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Rural Development Around DSM in 2023

Rural Development Forum

August 31, 2023

A discussion of rural development within the framework of an urban-centered organization like the Partnership might seem odd. But more than 60 individuals, either in person or virtually, took part in the August 17 Public Policy Issue Forum on Rural Development. That forum featured a panel discussing rural development across the Greater Des Moines (DSM) region, which does indeed include a number of rural communities and areas. As Executive Director of the Iowa Rural Development Council, I moderated the panel with the following panelists:

  • Katie Lord, MidAmerican Energy Company
  • Alex Lynch, Greater Des Moines Partnership
  • Liesl Seabert, Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA)

Addressing Rural Development Around Greater Des Moines

The panelists, in one way or another, work with rural communities across Iowa or within the Central Iowa region. They see the synergy that exists between these places outside the metro and the urban core — a synergy based in large part on a mobile workforce.

Seabert, who is IEDA’s Rural Community Revitalization Program Manager, believes smaller communities need to be vibrant, sustainable and forward-thinking. But that can be a challenge if they don’t have access to resources, expertise and leadership. Lord, who in her MidAmerican role works closely with community leaders, said rural Iowans need to understand their community’s assets if they want to ensure it’s a place in which others will want to live, work and invest. Lynch, who has experience as a rural economic developer, added this process will look different for every community.

Empowering Rural Iowa

To address issues surrounding rural communities, Governor Kim Reynolds created the Empower Rural Iowa initiative and asked the Iowa Rural Development Council to be its partner. Empower is focused on investing, growing and connecting rural Iowa by addressing issues like housing, leadership, broadband, entrepreneurship and other key factors driving rural vitality. This year, Governor Reynolds awarded $210M in broadband grants to 160 applicants to continue expanding broadband across Iowa. Find out more about Empower Rural Iowa or learn about the upcoming Leadership Exchange Oct. 26-27 at Gatherings in Nevada, an event for existing or prospective rural leadership programs.

Who Gets Things Done in Rural Communities?

When it comes to economic development in rural communities, Lord has seen some successful models. Often, they feature similar attributes:

  1. Local leaders think outside the box,
  2. Local leaders build relationships and intentionally engage a broad range of partners in order to create opportunity/change,
  3. The community embraces the vision developed and provides the resources necessary to implement it.

The State of Iowa can be an important partner. IEDA’s Seabert said contacting state staff in advance of a grant application can be important. The agency is looking for strong applications, and knowing the parameters it is seeking can make a community’s application more competitive.

Across the Central Iowa region, there are a number of smaller communities doing impressive things. Lynch’s work at the Greater Des Moines Partnership consists of offering an abundance of resources to rural communities, including introductions developers, site selectors and more. But he admitted that success often comes down to local leaders who make development a priority.

The next Public Policy Issue Forum will be held on Thursday, Oct. 19 at Noon. The event will focus on health care.

Watch the entire webinar below:


The Partnership's Public Policy team engages with local, state and federal officials to create public policy that generates economic growth, business prosperity and talent development in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The Partnership is a nonpartisan organization.

Bill Menner

Bill Menner is the Founder of The Bill Menner Group in Greater Des Moines, an Iowa-based consulting firm specializing in rural development initiatives, community-based infrastructure, housing and health care. He is also the Executive Director of the Iowa Rural Development Council.