AUDUBON, Iowa – City leaders in this west Iowa 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 August 17.
DENVER, Iowa – The Bremer County community of 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,” said Gene Leonhart, a former longtime mayor, who still serves on the city Planning and Zoning Commission. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
Leonhart and others who were interviewed for the IowaWatch project, “Small Town Solutions,” said the city had a lot going for it headed into the pandemic. IowaWatch spent four months checking into towns that buck the declining trend of other rural areas and show signs of a growing population, a strong sense of community, activities and schools.
Voters in the Denver Community School District, on the cusp of that pandemic, approved a bond referendum for a new high school and middle school building — just a few years after building a new community recreation, arts and events center, called the Cyclone Center, so named after the school teams’ mascot.
COALVILLE, Iowa – 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. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
Doing so would mean setting up city government with, at minimum, a city council. “We have all the services and amenities that we want,” Webster County Supervisor Chairman Mark Campbell, who lives between Coalville and Otho, said. “And, we can easily run in (to Fort Dodge) and, yet, get to go home and relax with a country setting.”
The lack of city government has not lessened interest in living in Coalville.
BLOOMFIELD, Iowa – A lot of people were paying attention to Bloomfield, in southern Iowa, a few years ago. “Bloomfield sets sustainable design example for Iowa,” a Jan. 1, 2016, Des Moines Register headline read above a story about a new solar power project to supplement the power Bloomfield’s municipal utility buys from Southern Iowa Electric.
With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
“Governor Reynolds, Lt. Governor Gregg Celebrate Bloomfield’s New Solar Project,” the Iowa Department of Economic Development and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office titled an Aug. 1, 2018, news release. “Bloomfield has demonstrated exactly the type of innovative and forward thinking we hoped to foster when we released the Iowa Energy Plan in December 2016,” Reynolds said in that release.
LA PORTE CITY, Iowa – This town emerged from the pandemic “ready to rumble” – literally. The city of La Porte City completed a $3 million “streetscape” renovation of Main Street downtown while many businesses were shut down in 2020. It included a restoration of the raised-brick pavement in the street that autos and carriages rode over for generations. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
“People wanted the bricks back because they like that rumble,” Mayor Dave Neil, a former Iowa state labor commissioner and member of the Iowa Board of Regents, said. But there have also been losses due to the coronavirus.
Iowa’s three state universities made a U-turn this summer, and they now are headed down the road toward secrecy with some hiring decisions. The about-face should trouble taxpayers of this state. It also should bother members of the Legislature, who have expressed concern in recent years that the universities are out of touch with the people of Iowa. First, some background about this change:
For many years, the universities have followed affirmative action hiring practices. These are intended to ensure a diverse array of qualified candidates is considered when jobs are filled in the administrative ranks, on the faculty, and for professional and scientific positions.
The man who answered the door at a farm house west of Bloomfield one afternoon in the early 1970s was an imposing figure, even without that thick beard on his chin.Gideon Yutzy was a member of the Old Order Amish religion. He was the patriarch of a family that moved into the countryside west of my hometown several months earlier.That was 50 years ago. The arrival of the Yutzys began an Amish settlement that has grown to about 1,800 people today, making Davis County one of the largest enclaves of Amish in Iowa.I was there at Yutzy’s front door to interview him. I wanted to ask about the legal issues surrounding attempts by state and local governments in the Midwest to force Amish children to be educated beyond the eighth grade.In 1965, the issue boiled over near Hazleton in Buchanan County. A front-page photo in The Des Moines Register showed the nation what happened when government officials arrived at a one-room Amish school and tried to take the children to a public school.Little Amish boys and girls scattered like rabbits into a cornfield.
A handful of small Iowa towns with populations of less than 5,000 and not part of a larger metro area, bucked the trend and grew their populations in the 2020 census data just released. Growing small towns have one or more factors working in their favor, a summer-long IowaWatch investigation revealed for this special report.
We asked leaders in several rural Iowa towns for ways small Iowa towns 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.
Iowa received $50 million in CARES Act funds, $30 million of which was allocated equally at $9.50 per capita to Iowa’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Services regions. The details of how the money was handed slightly varied by region, but all 14 regions invited school districts and mental health providers to apply for funds, and then either offer receipts to prove how the money was spent, or to pay for costs up front and then be reimbursed by the region with the CARES funds. Some regions spent all their money early, while others, like Polk County Health Services, received leftover funds from other regions. Any money leftover was to be returned to the state by July 1. IowaWatch contacted all 14 regions for the details on how much money school districts in each region received.