Businesses close. People move away. It happens everywhere. In rural places these losses seem more devastating, are more lamented, and can feel like a harbinger of future doom.
Facing these losses, small communities throughout the upper Midwest are trying a happier approach to retaining their quality of life and marketing the value of rural places. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development (CED) unit is now able to offer the Marketing Hometown America program that has been successfully used by Cooperative Extension programs in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota to help communities home in on what people are looking for when they choose a place to live and do business.
The Marketing Hometown America program trains local facilitators to run a four-week Study Circles program. Each week many small groups within a community meet with their own facilitator and work through a different topic. The topics include community connections, a community report card, a community marketing plan, and an action plan. The topics are all contained in a Study Circles Guide that includes readings, discussion questions, and group activities for each session.
“These small groups can meet anywhere, any day of the week, any time of day. There is a huge social capital benefit to discussing community issues in a relaxed, civil, and welcoming space,” said Abbie Gaffey, CED specialist and a member of the teaching team.
“People LOVE Study Circles! They’re fun! Planning does not have to be a boring activity and more people would engage with their communities if processes were more engaging,” she added.
At the end of the four-week Study Circles sessions, all the participants from all of the groups come together for an Action Planning Forum where each group’s ideas are presented and everyone chooses the ideas they like best to be incorporated into a marketing plan for their community.
Two counties participated in the first round of Marketing Hometown America in Iowa: Charter Oak, Ute, and Mapleton in Monona County and Mondamin, Modale, and Pisgah in Harrison County will began their facilitator training and Study Circles in late January.
“At Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, we offer research-based programming and what I like about this program is that it tracks outcomes,” Gaffey said.
“By working in partnership with the other universities we can track impacts in expanded leadership, amenity improvements, increased networking, expanded civic awareness, marketing actions and increasing adult and youth engagement in these communities.”
The cost of a Marketing Hometown America program is $2,000 and includes the Study Circles Guides for each participant, facilitation materials and training, and the marketing action plan. Communities interested in more information or getting on the schedule can contact Gaffey at 712-539-1169 or by email at email@example.com.
“I feel like there is a lot of frustration out in our rural communities and few positive outlets to channel those negative thoughts into positive actions,” Gaffey said. “In some respects, we are at a time when we need to relearn the basic tools of citizenship without it being a chore or a fight. I think Marketing Hometown America is the right thing at the right time.”