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Some IA Towns Immune to Rural Decline

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021   

IOWAWATCH COLLABORATION

BLOOMFIELD, Iowa - America's rural population decline has been well-documented, with more people flocking to urban centers. But a report in Iowa says that isn't happening in all small towns.

Iowa Watch, a collaborative investigative news group, reviewed nearly 60 towns of 5,000 or fewer people. In a number of cases, communities have seen populations hold steady, according to recent census data. In southern Iowa, Bloomfield - with a population of nearly 2,700 - has seen a slight gain in residents over the past decade.

Mayor Dan Wiegand cited a commitment of locals to support each other.

"That probably is one of the things that kind of helped us during COVID, was staying open as more people, I think, shopped locally and did things locally," he said, "because, you know, there was more mandates at the bigger stores away from here, and people tried to do what they could local."

The research found other common traits of thriving small towns include the infrastructure for high-speed internet, health-care availability and unique attractions. But economic researchers have cautioned that there's no exact blueprint for towns to follow, since each has its own dynamics.

As for attractions that are hard to find elsewhere, the report pointed to monuments or places that have a story to tell, such as the "Field of Dreams" site in Dyersville. And in the community of Kalona, Krista Hershberger, assistant director of the Chamber of Commerce, said religious customs of the local Amish community draw some attention.

"It's just such a different way of doing life," she said, "and so, they're very interested to see how a whole community can live sort of disconnected from the modern world."

The report also cited the impact of the state's Rural Innovation Grants, which have totaled $300,000 each of the last two fiscal years. The money is split into grants that go to communities with populations of fewer than 10,000.

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This story was produced with original reporting from Lyle Muller and Pat Kinney for Iowa Watch. Their report is online here.


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