Why rural Iowa needs empowering

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Iowa’s rural population has been in decline for more than a century, and many communities struggle to remain vital as a result. Today, only about a third of Iowans are rural residents, though a recent Gallup poll indicates Americans’ top preference for “where to live” is in rural areas.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents want to live in a small town or rural area. Comparing this with where folks currently live — 15 percent rural — tells us there is real interest in rural living and a potential out-migration from urban areas nationwide.

For years, Iowa’s economic development efforts have focused on bringing new employers to town or helping existing businesses grow with the hope the workers will locate in the community. Though a legitimate strategy and enhanced by initiatives that encourage entrepreneurial business development such as the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa, it is slow to grow communities. There is a new focus based on the fact that “place matters” and people often choose where to live and then figure out their employment.

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