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Small towns have their own values


The battle over the Grow Iowa Values Fund seems likely to continue, and somtimes it’s hard to get too excited about the program’s results or its future. Down in Fairfield, we have empty office space where one of our high-tech prospects is supposed to be. In the Statehouse, the governor and Legislature reinstate the Values Fund – but apparently forget to provide a means for disbursing the money allocated to it but not yet handed out.

Still, it’s a good thing that we’re even talking about this. It’s important to thrash out the key questions about what we want our state to be and how best to make that happen.

In the midst of this debate, we tend to forget that an entirely different struggle for economic development goes on every day in this state. It takes place at a much more modest level of spending and scope, but it will help to determine Iowa’s future.

At the loftiest level, we’re hoping to lure the right high-tech companies, hoping they’ll create jobs and hoping they’ll stay in business for a while.

Down the ladder a bit, countless Iowa towns are looking for ways just to stay in business. They’re wondering how to maintain the quality of life they want and how to sell one more generation on the concept.

The federal government recently spread $1.9 million across the Iowa countryside to help develop poor rural areas. It’s called the Community Facility Loan and Grant program, and it’s funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development.

“Development” sounds vigorous and forward-looking, but what the receipients are really lusting after are the basics. Bloomfield got $1,800 for a new storm warning system; Drakesville got $8,000 for a used tanker truck for the fire department and $4,500 for a storm warning system; Fredericksburg got $60,000 to build a medical clinic; and in Strawberry Point, the Lutheran Home will receive $60,000 to renovate part of its building for 15 dementia units.

Not too glamorous. You can bet that every one of those towns would do anything to land a sensible-sounding biotech company or a good, solid computer technology outfit. Instead, they’re scrambling to keep the place livable.

To paraphrase a political candidate, we seem to turning into two Iowas. In one, we’re hoping to redesign our economy to compete with the top players in the nation for jobs and cash flow.

In the other, they don’t really expect any big changes. They just want a decent fire truck.

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