Horizons Communities Address Economic Stability and Long-term Sustainability
When local schools and businesses close, and jobs and families leave, those who remain in a community often struggle to keep a sense of community. Local citizens wonder what they can do to create a positive future for themselves and the communities they love.
ISU Extension facilitates the Horizons Community Leadership Program to Reduce Poverty. Through Horizons, 36 communities have built stronger leaders to address economic issues and are finding ways to implement change. The program is funded by the Northwest Area Foundation. Extension implements Horizons in partnership with Iowa citizens in communities with populations below 5,000 and a poverty rate above 10 percent. Horizon communities are taking action to increase their economic stability, self-sufficiency, and sustainability, and build their sense of community.
- Wayne County demographics have shown a decline in the number of young people in the county and a general aging of the population for several years. Horizons communities in Wayne County are addressing youth retention as a long-term project.
- Hamburg, in Fremont County, conducted a visioning survey in 2009 and identified business retention and expansion as a top priority. The community is developing strategies to support current small business owners and encourage new entrepreneurs in the community.
- Columbus Junction is addressing the needs of its Hispanic population as well as job creation throughout Louisa County.
- Russell, in Lucas County, is addressing immediate needs of its population for food and clothing.
Horizons participants in Corydon established a nonprofit organization, Welcome We Help, Inc. Using a Strengthening Rural Iowa Grant, they contracted with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship to survey Wayne County youth in grades 7-12 and young adults to determine their views of the community, their engagement in community activities, and their perceptions of their home community as a place to own a business, practice a professional career, or find sustainable employment to meet their economic needs.
As a result, Wayne County communities are developing three elements of a youth engagement system: entrepreneurial education and career development, youth involvement and leadership in the community, and community support of youth and youth enterprises. Wayne County School Districts are planning to host a career fair emphasizing local business owners and graduates who have remained in the community. Community leaders who chair local celebration planning committees have agreed to invite youth to be active members. ISU Extension will pilot a summer 4-H entrepreneur camp. In addition, community members are developing a more collaborative network of volunteer opportunities for organizations and youth in the community.
Hamburg worked with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship to learn about becoming an entrepreneurially friendly community, entrepreneurial coaching, and entrepreneurial success stories from other rural communities in the Midwest. As a result, Hamburg collaborated with the Small Business Development Center at Iowa Western Community College and conducted a Smart Start Workshop for small business owners in February 2011. The 26 participants learned about writing business plans, conducting market research, and basic legal issues. Several participants requested further assistance with writing business plans; appointments will be set up in Hamburg with Small Business Development Center staff.
A Horizons subcommittee is marketing Hamburg’s core assets to current and potential small business owners, including small town quality of life, low cost of living, affordable housing, health care, good schools, recreation amenities, and easy I-29 access to metro areas. The group also identified the need to develop additional core assets and amenities including quality Internet access, a grocery store, and restaurants.
The Columbus Junction Horizons committee partnered with several local organizations to develop a bilingual guide to community resources. The guide is available at the library, local businesses, and local service agencies.
Columbus Junction also is involved in the Louisa Initiative Fund for Entrepreneurship (L.I.F.E.), which provides training, mentoring, funding, and networking opportunities for Louisa County entrepreneurs and small business owners. The community is focusing on developing small business entrepreneurs and enabling energy efficient home improvements that are environmentally favorable and lessen the costs of home ownership for the county’s low-income population. Supporting agencies include the Community Foundation of Louisa County, Geode RC&D, Iowa Small Business Development Centers, Louisa Development Group, Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, and Tri-Rivers Conservation Foundation. The L.I.F.E committee is leveraging funds from the Community Vitality Center and the Center for Business and Industry.
Russell citizens work with a local restaurant to deliver meals to elderly and disabled individuals in the community. The recipients order and pay for their meals directly through the restaurant. Then community volunteers make the deliveries.
The community also has begun a resource exchange program. Citizens collected 200 winter coats and in an October 2010 clothing exchange, and gave away 173 of them to an estimated 100-125 people. During January-March 2011, Russell residents prepared food boxes for families in need. Each month they distributed 25 boxes with items for a family meal and information about other resources. At the same time, the community conducted a household goods exchange. People could select from household linens, crafts, hobby items, games, toys, and general household items.
Ruth Freeman, Horizons Director, 515-386-3611
Donna Donald, Family Life Program Specialist
Mary Beth Kaufman, Family Finance Program Specialist
Joyce Lash, Family Finance Program Specialist
Brenda Schmitt, Family Finance Program Specialist
Mary M. Weinand, Family Finance Program Specialist