The development of a new roadmap for economic development in East Central Iowa took the next step forward March 1, as the East Central Iowa Council of Governments unveiled the latest iteration of a five-year regional economic development plan in a “Future Summit” event at the Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery near Swisher. David Beurle, […]
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The development of a new roadmap for economic development in East Central Iowa took the next step forward March 1, as the East Central Iowa Council of Governments unveiled the latest iteration of a five-year regional economic development plan in a “Future Summit” event at the Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery near Swisher.
David Beurle, CEO of Future IQ, the Minneapolis-based consulting firm hired by ECICOG to develop the new strategy, outlined the draft of the Envision East Central Iowa plan for approximately 100 summit attendees from the six counties in ECICOG’s coverage area: Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington.
Nine months in the making, the plan touches on seven strategic pillars: Innovation, entrepreneurism, natural resources, the built environment, community development, diversity, and shared prosperity.
In his presentation, Mr. Beurle highlighted several emerging trends, or “things on our minds,” that gained definition during the plan’s development. Among them:
- Potential economic and migration benefits for areas of the upper Midwest due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States’ southern and western regions;
- The accelerating rate of technology growth, which aligns well with technological development efforts by Corridor companies and industries;
- The emergence of economic and social leadership among millennials and Generation X, as baby boomers continue to cycle out of the workforce;
- Ongoing population trends, which continue to show dramatic shifts from rural to urban residency and from smaller to larger counties in Iowa;
- The gross product index for Eastern Iowa, which has outpaced the state of Iowa and the nation overall for nearly two decades; and
- The evolving economy showing strong growth in insurance and finance, education technology and services, and engineering and automation.
Mr. Beurle also outlined responses to an ECICOG survey that showed although most area residents expect an Iowa future that yields similar results from similar practices, respondents would prefer a future that prioritizes innovation and attracting new residents.
“There’s a big aspiration here for doing something different, a real sense that people expressed that the time is now,” he said. “The truth is, if you didn’t do anything dramatically different, your region would probably be a pretty good one. But there’s an aspiration for being slightly better than pretty good. It’s an aspiration to be a really interesting region that’s leaning into innovation, leaning into this laboratory of learning and being a pioneer in a lot of really important topics.”
Regional leaders who led the focus groups developing the seven strategic pillars outlined their work during the event. Excerpts from their comments:
Innovation: Doug Neumann, executive director, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance – “Focus on capturing opportunities in biosciences and the bioeconomy. That’s a big part of the national economy. Everybody’s going to be playing in this space. We’re not going to have this space all by ourselves, but we are uniquely positioned, with the university assets and other assets in this region, to make sure that we have a meaningful role in biosciences, biotechnology and things that we can do really well.”
Entrepreneurism: Eric Englemann, general partner, ISA Ventures – “There’s a lot of people trying to help entrepreneurs in different ways, a bunch that I’m affiliated with and a bunch we work closely with. And yet, if you map that out, there’s holes in it, places where there’s duplication. So one of the things we talked about was creating consistent and well-networked resources for entrepreneurs at all stages and making sure that we’re doing a good job so that nobody gets lost in the shuffle.”
Natural resources: Adam Bentley, ECICOG economic development specialist – “Growth 50 years from now (will) be synonymous with saving. Those who save and protect will grow. Thinking about 30 to 40 years from now, the group (focused) on promoting local action that supports that transition to green energy, supports regenerative land use, knowing that’s such a significant part of our rural economy here in Iowa. There’s a lot of external factors that will threaten us if we don’t do things that are promoting our sustainability and our natural resources.”
Built environment: Jennifer Pratt, community development director, City of Cedar Rapids – “Why do people keep talking about this? If you’ve got this roadmap, why doesn’t everybody just do this? Why this is so important is that it does have to be done at a regional level. If you have one community, and only one, implementing all of these things, there can be some competitive disadvantages. It really does take a group effort to do all of these well.”
Community development: Derek Lumsden, executive director, Jones County Economic Development – “People want to go places that feel like home. And the way we do that is we capture and help build up cultural assets, social assets, and recreational assets, building on that elusive quality of life. Everybody thinks they can do it, and then we always have more work to do. If we don’t believe in it, if we don’t have it in our hearts that this is our home, we can’t convince other people that it’s important for them too. (We should be) building on those cultural, social and recreational assets to help make this pillar in our region even stronger.”
Diversity: Jasmine Almoayyed, vice president of education and training services, Kirkwood Community College – “With the situation going on now in Ukraine, there’s going to be opportunities for us to welcome new Iowans to the community. But do we actually have the support systems to ensure that they can be successful when they’re here? From a legislative perspective, from a financial perspective, to support things like ESL courses, do we have that in place?”
Shared prosperity: Kristin Roberts, president and CEO, United Way of East Central Iowa – “When you look at the population trends and what could happen, being able to have more people come into our area, we all understand that it’s not a they-win, we-lose, or we-win, they-lose situation. It’s about all of us being supported and being as successful as possible. We knew that this just wasn’t an urban thing or rural thing. It’s not one issue for one section. It’s across the entire region.”
The group was then asked to assign priorities to each portion of every pillar based on two factors – immediate needs and long-term payoffs – using colored dots attached to posters around the room. ECICOG will compile those priorities to generate a revised version of the Future Ready report, which is hoped to lead to action-based strategies to propel regional growth.
ECICOG Executive Director Karen Kurt thanked attendees for their commitment to regional economic development.
“As we’ve had these conversations, there’s so much more that unites us and brings us together than there are differences,” she said. “There’s a growing recognition that really we’re not in competition with each other. We are much stronger when we can work collectively and position ourselves in terms of our regional politics, our national economy and the world economy. You are all passionate about this region, and that is awesome because I’ve learned that regionalism is hard. Most of you (have) full plates, and you’re trying to execute on things that your organization wants to see done. Layering regionalism on top of it, that’s just a little extra piece you have to carve out in terms of time and resources.”
Envision East Central Iowa: Seven strategic pillars
Embracing an innovation focus to build regional competitiveness
Capitalize on trends that are changing the location and nature of manufacturing
Plan for the transformation of energy production systems
Focus on capturing opportunities in the biosciences and bioeconomy
Facilitate relocation of R&D facilities and functions to the region
Fostering an entrepreneurial approach to create and capture new opportunities
Develop systemic, coordinated support for entrepreneurs in our region
Assist communities with the creation of innovation spaces
Develop targeted marketing and storytelling to attract key industry clusters
Protecting and sustaining our unique natural resources
Support efforts to address flooding and water quality issues
Support the move towards more regenerative land-use practices
Promote local level action that supports the transition to clean energy
Reimagining the built environment
Amplify the use of Iowa’s Smart Planning Principles throughout the region
Revitalize neighborhoods via rehabilitation and adaptive reuse
Build connectivity and walkability through transportation infrastructure and neighborhood design
Creating more vibrant communities
Stimulate the development of more unique events, cultural assets, and places
Connect individual community assets to strengthen the region’s vitality
Expand and connect recreational opportunities region-wide
Purposefully growing a thriving diverse regional workforce
Develop an overall regional onboarding system unique to East Central Iowa
Focus on support systems to assist immigrant populations to thrive in the region
Expand education initiatives for career connected learning
Creating and expanding pathways for shared prosperity
Support the widespread creation of quality sustainable and affordable housing
Develop and promote a coordinated plan for childcare in the region
Expand access to fast affordable broadband across the region