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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018

Governor’s initiative aims to help rural towns

By Erin Murphy, Lee Des Moines Bureau | Jul 19, 2018

WINTERSET — A new state program will identify challenges facing rural Iowa and recommend solutions to state policy makers.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday announced the creation of her “Empower Rural Iowa Initiative,” which she said was developed to find “concrete solutions for the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in rural Iowa.”

Only 18 Iowa counties, including those with the state’s biggest cities, experienced population growth of more than 1 percent from 2010 to 2016, according to U.S. Census data compiled by Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Meantime 50 counties, none containing large cities, experienced population loss of at least 1 percent. Nine counties in western Iowa experienced population loss of more than 5 percent.

Reynolds said the rural Iowa initiative, which she created through executive order, will identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes necessary to increase opportunities and quality of life in rural Iowa. The effort will be led by an executive committee and three task forces, and will be co-chaired by acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Sandy Ehrig of the Iowa Rural Development Council.

Each task force will have a specific focus: improving access to quality and affordable housing, encouraging leadership and strategic development, and expanding high-speed internet access.

Reynolds said the group will meet throughout the fall and make recommendations before the 2019 session of the Iowa Legislature in January.

“Preserving rural Iowa is a key priority of my administration,” Reynolds said Wednesday during an announcement event in Winterset’s town square.

“We want to maintain that kind of vibrancy to make sure that there is opportunity in towns large and small across our state.”

The initiative is a partnership between Reynolds’ administration and the Iowa Rural Development Council, a formerly government-funded organization that now operates by volunteers. The group works with rural partners to advance rural Iowa’s interests.

“This is just the start of the conversation, of course,” Gregg said. “There are many complicated issues facing rural Iowa.”

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