Growth through Regional Strategies

 

As leaders in smaller, rural communities plan for the future, a key component for success will be working through regional and strategic partnerships to complement and draw upon the resources of each other to create jobs that strengthen their community and those around them.

“Our large number of smaller communities make regionalization efforts extremely important,” said Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development State Director in Iowa. “Rural communities and areas that have engaged citizens and regional development plans based on locally identified needs and growth strategies are positioning for the future.”

Approximately half of the nearly 1,000 communities in Iowa have fewer than 500 residents, with Beaconsfield (Ringgold County) and Le Roy (Decatur County), counting just 15 residents during the last census. 

Surprisingly, only 11 communities, or around 1 percent, have more than 50,000 residents and half of the state’s population lives in just 10 counties.

The strong network of nearly 20 regional council of governments (COGs), play an important role in ensuring growth and vitality in the counties and communities each serves. Created nearly 30 years ago in Iowa, COGs provide regional planning and technical assistance to local governments and the communities in their regions by looking at things such as transportation, housing and solid waste management needs, along with regional workforce and economic development.

Chariton Valley Planning and Development, which was established in 2007, primarily assists south central Iowa counties of Appanoose, Lucas, Monroe and Wayne with services also reaching into the contiguous counties.

“Every day we focus on ways we can help enhance the economic prosperity and improve the quality of life for the residents in our area,” said Nichole Moore, executive director, Chariton Valley Planning and Development. “Our primary activities concentrate on stimulating and supporting job creation, attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, making recreational and cultural enhancements and providing the best housing and infrastructure services possible.”

Programs delivered by Chariton Valley Planning and Development focus on transportation issues, hazard mitigation planning, individual community needs and community development block grants. In 2010, the COG established a housing division focusing on housing inspections and lead testing to help communities that are struggling with aging homes in need significant repair.

“In my travels around the state I continually hear housing as one of the top challenge facing rural communities today,” Menner said. “Having the infrastructure in place and people with working knowledge of housing development programs is so important.”

Working collaboratively is imperative as census estimates released earlier this spring suggest more than two-thirds of Iowa counties have lost population since 2010.

Rural communities working closely with their COG to develop regional plans may also be eligible for special USDA funding opportunities through the “Strategic Economic and Community Development” (SECD) provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. Sometimes called Section 6025, this provision sets aside USDA loan and grant dollars for projects that support the implementation of regional and/or multijurisdictional strategic economic development plans.

“The new regional development priority policy will make it easier for rural communities to access resources to invest in long-term community-development efforts by giving priority to applications for USDA Rural Development programs that include regional partnerships and strategies,” Menner said. “The COGs do a wonderful job in development the regional plans that set the stage for us to come in and assist with local projects that help implement those plans.”

A handful of projects in rural Iowa have already taken advantage of this funding opportunity.

This spring USDA Rural Development is planning to award $2 million in loan and grant funds to help a rural community make needed upgrades to its water system and another $3.5 million direct loan to help another community build an assisted living facility.

Additional projects have also applied for smaller USDA Rural Development grant funds to assist with a wide variety of community enhancements. Also, lenders who apply for USDA’s business and loan guarantee program to help rural small businesses with expansion or job-creation efforts may also qualify for the provision.

“By creating a regional focus and increasing collaboration across USDA Rural Development programs we can have a larger impact, enabling greater wealth creation, and quality-of-life improvements,” Menner said.

To be eligible for SECD, a project must support the implementation of multijurisdictional strategic economic and community development plans and be carried out solely in rural areas.

“Through this provision we are empowered to work further with rural communities to align resources with long-range and multijurisdictional challenges and needs by leveraging federal, state, local, or private funding,” Menner added.

Projects will be evaluated on how well they support a multijurisdictional plan and how well the plans address collaboration, regionalism, and investments from other federal and philanthropic agencies. 

For more information please contact USDA Rural Development in Iowa at (515) 284-4663 or
www.rd.usda.gov/ia.

Growth Through Regional Strategies

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