Manchester and Van Buren County Announced as Pilot Communities by the Iowa Rural Vitality Coalition

Pilot program will focus on understanding each community’s needs through data to enhance the health and vitality of the communities and their residents

April 12, 2024, 12:00 pm |

Contact: Katie James, 712-363-1598,

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Rural Vitality Coalition announced on April 12 a partnership with Van Buren County and the community of Manchester to launch a pilot program aimed at improving the health and vitality of rural communities. This initiative will focus on building and refining a process that can be replicated to benefit other rural communities throughout the state.  

Iowa Rural Vitality Coalition."These communities were selected as pilots because of the wonderful things they’re already doing to create opportunities and address the ongoing challenges faced by rural Iowans,” shared Mark Reinig, president of the Iowa Rural Development Council. “The strong leadership in Van Buren County and Manchester recognize the vital importance of improving quality of life and health – not just business – is the best path to rural vitality.”

The Iowa Rural Vitality Coalition will work collaboratively with the two pilot communities to assess, plan, identify resources and implement strategies designed to help each community measurably improve their overall economy as well as the quality of life, health and well-being of the community members.

As an initial step, the pilot communities are undergoing an assessment and planning process that utilizes data and the well-regarded Comprehensive Rural Wealth Framework. This framework is comprised of eight categories or “wealth capitals” and was developed by the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa in collaboration with the Economic Research Service at USDA and is based on work originating decades ago at Iowa State University by sociologists Jan and Cornelia Flora. The framework defines wealth as more than just financial means and takes a comprehensive approach to identifying the assets and gaps in a community. Each falls under one of eight categories called wealth capitals: intellectual, human, social, cultural, political, physical, natural and financial.

Van Buren County and Manchester are engaging with the coalition to explore the interconnectedness of these capitals and how they can be impacted to create ripple effects of sustainable, positive change.

Van Buren County.Metrics will then be established for each community to monitor baseline, leading and lagging measures. This will help each community plan for a bright future for all citizens and find solutions specific to their needs that improve the overall economy and the health of community members.  

“It's an honor to be chosen as a pilot community,” said Joy Padget, president of Engage Keosauqua. “It means our volunteer efforts have paid off, and we are on the right track. We have not only improved our community but are now being recognized for those efforts. There is still much to be done. We hope to create a welcoming, lively, livable community with more places to live, things to do and resources to grow. We want to inspire others that rural revival is possible.”

“Manchester is excited for this fantastic opportunity to enhance our community and quality of life for its residents,” shared Sarah Maurer, Manchester Rural Vitality lead. “Being selected as the first pilot community for the Iowa Rural Vitality Coalition’s Rural Wealth Framework is a significant achievement. This kind of initiative will lead to a multitude of benefits, including economic development, improved quality of life and a stronger sense of community identity. We look forward to leveraging local assets, fostering entrepreneurship and enhancing the overall wellbeing of residents. It’s clear there’s a lot of enthusiasm and gratitude in Manchester for this chance to continue to build a community that our residents never want to leave. We are truly honored and blessed for this opportunity.”

Manchester, Iowa.Iowa’s rural communities are important economic engines in our state but face many common challenges, including declining populations, inadequate housing, fewer available workers, and higher rates of certain chronic diseases. These challenges have led to a change in the quality of life and access to resources for rural Iowans, making it more difficult for the people and the economies they depend on to thrive.  

The Iowa Rural Vitality Coalition was formed as member organizations, separately working in this space, recognized the value of pooling resources, expertise and ultimately working together to create sustainable solutions. The coalition is a collaborative initiative of the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, the Iowa Rural Development Council, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Institute for Decision Making at the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Iowa College of Public Health and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

About the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative

The Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative is housed within the Iowa Economic Development Authority and is tasked with creating innovative rural policy for connecting, growing and investing in rural Iowa. Since its inception in 2018, ERI has worked to develop rural leaders, support the revitalization of rural downtown districts, expand housing availability and improve broadband connectivity.

About Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

ISU Extension and Outreach is part of the federal Cooperative Extension Service — a network of more than 100 land-grant institutions, including Iowa State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, serving communities and counties across the United States. Every county in Iowa has an elected extension council that decides how to support ISU Extension and Outreach educational programs at the county level. For more information about ISU Extension and Outreach, visit

About University of Iowa College of Public Health

The University of Iowa College of Public Health serves Iowa and the Midwest as one of the nation’s premier state-assisted schools of public health and leads the global community in rural public health education and training, research and practice. By preparing future public health leaders, conducting collaborative, multidisciplinary research, and informing policy innovation, the college advances the health and well-being of populations at home and around the world.

About University of Northern Iowa Institute for Decision Making

The Institute for Decision Making is the economic development arm of UNI Business and Community Services. For over three decades, IDM has been delivering tailored and innovative planning, technical assistance, applied research and training to Iowans concerned about their community’s economic vitality. IDM proudly serves over 850 communities, nonprofits and economic development groups throughout Iowa and beyond.

About Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Wellmark Inc. ( does business as Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa. Wellmark and its subsidiaries and affiliated companies insure or pay health benefit claims for more than 2 million members in Iowa and South Dakota. Wellmark is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.