2017-2018 Projects

1.   Cedar County Comprehensive Plan

Project Leader: Dawn Smith, Chair, Cedar County Board of Supervisors

Project description

With guidance from the Cedar County Board of Supervisors and support from ECIA staff, students will develop and complete a Comprehensive Plan for Cedar County, Iowa. A comprehensive plan consists of goals and objectives that establish the county's vision for the future. The comprehensive plan is not a legal document. It does not dictate how the community is to be developed, but is meant to outline a possible future that could occur over a defined period through the use of planning and investment policies, and regulatory tools. The comprehensive plan contains policy goals for many aspects of the community; including, for example, land use, transportation, housing, parks and open space, infrastructure, facilities and economic development. The planning process will include significant outreach for public input, including a series of public meetings throughout Cedar County. A key aspect of the Comprehensive Plan will be a Future Land Use map, the county's visual guide to the future, last updated in 2006.

2.  Cedar County Great Places Visioning Plan

Project Leader: Dawn Smith, Chair, Cedar County Board of Supervisors

Project description

Concurrent with the development of the Cedar County Comprehensive Plan, students will assemble application components to help Cedar County to apply for Iowa Great Places designation, a competitive program administered by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

A Vision Plan is the central component of the application and will include a holistic visioning effort with measurable goals and identifiable objectives that exemplify bold thought and innovation, and will foster a sense of identity by cultivating the unique and authentic qualities of Cedar County in order to have a transformative impact on community vitality and quality of life.

Projects identified through the visioning process could be related to the following categories mentioned in the Iowa Great Places program guidelines: Arts and Culture; Historic Fabric; Architecture; Natural Environment; Housing Options; Amenities: Entrepreneurial Incentives for Business Development; and Diversity. The plan should include an implementation process with a clear timeline for accomplishment. Partners should identify multiple and diverse program partners along with roles and responsibilities and how each partner will enhance the identified objectives. The Vision Plan should also include qualitative and quantitative measures for analyzing and achieving goals and the implementation of objectives.

3.  Clinton Economic Development Plan

Project Leader: Matt Brook, City Administrator

Project description

Pending the outcome of an ECIA grant application to the Economic Development Administration (EDA), students will work collaboratively with dedicated staff and private consultants to create a comprehensive Economic Development Plan for the Clinton micropolitan area.

An economic development plan provides a comprehensive overview of the economy, sets policy direction for economic growth, and identifies strategies, programs, and projects to improve the economy.

Initial conversations with Clinton community leaders generated the following list of key components to be addressed in the Economic Development plan:

  • Downtown redevelopment/revitalization
  • Entrepreneurship- including maker spaces and office hubs with shared services
  • Attracting and retaining young professionals and workers
  • Best practices for business attraction, expansion, and retention (including retail)
  • Incentives and funding mechanisms, such as a small business revolving loan fund
  • Analysis of Zoning relative to development activities and opportunities
  • Quality of Life strategies for attracting and maintaining skilled workers

Public input will be an essential component of the planning process. The process may include interviews, focus groups, public forums, and/or a survey of residents. Key stakeholders include business leaders, elected officials, developers, lenders, service providers, and more.

*Note: In the event that the EDA grant application is unsuccessful, the students will work independently with the Clinton city administrator, and the scope of work may be adjusted to accommodate the academic timeline.

4.  Mason City – Planning for Healthy Neighborhoods

Project Leader: Steven Van Steenhuyse, Director of Development Services, Mason City and
Kelli Gerdes, Health Promotion Manager, Cerro Gordo County Public Health Department

Project description

Building upon last year's efforts to update the Mason City Comprehensive Plan and create the community's first Sustainability Plan, students will focus planning efforts in a targeted Mason City neighborhood to develop and create a neighborhood plan for stabilization and revitalization. As a special area of focus, students will work with the Cerro Gordo County Public Health Department to create neighborhood-based strategies that generate positive health outcomes, such as increased physical activity and healthy food choices. Mason City's Blue Zones Community 2012 designation and corresponding health and wellness initiatives will also support the plan development.

The plan will address multiple facets that help shape and define the target neighborhood, such as: housing, businesses and services, social cohesion, transportation infrastructure, land use and zoning, parks and recreation, public art, safety, organizational management, nuisances, and more. Whereas the comprehensive and sustainability plans tend to outline broad community objectives, the neighborhood plan will include SMART goals and action steps to be implemented over a defined period of time.

Building relationships with neighborhood residents and gathering input from the entire community will be essential to the plan's implementation and success, particularly for the development and implementation of action steps identified in the plan.

As this will be the City's first formal neighborhood-specific planning endeavor, students will also evaluate neighborhood planning models from other Iowa communities and comparable communities across the Midwest. In addition to developing the neighborhood plan, students will recommend a framework for continuing neighborhood planning for the entire city.

5. Jackson County – Attracting Young Families to Jackson County

Project Leaders: David Heiar, Nicholas Hockenberry, Jackson County Economic Alliance

Project description

In a report to the Jackson County Economic Alliance (JCEA), students will recommend policies and strategies to position and market Jackson County as a top choice in the region for young families making residential location decisions.  Jackson County, like many rural counties in Iowa and the Midwest, faces challenges in attracting younger families.

Following community visioning and other planning processes, Jackson County officials seek to build on existing assets and proactive leadership in order to retain young families and attract new families to the community. While a recent housing needs assessment demonstrates a growing need for additional housing to accommodate older residents, young families are equally essential to community vitality and sustainability.  New and innovative strategies are necessary to make Jackson County more prepared and appealing for this target market. 

With natural features like the Maquoketa Caves State Park and the Mississippi River along the county’s eastern border, Jackson County has long been a draw for outdoor enthusiasts.  Arts & cultural amenities such as the increasingly popular Codfish Hollow music venue, a drive-in movie theater (one of five in Iowa), and the Maquoketa Art Experience draw in tourists and enhance quality of life for local residents.  Jackson County is also conveniently located between Dubuque and the Quad Cities, two Eastern Iowa employment hubs.  Many residents of Eastern Iowa are accustomed to commuting 40 or more miles to employment centers while retaining their residence in smaller communities.

Still, local leaders recognize the need to adopt proactive and innovative strategies to increase physical infrastructure capacity, particularly with regards to appropriate housing stock, and to effectively market to young families.  Succession planning for small businesses has also been identified by JCEA staff as a strategic marketing opportunity.

This project will help develop both the “product” and marketing strategies for the target audience.  Students will evaluate policies, incentives, and other strategies implemented by comparable communities.  Students will also evaluate Jackson County’s competitive advantages (and, and conversely, obstacles to overcome) and potential financial incentives that will be the foundation for an effective marketing campaign to attract young families. 

A second component of this project is an investigation of succession planning for Jackson County locally owned businesses.  Students will evaluate the need for succession planning as many rural business owners reach retirement age, and how this could be an effective incentive to young families interested in operating existing businesses.