DES MOINES – The Iowa Economic Development Authority announced Tuesday that $400,000 in rural innovation and housing assessment grants have been awarded to 21 communities across the state. This is the inaugural round for rural innovation and housing assessment programs, developed in 2019 by the Governor’s “Empower Rural Iowa Initiative.”
The Rural Innovation Grant Program supports creative, non-traditional ideas that focus on current issues and challenges faced by rural communities associated with the themes of community investment, growth and connection. The Rural Housing Assessment Grant Program supports the use of publicly available online information through the “Profile of Iowa” tool and rural community efforts to interpret the hard data; it also helps implement changes to development codes, local ordinances, and housing incentives specific to a community’s needs in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“We do big things in rural Iowa, and public private partnerships continue to open new doors to the creative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit that exists in all corners of the state,” said Reynolds. “The investments announced today support everyday Iowans who are thinking outside the box to address the challenges that exist in their communities. I believe these unique projects will serve as a growth model for even greater prosperity in our small towns and rural communities.”
“When developers see just how great the housing needs are from these assessments, they get the confidence they need to invest in rural Iowa,” said Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, co-chair of the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative. “The rural innovation and housing needs studies are just one of the many concrete ideas the Empower Rural Iowa task forces have come forward with to grow the rural parts of our state.”
For example, Bellevue Community School District plans to use its Rural Innovation funding to develop the “Innovating Bellevue” program, which will connect local entrepreneurs and business owners with Bellevue youth within a new Innovation Lab designed to foster creativity and collaboration. Located in a renovated historic building on the banks of the Mississippi River, the lab will become an incubator for new, locally owned businesses. There will also be opportunities for local business owners to create succession plans that involve youth becoming apprentices and taking over a business, especially for skilled trades like plumbers and electricians that are essential for small towns to thrive.
La Luz Hispana will use its Rural Innovation grant to develop the new La Luz Centro Cultural building into a dynamic and welcoming space for the Latinx community in and around Hampton, which is home to 4,236 residents. With this funding, La Luz Centro Cultural will be able to offer important programming, such as English classes, Spanish classes, nutritional and financial classes, safety and city ordinance informational sessions, a youth gathering space, cultural cooking classes, support groups for survivors of crimes and more. For many Latinx living in rural communities, finding a welcoming gathering space and culturally competent services can be a challenge. La Luz Centro Cultural seeks to overcome that challenge and offer a Comunidad Vibrante within the community.
In addition to the Rural Innovation grants, the cities of Creston, Central City, Manning, Springville, Keokuk and Stanton received Rural Housing Assessment grants and will be working with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to undergo a facilitated readiness assessment and implementation process.
“With access to supportive programs and creative ideas from the awarded communities, the projects will be used as models to be replicated across the state, serving as best practices,” said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority. “Both of the rural grant programs align with the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative to revitalize communities, and we are proud to support our rural areas.”