This article is from the Extension Connection newsletter, Spring 2006.
In the six-county region just north of Sioux City and west of the Iowa Great Lakes, local leaders are getting acquainted with each other and with the theory of regional economic development through the Leaders Forum.
Forum planners — Iowa State University Extension, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative, regional Farm Bureau and city economic developers — envisioned the six-session series as creating an atmosphere where regional collaborations would begin to grow.
“There are some real synergies in this six-county group,” said Kay Anderson, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative economic development director. “The Leaders Forum participants are a mix of urban and rural, experienced and new leaders. This format is designed to initiate networking between them.”
Anderson said the forum format also was chosen to stimulate action. Participants have been asked to identify a regional concern or issue that they can act on as a group. They will have the summer to apply information from the first five sessions to that issue and will build an action plan when they come together at the last forum session in September.
“We need to look at regional assets for future economic development,” said Dale Vander Berg, president of Peoples Bank of Sioux Center. “The Leaders Forum is giving us a chance to begin networking with other people in the region. It is very helpful having state and nationally recognized presenters speaking about regional economic development in terms of northwest Iowa.”
To stimulate that action, presentations and discussions at early forum sessions included pertinent topics — perspectives of a regional community and economy; opportunities and challenges of a global economy; status of rural northwest Iowa as compared to the state and nation; community successes to increase entrepreneurialism; providing and promoting quality of life and positive community attitude; and regional planning successes.
Gary Blythe, Orange City economic development director, said, “Regionalism is already at work in this area — we only need to look at our local citizens who don’t stop at city or county borders for employment or recreation to see it. With a better understanding of regionalism, we can make it work for all of us. We need to work together when it makes sense and realize the value of our individualism as well.”
The first five sessions of the Leaders Forum were held between January and early April. Participants will reconvene as a group in mid-September. The combination of format, topics and anticipated outcomes of this pilot program is expected to advance regional economic development in Sioux, Osceola, Lyon, O’Brien, Plymouth and Cherokee counties.
“This forum is different from the leadership trainings that have been offered here in the past. It is more about taking people who already have leadership skills and creating a common understanding and a desire to act within the group,” Anderson said. “We believe this first group of participants will be our ‘alumni’ when we offer future forums.”