire a couple additional employees in the coming weeks.
However, if not for the collaboration of local economic development groups and Whittom’s strong desire to stay in Decatur County, the story of Freedom Racing Tool and Auto could have been much different.
Nearly four years ago when the Freedom Racing Tool and Auto needed to grow into a larger warehouse space, Bethany, Missouri, economic development groups gave Whittom an attractive offer to relocate, with a building already waiting for him, but southern Iowa economic leaders vowed to not let that happen.
Bill Morain with the Lamoni Development Group recalls a meeting with Whittom and other key economic leaders after learning about the offer from Bethany, Missouri. The consensus from the group, Morain says, was, “We cannot let this stand!”
Freedom Racing Tool and Auto already had a longstanding relationship with the Lamoni Development Group and Decatur County Development Group, and Rand Fisher and the Iowa Area Development Group stepped in to make sure southern Iowa would remain the home for Whittom’s growing business.
“A vast, rich network of resources is really what we bring to the table, in order to be a catalyst for innovation and desires to build and grow a business,” Fisher said. Fisher noted many challenges entrepreneurs face, and with the resources the Iowa Area Development Group and local economic groups were able to provide, Whittom’s business and family stayed in Lamoni under a lease-to-own agreement on the new building.
Joe Mickelson, a local livestock farmer and Decatur County board member, is happy the Whittoms are here to stay and will have an opportunity to keep their family in Lamoni. Mickelson is excited for the future of the community, and as a lifelong resident, sees the impact Freedom Racing Tool and Auto has made. “For me, it’s just wanting to see our local community continue to grow and have those job opportunities for future generations,” Mickelson says. “This is really exciting for us because of the opportunities for folks already working here, and also for my boys at home who can see a specialty business can thrive in an area that isn’t densely populated and not known for entrepreneurial endeavors.”
Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) is an IFBF initiative supporting new and existing businesses through education, mentoring, and financial resources. The next Renew Rural Iowa Business Success Seminar, “The Journey to Your Vision,” takes place April 7 at Iowa Western Community College in Harlan. For more information, go to http://programs.iowafarmbureau.com/RRI/