Norris' team continues to set the pace


Life is tough enough.

It’s good to have partnerships.

In my other life, I write grants for Lee County and we’ve had some success saving taxpayer money on the Lee County Health Department with some great assistance from the USDA.

But this week, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks announced funding for the Community  Project Funding Grant program, a congressional appropriation program where each U.S. Representative submits projects for federal funding.

At first blush, I thought the Lee County Health Department project would be a good funding opportunity for Congressional earmarks. After all, Miller-Meeks is a doctor and the Lee County Health Department is one of the top county-run health departments in the state.

That’s not just me saying that, even though it is. This health department is relied upon by the state for assistance to many neighboring counties.

When I first presented the project to Congresswoman Miller-Meeks’ staff, they told me that it wouldn’t be applicable because it’s a government-run health care department.

But Mike Norris of Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission stepped into the picture. Not an uncommon occurrence in my experience.

Norris asked if the county was looking into the funding stream. I told him we were, but initially Miller-Meeks’ staff said the project wouldn’t qualify because of the government control of the facility and some accounts don’t allow for health care facilities. I don’t really get why a health facility would be embargoed from any government grant program. Nothing hits the community more directly than the health of its residents.

In the ongoing communications with Norris sorting through the grant program, he said he believed the program might qualify, but he would defer to the Congresswoman’s office on the determination.

On a second consideration Miller-Meeks’ office, in respectable diligence, contacted the USDA office in Des Moines and staff there said the project does seem to fit the USDA Community facility funding account. Obviously, it would need to compete with other projects in the pipeline that the Congresswoman would move forward.

It’s up to the county to create a narrative that satisfies the requirements of the program, and a narrative that brings the project to the forefront of the deliberations.

Without Norris, we may not have even gotten out of the starting blocks.

People in southeast Iowa need to look at the value that Norris and his team at Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission bring to the area.

This group’s sole responsibility is to help create economic growth in this part of the state. They not only help with grant preparation and navigating partnerships, but Norris is the administrator of the Southeast Iowa Regional Port Authority.

Norris shepherds programming for the port authority that has included a critical boost to the Lee County broadband infrastructure. The PORT authority handheld an agreement to get America Rescue Plan Act funding from the county to Danville Teleco, to create a new broadband backbone in Lee County. Yes, the project serves as an infrastructure boost to the private company, but it also positions the county stronger strategically for much improved connections in rural areas.

The state just opened up a new window for additional broadband improvements through a request for interest from broadband companies. Norris and SEIRPC are already looking at how they can leverage prior action to improve services in Lee County.

We’re not carrying the water for the SEIRPC group, just giving credit where credit is due.

This group helps all organizations in southeast Iowa and is there to help, literally, think outside the box when it comes to securing funding.

When we started talking about trail systems in Lee County, Norris challenged us to think bigger picture and those conversations are starting to come into focus.

Norris has been instrumental in bringing housing and housing improvements to southeast Iowa. He hooked his truck to the Iowa Prison Industries and is now leading the efforts for offenders building homes in the Homes for Iowa program. His work there has garnered statewide attention, and when people talk about the effectiveness of the Port Authority, they look to what Norris and that board of directors has accomplished in this area.

The work with Lee County Economic Development Group in securing that group’s new facilities and navigating the finances and partnerships critical to that venture has been something of a blueprint for other people around the state.

This is a guy, and a group, that has had a huge impact on southeast Iowa’s growth and is well known by those in the know.

But those of you not in the know need to pay attention to what is going on with SEIRPC and the strides being made by them and the Port Authority, all under the direction of Norris.

This is one of those great stories unfolding in southeast Iowa that people need to be keeping an eye on. We’ve been writing about it for awhile. It’s groundbreaking work and Mike never makes himself inaccessible. He’s always just a phone call away.

That’s one of the really great things about him. He takes a call, he slows you down, he sees the whole board, and his leadership is cutting edge.

We have many people in southeast Iowa that step up to produce economic growth - many that help create partnerships in this arena or that. But Norris is one of the few whose reach touches almost every group at one point or another.

Pay attention to what he’s doing for the area, and what SEIRPC and the Port Authority are doing to bring groups together, access funding, bring growth and partnership to the area, and always answering a call.

Norris and his organizations are part of the fabric of most groups working to better our communities.

If they aren’t on your radar, they should be. That behind the scenes work is immeasurable, and underappreciated... but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, Chuck Vandenberg, Opinion, Column, Pen City Current, SEIRPC, Mike Norris, SIREPA, Lee County Health Department, Port Authority,


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