Shelley Oltmans is a field specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach CED, in this position she serves as the executive director of the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce.
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.
Research has shown that “[i]f our communities are to adapt, prosper, and retain decision-making capabilities, it is essential that local leadership capacity be developed (Brennan, 2013).”
Real estate development matters to communities, whether it’s residential, providing homes for community members; or commercial, creating jobs and boosting the local economy
To address this important facet of community development, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development (CED) program has added a new member to its team. In August 2018, Daniel Kuhlmann joined ISU’s Department of Community and Regional Planning as an assistant professor with responsibilities in the CED program and with the ISU Ivy College of Business.
Six communities are starting the Marketing Hometown America program this winter to discuss what makes their community special, why those unique assets might be attractive to new residents, and how to let potential residents know their towns are vibrant places to live.
Marketing Hometown America is a research-based extension program offered in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. The purpose of the program is to help communities address rural depopulation and the resulting loss of economic vitality caused by years of demographic change.
Immigrant-owned businesses are becoming more and more prevalent in Iowa. Driving through communities such as Perry, Ottumwa, Storm Lake, and Marshalltown, the impact of immigrant-owned businesses in the central business district is evident. These businesses play a vital role in Iowa’s economy, contributing significantly to our local tax base. Storefronts that would otherwise be empty--due to the general decline in rural retail caused by pull factors such as e-commerce and big box stores--are instead filled with ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, vaquero Western Wear shops, and Quinceañera gowns and party supplies.