More than 370 people from 80 communities gathered in Grinnell for the third Iowa Rural Development Summit April 10–12, 2019. The summit was hosted by the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC), a statewide alliance of public and private partners focused on rural vitality.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is a member of IRDC, and ISU Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development (CED) program director Gary Taylor is part of the IRDC leadership team. At this year’s summit, four CED staff made presentations.
In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds launched the Empower Rural Iowa initiative, which set a three-pronged approach to rural empowerment. Those priorities—connect, grow, and invest—were the cornerstones of the 2019 Summit agenda.
In addition to speaking to the Empower Rural Iowa priorities, the topics that CED representatives addressed during the summit align closely with what ISU Vice President for Extension and Outreach John Lawrence learned in 2018 through listening sessions with partners and stakeholders, ISU Extension and Outreach staff, and county extension council representatives.
The listening sessions revealed that housing is one of the top five issues impacting communities’ ability to thrive. During “Raising Rooftops,” a session on housing development in rural Iowa, CED specialist Jon Wolseth presented CED’s Rural Housing Readiness Assessment, a tool designed to help rural communities self-assess their housing situations and make informed decisions to address existing issues (see article below).
Another top-five issue that emerged from the listening sessions was access to quality, affordable childcare. At the IRD Summit, CED specialist Shelley Oltmans participated in a discussion on rural childcare challenges and solutions. Oltmans shared her experience in assisting with the incorporation of a nonprofit childcare center in Keokuk.
Although not among the top five, developing community leadership skills was raised as a need during the listening sessions. In a session titled “Growing Rural Iowa – Calling Leaders and Creating Strategies,” Taylor gave an overview of Leading Communities: A Place-based Leadership Program, CED’s research-based community leadership curriculum (see articles on p. 6 and p. 7).
Finally, listening-session participants expressed concerns about the economic viability of rural communities. In a session on recruiting and sustaining rural retail businesses, Lisa Bates discussed CED’s Iowa Retail Initiative, which is currently conducting pilot projects in the city of Lenox and in Wright County.