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Let’s reinvent Iowa


The turbulence of our times continues to offer challenges for Iowa. One must ask if our historical focus on agriculture and manufacturing will still retain talented, hard-working individuals who are satisfied with their lives. Can there be a new 21st-century blueprint for Iowa’s citizens and communities? A continued emphasis on economic development and enhancing the livability of the state’s communities is called for.

Key themes to consider in building a preferred future for Iowa are presented in two compelling books. The first, Richard Longworth’s “Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism,” offers reflections on how the entrepreneurial activities of Midwesterners during the late 1800s and early 20th century significantly contributed to the rise of America’s industrial might. Longworth points out that today we are stripping our industrial communities of their jobs and our farmland of its farmers as we outsource jobs and export industries.

In “Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America,” Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas echo Longworth’s concerns. They call for ways to revamp the state’s education system so it can prepare students for a more technologically focused world, as well as ways to resurrect the character of small Iowa communities to make them more attractive and livable. Clearly, clinging to notions of the past, resisting change and refusing to recognize today’s environment as vastly different from the past will not serve Iowans well.

What can we do to rebuild Iowa’s communities so we can compete not only on a global basis, but also attract and hold our youths? Many vibrant communities throughout the world promote five key aspirations that deserve our attention. These communities seek to be greener, healthier, fairer, smarter and wealthier.

To be greener means to ensure we live in an ecologically friendly environment that is sustainable. To be healthier suggests that we embrace healthy, active lifestyles that enhance physical, social, mental and spiritual well-being. To be fairer suggests a commitment to social and environmental justice and providing mechanisms for individuals to develop and advance their aspirations. To be smarter means to be well-educated, more informed and able to discriminate among the massive amounts of information available. To be wealthier implies monetary capital as well as gains in social and human capital and the capacity to enjoy our work and leisure with equal opportunity.

Iowa can reinvent itself. We have great educational resources to support the transformation of our economy and communities. The question is, do Iowans have the will to move forward into the 21st century with a new set of assumptions and/or expectations for the state?

Christopher Edginton is a professor in the School of Health, Physical Education & Leisure Services at the University of Northern Iowa.

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