Reynolds seeks to boost rural development

Gov. Kim Reynolds pushes the Empower Rural Iowa Initiative and a series of summits this autumn.


Joseph Cress

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during her first Condition of the State address in the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

Julia Shanahan, Politics Reporter

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced upcoming summits for the Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, an outreach program centered on rural Iowa, which will take place in September.

Officials have yet to determine the exact dates of the summits. They will be open to community members and will include an executive council in the hopes of creating legislation and regulations that would improve life for rural Iowans.

Last month, Reynolds signed Executive Order No. 3, which created the Rural Iowa Initiative.

Three task forces based on housing, strategic development, and wireless internet access will host the summits. According to a Reynolds press release, the Investing in Rural Iowa Task Force will focus on housing, the Growing Rural Iowa Task Force will encourage leadership and strategic development in small communities, and the Connecting Rural Iowa Task Force will look into expanding and financing broadband capabilities.

The summits come at a time in which tensions are high between farmers and the Trump administration, in part because of the $12 billion in federal aid to ease the damage caused by tariffs and Trump’s trade war. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has publicly stated the aid package is only good for short-term effects, and it is unfair for farmers to “bear the brunt of retaliation.”

However, two Republican members of the initiative said the main topics discussed are the ones outlined by the three task forces, and tensions caused by the trade war were unrelated in creating the initiative.

Brenna Smith, Reynolds’ communications director, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that Reynolds outlined the initiative in her Condition of the State Address in January. In the speech, the governor said leaders across Iowa with different backgrounds will help in the initiative.

David Barker, a GOP State Central Committee member in Johnson County who serves on the initiative’s Executive Council, said he has been involved in various rural-rehab projects, and he will work to find ways to encourage investment and development.

Barker said Reynolds is looking for as much input from as many people as possible.

“There’s never been something quite like this,” he said.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who hails from a town of 2,000 people, said he had a conversation with the governor prior to her signing the executive order and he told her that he would be happy to serve on the initiative because he represents a very rural area.

The first item on the agenda will be an ideas summit, Kaufmann said, in which community members can bring their thoughts on rural Iowa development to the table and committee members can give input on how they can encourage leadership and strategic communication in small communities.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, is working to ensure there are volunteer firefighters and other Emergency Medical Services available in rural areas, Kaufmann said.

“Families want to be comfortable bringing small children to rural areas knowing an ambulance will show up,” Kaufmann said.

He also said he wants to make sure young people have a desire to revisit their small hometowns, and there would opportunities available there for them. Right now, there are around 60 to 70 ideas ready to be discussed at the summits, Kaufmann said.

“The overall goal is to get lots of ideas on the table so [Reynolds] can decide if it’s legislative or regulatory and create workable solutions,” Kaufmann said.