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Honoring Leaders, Telling the Story of Success, and Celebrating a Movement

July 19, 2023

Iowa has a network of 54 designated Main Street Iowa programs throughout the state. Each year, this network of communities dedicated to downtown revitalization gather in Des Moines to celebrate the impacts of their collective work and honor awards at the annual Main Street Iowa Development Awards. 

Throughout the evening, over 50 rehabilitation projects, Main Street leaders and significant investment achievements were honored. 

“The Main Street Iowa program is a powerful economic development tool that has stood the test of time since its introduction in 1985,” said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority. “We continue to see significant growth in business, jobs, and investment in communities of all sizes because of the program. As a result, these districts serve as inspiring examples of what is possible for Iowa’s downtowns.”

Awarded projects highlighted innovative efforts like Main Street Ottumwa’s “Business Builder Academy.” The academy’s goals were to help build a pipeline to develop local entrepreneurs, fill downtown vacancies, and slow the turnover trend of downtown businesses. The Business Builder Academy provided local entrepreneurs with tools necessary to take their visions from dream to action through an intense curriculum taught by local professionals and the support of business mentors. They also provide assistance with building out marketing and business plans. The program had signficant impacts on the first class of graduates and Main Street Ottumwa is already planning the second round of classes. 


In West Branch, the rehabilitation of the historic Opera Block building restored the unique upper façade back to its original character. This project improved space for multiple upper floor apartments and helped recruit new businesses to downtown West Branch. In addition, the Opera Block project helped inspire neighboring buildings to make improvements to enhance the look and feel of an entire downtown block. 


Main Street Iowa Development Awards also honored local Main Street program efforts to retain and recruit new businesses to downtown. Colfax Main Street, for example, which worked to support the renaissance of a locally owned downtown pharmacy – the Spring City Pharmacy. Through technical support, a local revolving loan fund and marketing efforts, Colfax Main Street supported a group of local entrepreneurs who purchased the recently sold and vacated downtown pharmacy. This community-initiated effort not only helped reopen a vital business but reactivated a community landmark for years to come.


“Main Street is grassroots economic development,” said Michael Wagler, Main Street Iowa State Coordinator. “These projects, and so many more across the state, inspire others to reconsider what is possible in their own downtowns. This creates strength in our network, inspires others to action that creates healthy communities and strengthens our state’s economy.”

For more information about the 2023 Main Street Iowa Development Awards visit the Iowa Economic Development Authority website