With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

IowaWatch asked leaders in several rural Iowa towns for ways those communities could be vital. Jobs are a given, although those interviewed said having jobs, alone, does not guarantee vitality if other dynamics are not present in town.

Have a happy community, growth and community involvement, Sara Slater, Audubon County economic development and tourism coordinator, said. “Your Main Street is full at the end of the day, weekends. I think those are, really, ways to say, ‘We’re doing OK.’”

“Surround yourself with people that believe in your community,” offered Jill Tueth, owner of the Snyder’s gift store in Humeston. “‘Debbie Downer’ does not do well.”

Other factors found during IowaWatch’s four months of reporting on this topic:

Pat Kinney/IowaWatch

Denver schools Superintendent Brad Laures stands in the gym of the Cyclone Center. Credit: Pat Kinney/IowaWatch
  • Do a full assessment of the town’s needs, including both strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Have readily available health care.
  • Have adequate, affordable housing.
  • Have adequate high-speed internet and local tech support for it.
  • Have attractive recreational opportunities.
  • Develop the arts for an audience that goes beyond the town.
  • Focus at the local school district on strong academics and adequate staffing and facilities.
  • Have a story to tell that promotes existing attractions that bring tourists to town.
  • Develop strong philanthropic devotion to the community, particularly from the town’s largest private employers.
  • Keep the downtown business district busy with attractions that include interesting local shops and restaurants, housing and festivals.
  • Take advantage of state and federal grants that either remove or restore old buildings, streets and other town amenities. 

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IowaWatch reporting in this project was made possible by support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. The Caroll Times Herald published this story under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.

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