Iowa towns that are thriving, bucking trend of rural decline

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Lyle Muller/IowaWatch

Kris Stringer (right) rings up a purchase by Mason Phillips of nearby Duncombe at the Stop & Shop service and convenience grocery store in Coalville, Iowa. Stringer has owned the store since 2011.

A handful of small Iowa towns with 5,000 or fewer people and not part of a larger metro area bucked the trend in the 2020 census and grew their populations.

These towns grew populations at a time when the 2020 census showed Iowa’s urban population growing to 64% of the state’s 3.16 million people. The share of urban dwellers in Iowa was near 61% in both 2010 and 2000, 58% in 1990, and 57% in 1980.

With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

A four-month IowaWatch investigation that included visits to 58 towns of 5,000 or fewer people turned up examples of growing rural communities. One of those growing in population isn’t even incorporated, but counted, none the less, by the U.S. Census Bureau.

But IowaWatch reporting also showed that some towns in Iowa are thriving even though they lost population in 2020.

You can learn about six selected Iowa towns in this report:

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COALVILLE, IOWA, fine with growth without city government

Ask people who live in Coalville if they see a need to incorporate this town of 651 residents southeast of Fort Dodge. They’ll say no. “We have all the services and amenities that we want,” Webster County Supervisor Chairman Mark Campbell, who lives between Coalville and Otho, said. READ HERE

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LA PORTE CITY rumbles through pandemic

La Porte City emerged from the pandemic last year “ready to rumble” – literally. The town has completed a $3 million streetscape renovation of Main Street downtown while many businesses were shut down in 2020. But there have also been losses due to the coronavirus. READ HERE

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BLOOMFIELD: Political divisions mingle with southern Iowa town’s push for vitality

Success in a small town doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. Bloomfield, the Davis County seat and growing to 2,682 people in the 2020 census, could be the proof. In Bloomfield, several examples of bucking the trend by growing in population from 2,640 people in 2010 are evident, including efforts that might not win over everyone in town. READ HERE

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DENVER, IOWA, aiming for new heights after pandemic

Denver, which has dubbed itself “The Mile Wide City,” in contrast to its altitudinally enhanced Colorado counterpart, had quite a mountain to climb out of the pandemic, business, school and community leaders said. But it climbed out. “Denver was fortunate,” Gene Leonhart, a former longtime mayor, said. READ HERE

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AUDUBON counts its blessings despite population loss

City leaders in the west Iowa town of Audubon town know their priorities: more affordable housing, general aesthetics like clean yards and kept-up buildings, and a robust U.S. Highway 71 corridor into and out of town. They know because residents told them so at a city forum the night of Aug. 17. Action is a key word these days as leaders try to keep the town vital, even while losing population from the 2010 census to the one in 2020. READ HERE

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Businesses band together for southern Iowa’s HUMESTON

A group of downtown shop owners in Humeston are collaborating to make their town a vibrant place, even though Humeston lost population in the 2020 census. “We’re not in competition with each other,” Leigh Ann Coffey, a local real estate agent, said. Their pitch: good products, good service and the charm of small-town shops. READ HERE


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.

This story was featured on Insight on Business the News Hour, hosted by Michael Libbee. Listen to the podcast.