CF Industries’ Nick DeRoos leads Siouxland Chamber Board

November 25, 2018 GMT

SIOUX CITY -- Nick DeRoos hopes to sees Siouxland as a destination for even more skilled workers to live, work and contribute to the local tax base.

DeRoos, general manager of CF Industries’ Port Neal nitrogen complex, is the new chairman of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He started his one-year term in October.

The 52-year-old has witnessed many of the region’s bright young minds moving away to places like Minneapolis, Kansas City, and other large cities that offer attractions and resources not to be found here.

“Certainly, workforce development continues to be key for this area,” DeRoos said. “We need to create a draw to Siouxland. We need to do things, whether it’s quality of life amenities, employment opportunities -- we need to be drawing people into Siouxland from the surrounding communities as part of our workforce development.”

CF Industries has had success finding operators to run its plants without too much problem, DeRoos said.

“Where we struggle is attracting technical resources -- from engineering, electrical, mechanical, chemical engineers,” he said. “There aren’t an abundance of these around here. So we’re trying to recruit people from a lot of warmer areas, if you will, that don’t have the winters. And we struggle trying to draw them to Sioux City.”

DeRoos, an Alta, Iowa, native, was once one of those “technical resources” that CF now recruits. He started at then-Terra Industries as a process control engineer in 1993. CF Industries, based in Deerfield, Illinois, acquired Sioux City-based Terra in 2010, and DeRoos became the Port Neal plant manager later that year.

With today’s technically skilled, educated workers being drawn to larger cities and better climates, how can Siouxland attract the Nick DeRoos-es of the future?

Attractions that can brighten up the dull, bitter winters -- like Cone Park -- might make the area more appealing to young workers, DeRoos suggested. Likewise the local museums and art scene, the Orpheum, the Sioux City Symphony.

“We just have to find a way to get people through the winters,” he said.

Two things Siouxland has going for it, which DeRoos hopes will continue to be a source of strength, are the hospitals and the schools. If people see Sioux City as a beacon of medicine and education, he suggested, growth will follow.

“Obviously, healthcare is a big aspect to this community. We’re the regional healthcare provider for a lot of the smaller communities and counties around here,” he said. “We need to continue that. That’s a large draw into our community, for people being in town, eating at the restaurants, staying in hotels.”

He also hopes that the remodeling of the Chamber offices on Pierce Street, which began last summer, will be complete before he wraps up his term as chairman. Construction is expected to be finished in fall 2019.

“That should be pretty neat,” he said of the remodeled building. “It’s part of modernizing the image of downtown -- I think downtown has a lot of opportunity, there’s office space, there’s other building space for lofts or studio apartments. I don’t know what the plans are, but I could just see that being somewhat of a micro-urban downtown.”

Had he been asked to lead the Chamber board during the more than $2 billion expansion of the CF Port Neal complex -- when roughly 5,300 construction workers and others were putting in long hours from 2013 to 2016 -- DeRoos probably wouldn’t have had time for those extra duties. Now that construction is complete, he was in a better position to take on a bigger role with the Chamber.

“I mean, I was just completely consumed getting the expansion done, and the existing plant was continuing to operate as well,” DeRoos said. But he won’t go so far as to say things have slowed at CF since construction wrapped up: the plant now churns out nearly four times as many tons of ammonia as it did previously, with more than twice as many employees.

“It’s changed. It’s slowed down to the extent that now it’s more routine operations, continuous improvements, focusing on the fundamentals of safely operating a plant,” he said.

The return of normalcy to CF Industries means DeRoos has had a chance to spend more quality time with his wife of 28 years, Carla, and their three children. His family time was limited during the expansion period. Now, he’s able to make it to school events, such as athletic contests.

“I missed my oldest boy finishing high school, because I was so engrossed in this,” DeRoos said. “It was tough. You just do what you’ve got to do, and you put your head down and go. I wasn’t aware of how much they probably missed me or needed me at the time.”