SHEFFIELD, Iowa - It's a trend seen across the nation: fewer people are choosing to live in rural communities.
According to the latest U.S. Census information from August 2017, about 19% of people in the U.S. lived in rural areas.
However, 'Empower Rural Iowa', a recent initiative established by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, is aiming to change that through three key recommendations: investing, growing and connecting.
"You hear so many great things happening in rural communities and sometimes when you see that, it can be replicated in other areas."
Justin Wagner is the Superintendent of schools in the western Iowa town of Harlan. He's also a member of the Growing Iowa Task Force, which is a committee that's part of the Governor's initiative that's focusing on identifying ways to encourage leadership development and strategic development. (There are two other committees within the initiative: the Investing in Rural Iowa Task Force, which focuses on improving access to quality housing, and the Connecting Rural Iowa Task Force, which is focusing on financing connectivity, such as expansion of broadband internet access, as well as an executive committee.)
He came to the meeting at Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield, where leaders ranging from businesses and organizations to state representatives gathered to discuss and vote on recommendations. He appreciates what is being discussed, and notes three takeaways that are key to him.
"Love the broadband. Love the connectivity conversation, because broadband is sometimes different than connectivity, and that's an important piece. Sometimes we lose some of those granular pieces when we're talking big picture. Health care...you talk about health care in smaller communities. And then how do you lure some of those folks that have been born and raised in rural communities that want to come back?"
Governor Reynolds formed the initiative in July 2018, with Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and Sandy Ehrig of the Iowa Rural Development Council as co-chairs.
"I've said that for Iowa to be truly successful, we have to see growth in every single corner of the state, and that's what this group is tasked with."
And believes that there is plenty of potential to turn these ideas into reality.
"We've seen really positive things happening, but there's still a lot to do. The three things that we really focused on I think are foundational for us to continue to grow. But as I indicated in my remarks, this is just the beginning. We're just getting started."
Gov. Reynolds says that she will present the recommendations from the visit in her Condition of the State address and during the upcoming legislative session.