Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last week signed an executive order to launch a coordinated effort to create jobs and build economic vibrancy in Iowa’s rural communities.

The new effort, called the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, establishes a partnership for rural development with the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC). It also creates three task forces that will look at key economic development issues facing rural Iowa communities.

Co-chairs for the governor’s initiative are Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Sandy Ehrig, who leads the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRIA) initiative and is also chair of the IRDC, a public-private partnership that promotes rural development in the state.

RRIA is an Iowa Farm Bureau initiative supporting new and existing businesses in rural Iowa through education, mentoring and financial resources. Since its inception more than a decade ago, it has helped create $125 million in economic impact for rural communities. 

Reynolds, who made the announcement of the initiative on the lawn of the Madison County Courthouse in Winterset, said: “This initiative is tasked with finding concrete solutions for the unique problems and opportunities that exist in rural Iowa. Preserving rural Iowa is our main goal. We want to maintain that kind of vibrancy to make sure there is opportunity in towns large and small.”

The new rural development task forces, Rey­nolds said, will identify legisla­tion, regulatory and policy changes to promote economic development in Iowa’s rural com­munities.

The groups will begin meeting this fall and are expected to have recommendations ready for the 2019 session of the Iowa Legislature.

“There are many complex issues facing rural Iowa, and they are often interrelated and overlapping,” Gregg said. “So it’s a question of where do we start.”

Three task forces

Gregg said the three task forces will begin by looking at three key issues: developing strong local development leadership; addressing the shortage of quality, market-rate housing in many of Iowa’s rural communities; and building broadband internet capability.

“Our experience at Iowa Farm Bureau through RRIA is that rural development really happens because of local leadership,” Ehrig said. Work by RRIA Iowa and IRDC clearly shows that building local leadership is the key whether a community is successful in creating jobs and economic vibrancy," she said.

Gregg said the lack of housing has also been identified as a key issue that has restricted development in many rural Iowa communities. “We have a shortage of quality market-rate housing in rural Iowa. It impacts our ability to recruit a workforce and restricts our ability to grow,” he said.

Access to broadband internet can also be a key to economic development, Gregg said.