Iowa leaders, whether they want hard-core economic development research or a more inspirational “crafting” of community capacity building, find Iowa State University Extension to be an available partner in renewing local economies.
Southeast Iowa Economic Development leaders in Des Moines, Henry, Lee and Louisa counties were forming a regional consortium when an Iowa State University team brought research resources to them in January 2005. In an area suffering economic distress due largely to manufacturing plant closures, leaders were looking to the regional approach for renewal.
The ISU team came from Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) and the Department of Economics. With the local Council of Government and funding from the Economic Development Administration, the team was ready to develop and deploy research and technical services that would assess the region’s industrial structure in detail.
“The analysis provided by CIRAS and the Department of Economics moved us toward our goals more rapidly,” said Chuck Betts, executive director, Southeastern Community College Center for Business and Industry Services. “The analysis has gotten us to the next step, that of marketing the four counties as a viable economic region.”
Researchers identified the region’s key industrial groups and assisted developers in understanding, both objectively and subjectively, the value of these groups. They also identified top commodities imported and evaluated potential commodity export opportunities. Their findings were part of a consultative approach that resulted in the development and implementation of a regional marketing plan.
Their data were applied more specifically in Henry County. “The Mount Pleasant Area Development Commission requested additional research from Iowa State,” said Jennifer Daly, executive vice president of Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance. “The data from both studies helped us identify two industries with great potential to succeed in Henry County. We have created a marketing plan to promote the Mount Pleasant area to that target group.”
The Town/Craft Center in Perry offers the opportunity to create less traditional economic renewal for rural communities. It is a joint effort of Hometown Perry, Iowa, ISU Extension and the ISU College of Design. The center is an “idea” storefront where community building is treated as a fine art or “craft.”
“Town/Craft Center will become a place where new community capacity-building ideas are expressed, studied and tried,” said Tim Borich, director of ISU Extension Community and Economic Development. “It will allow us to be more playful, dream a bit and consider ‘what if’ when a community vision is expressed in terms of a newly created niche.”
It is appropriate that Town/Craft Center is located in Perry, a community being revitalized from just such a vision.
“Hometown Perry studies, communicates and celebrates the vital contribution small towns have made to American life as seen through the prism of the immigrant experience,” said Bill Clark, president of Hometown Perry, Iowa. “We believe that community capacity can be created by understanding and building upon a town’s history and the role immigrants have had on the creation of the community.”
It is this expertise that Hometown Perry, Iowa, brings to the Town/Craft Center partnership. Another component is visiting ISU College of Design faculty and students who create visualizations of crafted concepts. ISU Extension is a natural third partner, Clark said.
“Extension is all about strengthening communities, with years of experience working with rural towns,” said Clark. “Town/Craft Center relies on Extension’s state and national network of resources, experts and experiences.”