Opportunity Exists Here: Local Leaders Envision the Future of Calhoun CountyStrategic planning means bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.
Strategic planning means bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now. That’s true in Calhoun County, where 16 participants gathered recently to discuss what’s working and develop goals for future economic development.
“Our state offers an ‘Iowa Nice’ culture and the ability to pursue the American dream,” said Shelly Greving, owner of Emerge Marketing Solutions of Manning, which helps revitalize rural Iowa with passion, planning and purpose. “Calhoun County can capitalize on this and build on what’s working.”
Greving and her team led the four-hour strategic planning event, which included a cross section of small business owners, educators, a health care administrator, CEOs, agriculture professionals, a county supervisor and other local leaders representing communities across Calhoun County. As these leaders worked in small groups to assess what’s working in Calhoun County, their lists included:
- Attracting younger people back to Calhoun County
- Expanding broadband connectivity to more communities in Calhoun County
- A thriving ag sector
- Safe, secure communities
- Amenities like Twin Lakes (which is one of only two walled, glacial blue lakes in Iowa and includes the new “Lakeside Landing” housing development)
- Easy transportation access, thanks to four-lane Highway 20 (which was completed in 2018)
- An affordable cost of living. (In fact, Calhoun County offers the sixth lowest cost of living among Iowa’s 99 counties, based on data from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
All this fits with Calhoun County Economic Development Corporation’s (CCEDC) vision to connect businesses and communities with resources for success. CCEDC provides assistance to existing and prospective businesses and industries, entrepreneurs, local chamber of commerce/development organizations, city offices and non-profit organizations in Calhoun County.
“Our mission is to enhance business retention, start-up and growth to increase employment opportunities and the tax base,” said Theresa Hildreth, executive director of CCEDC. “We also work to improve the quality of life here.”
That focus is more important than ever, said Greving, who helped strategic planning participants explore “what does economic development mean to you?’ and shared data about current economic development priorities in Iowa. “Quality of life is leading more people’s discussions of where to move and live,” Greving noted. “Iowa is not just a pass-through state anymore. Rural areas offer unique opportunities.”
Those opportunities include room for small and larger businesses alike. Consider the Calhoun County Business Park at the junction of Highway 4 and four-lane Highway 20. “Our most recent data shows that 8,837 vehicles pass through this area each day,” Hildreth said. “That’s up from 3,600 vehicles a day in 2012.”
Sparky’s convenience store has carved a thriving niche across from the Calhoun County Business Park. In 2023, this area also attracted the “Store on 4” by Katy Lynn Boutique, which offers accessories, clothing and gifts.
This kind of catalyst effect drives the rural economy, grows the tax base and helps unlock more resources to meet strategic goals like new housing options. “Economic development is all about building relationships and connecting,” Greving said. “Collaborations and partnerships are vital for the future.”
The workday focusing on strategic planning will result in a 3-year road map for growing and maintaining the success of Calhoun County. “Economic development doesn’t happen overnight,” explained Hildreth. “As we work together for the future of our area we need a written plan, composed by community leaders to help us thrive. I truly appreciate the opinions and suggestions the participants shared in the planning session. Together we are strong, and I anticipate continued economic growth in Calhoun County.”
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