Monday, October 10, 2022

From 2016 to 2018, IISC had a full partnership with the East Central Intergovernmental Association (ECIA). During those two academic years, we collaborated on 19 projects across Cedar, Clinton, Delaware, Dubuque, and Jackson Counties.

Recently, IISC interviewed ECIA’s Executive Director Kelley Deutmeyer and Director of Human Resources and Program Development Holly McPherson to reflect on these projects and better understand the impact of the work, some of which is becoming more apparent with time.

Creating momentum

“When you have a partnership with the University of Iowa, it lends some validity to what communities want to do,” said Deutmeyer. The communities ECIA works with entered the two-year period with ideas for grassroots projects that the the partnership with IISC partnerships then helped spur to action. Since then, communities have been able to build on this momentum and embark on projects requiring larger investments.

A good example of this momentum came from Delmar (population: 500), where Urban and Regional Planning students worked with elementary school students on a storytelling project with longtime residents. These interviews were consolidated into videos and books, strengthening a shared sense of community history. The project continued into the following academic year with the creation of the Delmar Community Vision plan. The plan was utilized in an application for a $30,000 grant to install a splash pad, much to the delight of the kids who worked on the storytelling project. During her 2020 campaign for U.S Congress, candidate Rita Hart referenced the project’s success when describing the importance of investing in Iowa’s small towns. In turn, the project’s success and publicity contributed to the city's successful application for a $150,000 catalyst grant to renovate one of its downtown buildings.

Development attracts new community members

Another major success of the IISC partnership was the Maquoketa Pocket Neighborhood project in Jackson County. Civil and Environmental Engineering students designed plans for this ten-house “pocket neighborhood” as part of their senior capstone course. Deutmeyer estimates that the City of Maquoketa saved about $25,000 by presenting these plans to the engineering firm selected to develop the neighborhood. All ten houses, priced at an affordable rate of $150,000 each, were sold by the time Jackson County officials held the ribbon cutting ceremony in September 2022.

McPherson and Deutmeyer were excited that these homes attracted buyers from outside the community: one household came from Arizona, another from Colorado, and two other families moved from Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. This success dovetailed with the Urban and Regional Planning project to attract younger families to Jackson County through a modernization of its strategic plan. This plan was used in grants that obtained ARPA funds for the county, as well as a Destination Iowa Grant.

Deutmeyer noted that the partnership with IISC helped increase ECIA’s bandwidth to engage in some of its smaller communities. As for specific initiatives, “the partnership just added a lot of credibility,” Deutmeyer said. McPherson noted that with its reputation, IISC can encourage communities to spend money that would otherwise might go unused. As the Delmar project demonstrated, small accomplishments can easily snowball into larger investments for local communities. By turning local visions into realities, IISC was successfully able to invigorate this process for several communities in the East Central Iowa region.