The smaller communities in Story County count now like they’ve never counted before. That’s because they are getting economic and community development assistance, thanks to Story County.
In a presentation to the Story County Supervisors last week, Dustin Ingram, who recently took over the role of working with the county’s smallest communities on economic development and community planning, shared positive things that are happening in the rural areas of Story County. Ingram is employed by the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development as director of community and economic development outreach.
Ingram’s report was prefaced with Story County Supervisors Chairman Rick Sanders giving a bit of background information.
“Five or six years ago, the county entered into a contract with the AEDC (Ames Economic Development Commission) to provide economic development services throughout the county,” Sanders said. Sanders said the county felt a responsibility to offer professional economic development services “to our smallest communities that couldn’t otherwise reasonably afford” to have them.
Dan Culhane, president and CEO of the Ames Chamber of Commerce & Ames Economic Development Commission, said at the beginning of the AEDC’s efforts rurally, they were focused on the most traditional sense of economic development. But there’s been an evolution, he said, and an opportunity to learn that economic development means something different in every community. “Our team has worked on a wide variety of things, and a wide variety of programs that could help those communities…,” he said.
“That is right on… what it’s absolutely become is community development to all these communities, which is so important, and we’re seeing so many great successes,” Sanders followed.
Ingram shared a PowerPoint that first shared some statistics about how many community contacts and connections the AEDC person in this position has had with the smaller communities. Year to date, that number is 261 — 109 in just this quarter. For the year there have also been 77 face-to-face visits in these communities, 51 project development meetings held, 44 board of supervisors meetings attended and 27 city council meetings attended.
One of the things Ingram said he’s learned from this role is that it’s much different than economic development work in Ames. These smaller communities need to look at downtown development as more about maintaining cultural assets and other things of community importance, he said.
One of the pluses for rural development, Ingram pointed out, is that the Iowa Economic Development Authority has increased rural funding for communities of 1,500 or less.
Ingram’s PowerPoint went on to look at what is happening in some of the rural communities right now.
• Cambridge is pursuing multiple opportunities to finance a building restoration project, including Community Catalyst and USDA grants. Ingram noted Cambridge is looking at a grant for $100,000, which would include matching funds.
• Collins hosted an open house for its Wellness Center and continues to focus on downtown betterment projects. Ingram said, “For a town of its size, this (Collins Wellness Center) is such an impressive facility…and has high utilization.”
• Zearing is making progress on its historic preservation project, and Hansen Family Hospital will soon open a local clinic. Ingram said the opening date was supposed to be Nov. 1, but has been pushed back.
• McCallsburg has created a plan to add amenities to its downtown park. “That’s a community life, quality of life issue,” Ingram said, adding that these types of projects are important to attract people to live in a small town.
• Slater is in talks to recruit a local startup for an underutilized downtown property.
• In Roland, a task force has been established to evaluate local building codes and permit fees. They want “to be sure they’re not hindering development … and … to achieve the potential that Roland has,” Ingram said.
Also in Roland, there has been continued progress on the Larson Drilling site, and the Roland Economic Development Commission is working to prepare Roland for further industrial development.
• In Collins, Landus opened a new receiving and storage facility, a $14 million investment. Ingram said to his knowledge, it’s the fastest receiving facility the company has.
• In Story County as a whole, Ingram reported that the rural communities will benefit from the expansion projects recently announced by companies in the county, since people who live in these rural communities work at these companies, and other people may now move to these communities as more jobs come in.
• Roland Pool Committee is considering bids, and Ingram noted that the committee wants to cut down the cost a bit to make it more palatable for the community.
• Zearing is making progress on upper-story housing in the downtown area.
• Cambridge is planning to create upper-story housing units in its downtown.
• Niland Corner at Colo is looking for someone to operate that historic business. “[Niland Corner] is a huge asset for the county and for that community as well,” Ingram said. “Even though some of us may bypass it or drive by not thinking anything (about it), it’s a huge part of the culture there.” There is a goal to find a person to run it by the end of this year.
• Collins plans to create a mural of a historic photograph in its downtown. Ingram said during the Great Depression, a photographer hired by the government came to Collins and snapped some photographs — the community has preserved those pictures and is preparing to put a mural on a building to honor that history.
Supervisor Lauris Olson thanked Ingram for his great work. “The transition (for him into the position) does seem to have been very smooth,” she said.
Supervisor Marty Chitty noted the value of what Ingram does in this role. “Their (the small towns’) success is our success … Every corner of the county counts.”
Sanders recalled the skepticism when he and Culhane first went out and talked to the rural community leaders about this idea. “It’s gone from skepticism, to complete reliance, to where in many cases, Dustin is going to be the first phone call for some (in these towns) when they’re thinking of something … It is key and it is completely based on the outstanding work of the AEDC,” Sanders said.