New regional economic development group helping communities win grant dollars for community improvements

New regional economic development group helping communities win grant dollars for community improvements Main Photo

14 Feb 2023

rural, news

A new regional economic development organization is poised to support Central Iowa communities as they try to tap into federal funding they may not have previously been qualified for.

The Mid-Iowa Planning Alliance is the result of talks that began at the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 as stimulus dollars to help communities recover started to become available.

The MPO began talking about creating an economic development district, a designation needed to access U.S. Economic Development Administration programs that Central Iowa didn’t typically qualify for because it couldn’t demonstrate a strong enough need.

But with the pandemic affecting communities of all sizes, the folks at the MPO decided to give it a shot.

The first phase was weighing support among stakeholders — economic development professionals and elected officials — in the region. All seven boards of supervisors in the region approved resolutions supporting the creation of the district as a 504 nonprofit, and Gov. Kim Reynolds and Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, also lent their support.

According to MIPA’s website, the counties served by MIPA include Polk, Story, Warren, Jasper, Boone, Dallas and Marion.

Central Iowa was the only region of the state that didn’t have an economic development district, which meant it was missing out on some federal funding. The districts are often the first to receive EDA funding following major disasters, according to an informational packet provided by the MPO.

Nearly $62 million in EDA funding has been awarded in Iowa since 2018. Only $3.2 million came to Central Iowa, with the rest, nearly $58 million, going to other places in the state. Creating an economic development district is a requirement for qualifying for those funds.

Once MIPA was created, MPO officials went to the U.S. Economic Development Administration in September 2021 seeking approval of a designation.

“So we went from spring of 2020 saying maybe we should do something to having a designation application 18 months later,” said Gunnar Olson, public affairs manager for the MPO. “It took a few months, but we got our designation on Jan. 26, [2022].”

The program became operational in April 2022, and Caleb Knutson was brought in to oversee the program as senior planner.

MIPA also has a board of directors made up of one representative from each member jurisdiction and two private sector representatives from each county. The cost of membership is 15 cents per capita paid on an annual basis.

What does it mean for member communities?

Olson said one benefit is establishing relationships with federal agencies.

“A lot of the federal agencies don’t have the time or capacity to have relationships with 89 jurisdictions [in the region], or 96 when you count the counties, let alone all their partners,” he said. “Now it becomes a two-way street where the feds are saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking to invest in such and such,’ and Caleb can say, ‘Oh, I know a good project out there.’ It’s a kind of  matchmaking between local need and federal funding.”

MIPA will not be competing with other economic development groups in vying to attract new companies to the area, but rather it will be focused on bringing grant money to communities for infrastructure projects that can help a community be more attractive and competitive.

Click here to read more.

Add to Report View Custom Report