BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A new initiative to create a task force to look at rural issues in Iowa has drawn some local attention.
Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order on Wednesday to create the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, with Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Sandy Ehrig of the Iowa Rural Development Council chairing the initiative.
According to a press release issued Wednesday, the initiative establishes a partnership with the Iowa Rural Development Council to identify needed legislative, regulatory, and policy changes. Recommendations will be provided by an executive committee and three task forces: the Investing in Rural Iowa Task Force; the Growing Rural Iowa Task Force; and the Connecting Rural Iowa Task Force.
Fort Madison Partners Director Tim Gobble said he has expressed interest in serving on a task force to help bring rural economic issues to the initiative, and hopefully to legislators in 2019.
The governor is asking for any interested parties to apply by August 1, with task force meetings set for the fall. Recommendations from the task forces will be in front of legislators for the 2019 session.
Gobble said he wanted to bring tax incentives for payrolls at smaller industries and businesses to the discussion table.
“The main thing for me is that we are a rural area and, if this initiative is to help rural communities better themselves, I would hope to be a part of that discussion,” Gobble said.
“We have issues here with housing and we seem to be fighting homes that fall into disrepair and the city’s need to have more options in dealing with those homes so we can make it easier to act on some of these things. Some of these homes and buildings are absent ownership and in total neglect.”
Joe Steil, chief executive officer with the Lee County Economic Development Group, encouraged other rural Iowans to consider serving on the task force.
“Gov. Reynolds’ creation of the ’Empower Rural Iowa Initiative’ is a further step by this administration to bring focus and results-oriented activities to encourage much needed opportunity now, and sustainable into the future, for Rural Iowa,” he said. “I encourage interested rural Iowans to step up and be a catalyst, authoring transformational leadership results for the future(s) of rural Iowa and Iowans by volunteering your expertise and time serving on a task force of your choice.”
According to the release, the Investing in Rural Iowa Task Force will focus its recommendations on improving access to quality housing in rural Iowa. The Growing Rural Iowa Task Force will focus on identifying ways to encourage leadership development and strategic development in rural communities. The Connecting Rural Iowa Task Force will look into effectively and sustainably financing connectivity.
Gobble said another piece of the puzzle should be looking at leveling the playing field for smaller businesses and industries that don’t meet the wage thresholds for some of the large state payroll tax incentives.
“I’d like to talk about how we can break down the system for smaller employers so you don’t have to meet that higher wage level. Some of these businesses can’t afford that higher wage but are doing so much for these communities and the state isn’t helping compensate those efforts.”
Reynolds said the spirit of Iowa remains in its small towns.
“I’m a product of rural Iowa, and I’m driven to create opportunity throughout this state,” Gov. Reynolds said. “I believe the heart, soul, and spirit of Iowa will always remain in our small towns and rural communities. That’s why I’m creating the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative. I want concrete solutions for the unique challenges of rural Iowa in order to maintain its vibrancy and ensure there is opportunity everywhere.”
Gregg said the intiative is just the beginning of work to be done.
“This is just the starting point for initial recommendations,” Lt. Gov. Gregg said. “The work of the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative will be ongoing, and the task forces will work on other issues within their scope in the years to come.”
Iowans interested in being a part of a task force should click here to apply by August 1. Gov. Reynolds is looking for diverse members who share an interest in empowering rural Iowa for generations to come.