Workforce attraction and retention, affordable housing, telecommunications deserts, business succession, and attracting the next generation of leaders and volunteers are all issues facing rural Iowa. UNI’s Business and Community Services (BCS) has committed to rural economic development as a critical component of its work to support Iowa’s future.
James Hoelscher, Institute for Decision Making senior program manager, was recently appointed to Chair the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Growing Rural Iowa Task Force. “Over the next 12 months we are charged with developing a leadership program for rural communities, exploring how creative placemaking can be better utilized in rural communities, and establishing an innovation fund to support organizations and communities interested and willing to create new scalable projects,” says Hoelscher. “There are many things that need to be done and quickly, but then again, there are many rural Iowans fighting for their future.”
Hoelscher is also UNI’s representative on the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC), which focuses on helping rural partners collaborate, share information, conduct research, spotlight best practices, and serve and support Iowa’s rural communities. Among IRDC’s early successes are three annual summits in rural locations that attracted nearly 80 communities and 400 attendees. UNI staff from the Institute for Decision Making, Center for Business Growth and Innovation, and Advance Iowa actively participated in each summit.
“The entire Rural Development Council is committed to rolling up our sleeves and working together on behalf of rural communities,” says Hoelscher. “Economic development for rural Iowa really requires all hands on deck. Regent institutions, community colleges, government agencies, nonprofit service providers, and business and industry must unite around rural Iowa to support growth and innovation for years and generations ahead.”