Center for Rural Revitalization and Empower Rural Iowa

March 1, 2021
Center for Rural Revitalization and Empower Rural Iowa

The Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative was created in July 2018 to create concrete solutions for the unique challenges of rural Iowa in order to maintain its vibrancy and sustainability in the future. The initiative established a partnership with the Iowa Rural Development Council to identify legislative, regulatory and/or policy changes to empower rural communities throughout the state. An executive committee provides recommendations and three task forces were created: Investing in Rural Iowa, Growing Rural Iowa and Connecting Rural Iowa.

The Investing task force has focused its recommendations on supporting entrepreneurs, business transition planning, online business resources and improving access to quality housing in rural Iowa. The Growing task force focuses on identifying ways to encourage leadership development and attract and retain workers in rural communities. The Connecting task force is determining effective and sustainable financing for broadband connectivity.

Initial recommendations were received by Governor Kim Reynolds in December 2018, including the creation of a Center for Rural Revitalization to assist with rural policy development and provide a permanent rural perspective. Through the passing of the Empower Rural Iowa Act in May 2019, the Center for Rural Revitalization was created within the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Liesl Seabert was appointed by Governor Reynolds as the Rural Community Revitalization Program Manager.

As program manager, Seabert leads the Center for Rural Revitalization, which supports the overall direction and implementation of objectives outlined for the initiative. This includes developing, designing, and overseeing a long-term strategy and plan for revitalizing rural Iowa communities based on recommendations from the task forces and analysis of state and federal laws, rules and regulations and other state and federal programs.

Another outcome of the 2019 recommendations was to create two new grant programs, Rural Innovation Grants and Rural Housing Assessment Grants. Both programs are currently accepting applications through IowaGrants.gov. The deadline to apply is April 16, 2021.

In 2020, instead of hosting “Ideas Summits” in rural locations throughout Iowa as in 2018 and 2019, task members met virtually via Zoom. They considered ideas submitted by task force members, industry experts and by members of the public to develop recommendations that build upon the success of the first two years of the initiative and inform the 2021 legislative session. The recommendations were presented to the governor at the quarterly Iowa Rural Development Council meeting in Perry in December.

Some of the recommendations from 2020 include:

  • improved coordination among service providers for rural entrepreneurs;
  • support for ESOP development; encouraging the use of the “Shop Iowa” platform;
  • continued support for the Rural Innovation Grant and Rural Housing Assessment Grant programs;
  • focused recruitment into rural Iowa;
  • piloting a “Rural Return Incentive” program;
  • expanded eligibility for the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program;
  • continued support for rural residencies and similar programs;
  • funding support for the Rural Leadership Exchange; and
  • increased funding support for the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant program.

Outside of the task force meetings and implementation of recommendations, Seabert continues to meet virtually (and eventually in person) with regional organizations and communities to hear success stories to highlight as best practices, as well as to learn about challenges. Those interested may contact Seabert to set up a meeting. Have an idea to share with the Initiative? Please submit ideas online or email liesl.seabert@iowaeda.com.

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