Iowa towns that are thriving, bucking trend of rural decline

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.

Denver, Iowa, aiming for new heights after pandemic

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.

Political divisions mingle with Bloomfield’s push for vitality

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 ‘rumbles’ through pandemic

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.