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Iowa State University Extension

WE-LEAD takes the lead for economic development

Karen Lathrop

When we lead, there’s no telling how far we can go — particularly when WE-LEAD means West Liberty Economic Area Development. WE-LEAD formed to help West Liberty attract new business, retain and expand existing business and create leadership opportunities. Executive director Karen Lathrop, who also is an ISU Extension community and economic development field specialist, is glad to share the nonprofit organization’s success story with other Iowa communities.

“We are growing as a community in population,” Lathrop said. “We’ve had some new business startups. With the current economy, we have had a downturn of only about 15 jobs in recent months, but overall we are maintaining and growing our existing businesses.”

What’s their secret? Lathrop said, “We believe that what we think about, we attract. So we are going to trudge forward and make plans for what we would like to see in our community.”

She added, “I think what kills many towns is that they think, ‘oh the economy’s bad so we’re going to wait and see what happens.’ We’re not. We are creating our future.”

WE-LEAD has existed for three years, with Lathrop at the helm for two. Her position is funded 75 percent by WE-LEAD and 25 percent by ISU Extension. She embodies the partnership, bringing Iowa State expertise to local issues and applying lessons from West Liberty to other Iowa communities.

“Economic development is long term and it’s a lot of groundwork … we haven’t landed a company with 100 employees. On the other hand, we are really trying to make a difference with who we have in our community,” Lathrop said. “We have implemented a Well-Business Visit program to assist our local businesses, connect them to resources and provide them with business coaching to keep them in our community. Our work with entrepreneurs is growing as the word gets out. We had a new online business launch in March.”

WE-LEAD receives funding from the city council, several local businesses and the county, Lathrop said. “Our partnership with ISU Extension has provided us with resources and knowledge that have been extremely beneficial to our rural community. That broad-based support has been the key to our success.” 

For more information about WE-LEAD, contact Lathrop at

This article appeared in April 2009 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter