By Amy Kuhlers, Program Manager and Network Builder, IASourcelink
Since 1992, the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC) has been engaging partners and assisting small towns. And there are steps being taken to boost the work of the Council and expand its impact.
The IRDC was created as part of an Executive Order and ensuing Farm Bill in 1992. It received federal funding for many years and was later housed in the Iowa Department of Economic Development. But both state and federal funding dissolved and the group has operated informally without paid staff since 2005.
In 2016, the IRDC hosted the first-ever Iowa Rural Summit, bringing together 300 individuals from more than 60 rural communities. That event sparked a resurgence in interest among rural advocates and convinced IRDC partners, who include federal and state agencies, Regents’ institutions and community colleges, utilities, non-profits and statewide associations, to revitalize the Council’s ability to support rural development.
“This is an organization that has impacted rural Iowa for a quarter century and is positioned now to do more,” said IRDC chair Sandy Ehrig, who runs the Iowa Farm Bureau’s “Renew Rural Iowa” program. “Our rural summit in Jefferson last year was a big step and the Council is ready to build on that momentum.”
Beginning in 2018, IRDC will develop sponsorship levels open to partners, including for-profit businesses, seeking to support strategies and policies that benefit small towns and rural places. And that will allow the Council to bring on a paid executive director, former USDA Rural Development state director Bill Menner.
Menner, who served at USDA from 2009-2017, was previously economic development director in Poweshiek County. He will help the IRDC connect with new partners, resource providers and innovative rural communities who can provide successful case studies for other places.
“Rural Iowa has so much, from engaged residents to committed leaders and forward-thinking businesses,” Menner said. “But many times they start from scratch when they work to develop new ideas or address community needs. Instead they could be just looking down the road for direction and I think the IRDC can compile and share those best practices.”
The financial resources created through sponsors and engaged members will position the IRDC to launch new programs that address rural issues, build capacity with small towns, and capitalize on opportunities that exist to enhance the viability of rural communities.
Those opportunities may revolve around issues the IRDC sees as central to rural development, from housing to workforce to broadband to entrepreneurship.
For more information about the Iowa Rural Development Council or the 2018 Iowa Rural Summit, contact Bill Menner at email@example.com or 641-990-4757.