AMES, Iowa — Through the Sustainable Economies Program, regional trade centers in rural Iowa are receiving information, tools and mentoring to develop plans for strategic growth; and the rest of the country is taking notice. In October the Iowa State University Center for Industrial Research and Service received a 2012 Award of Excellence from the University Economic Development Association for leading this ISU Extension and Outreach effort.
“We offer Iowa’s regional trade centers an in-depth economic assessment of their financial, social and environmental well-being — their triple bottom line,” said CIRAS specialist Michael O’Donnell, who directs the program. “The goal is to provide these smaller cities with the data and tools to make effective decisions for long-term success. In addition, we provide assessments, technical assistance and mentoring to critical organizations and businesses in the region that drive the area’s economy. We appreciate this national recognition for our work to find better ways to help improve Iowa’s economy.”
Regional trade centers are locations of regional retail trade, business services, manufacturing, transportation, and health and education services. These communities usually have acute care and regional hospitals as well as centers for the care of the disabled and elderly. Most have community college campuses, and they are important economic and social anchors of their surrounding regions.
Many of these centers in Iowa have evolved over the past 25 years to become regional employment nodes at a time when trade activity and other nonfarm employment activity has stagnated or declined in the surrounding area. But despite being a key component of Iowa’s economy, many of these cities are facing significant long-term risks including population loss, particularly among Iowans age 25-44.
Through the Sustainable Economies Program, specialists from CIRAS and ISU Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development work with the region’s stakeholders to ensure the sustainability concepts and strategic plans are implemented and gain the necessary momentum for success.
“We have worked with local leaders, economic developers and businesses in Carroll, Lee and Appanoose counties, and are beginning work in Cerro Gordo County. We are in the third and final year of the program, which finishes up in July 2013,” O’Donnell said.
Longer-term stability for Iowa’s regional trade centers likely will hinge on their abilities to continue as manufacturing and transportation centers and their abilities to consolidate higher value regional trade and services into their locations, O’Donnell said. As most future job growth likely will be in health care, professional and business services, and services to individuals, communities that can aggregate those types of growth and offer urban-like amenities and quality-of-life prospects will have advantages over their peers and smaller places.
“Guiding regions in understanding their economy and developing strategies to foster stability is a critical need across the state of Iowa,” O’Donnell said.
[PHOTO] of Mike O'Donnell