As we look to the future of Iowa’s small-town communities, Keep Iowa Beautiful is encouraged by Governor Reynolds’ statement in the Condition of the State Address – Segment on Small Towns and Rural Iowa.

“I believe the heart, soul, and spirit of Iowa will always remain in our small towns and rural communities. …Our goal: to keep and bring home Iowa’s sons and daughters and grow the next generation of community leaders.” – Governor Kim Reynolds

We couldn’t agree more about the important focus on growing community leaders. In fact, leadership for these towns is pivotal to their success.

The Character of Leaders

As the backbone of progress, effective community leaders must be evangelists, visionaries, optimists, and above all, agents of collaboration.

Bruce Showalter, Director for Newton Housing Development Corporation, believes the persistence of the community leadership is what kept Newton, IA from fading in 2007.

When Maytag Corporation exited the Newton community, it left a huge gap in the town’s economy. Before closing shop, Maytag had invested $300,000 over a five-year period in revitalization projects. But once gone, the lost jobs, vacating residents and the exiting of strong corporate leaders suddenly created a deficit that could have been a devastating for this town.

“We realized that we needed to maintain the momentum the revitalization had ignited, and we needed keep people involved. To do that we set goals, first to become a Main Street Community and then, a Hometown Pride Community – and we set goals to make things happen,” Showalter said.  Showalter who was asked to assist the City of Newton as they developed a comprehensive plan. “You can’t just ride it out, you must get involve and invest in the vision.”

Thanks to the foresight and leadership of people like Showalter, Senator Chaz Allen (a former mayor and Jasper County Economic Development Corporation Director) and the current mayor, Michael L. Hansen, these initiatives took root.

In 10 years of the Maytag exit, Newton has replaced all the jobs lost as new companies enter the community.   A willingness to be progressive and take risks is what sets sustained communities apart from others.

Joe Sorenson, Director of Affiliate Relations, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines has a seat at many of those community tables as he works to connect communities to resources to grow endowments. In those engagements, he’s noticed some commonalities.

“Pocahontas County embodied this progressive spirit. They were the very first community to join the Hometown Pride Program. Built of strong community leaders, they were instigators with a ‘first-in’ mentality,” said Sorenson. “The most effective and impactful leaders truly understand the connection that their business is only as strong as the community they live in and it’s worth taking some risks.”

Welcoming the Next Generation

LeadershipThere will be burnout. Exhausting your leadership committees is the biggest mistake communities make. Sorenson said that can be avoided if communities build a leadership pipeline that cultivates, invites, and engages new community leaders through mentorship.

He cited both the Bloomfield County and Davis County Foundations for the intentional way they have each allocated a certain number of board seats to younger professionals in the community.

“Those younger professionals are learning about many different aspects of the community and taking ownership of projects. They aren’t just creating a seat at the table, there is mentorship between sagers and new leaders, giving them quality projects to work on,” Sorenson said of leadership model that allows younger generations to make an impact on their communities.

To provide sage advice at the disposal of these younger leaders and good influencing is smart succession planning that can quell burnout.

Keep Iowa Beautiful has the privilege of working with effective leadership teams in many Iowa communities. They are the collaborators, the instigators and the visionaries who are turning Iowa towns into thriving and sustainable communities.

Who are those younger professionals in your own communities who embody the spirit of leadership your committees can cultivate and nurture?  What do you want for your community – to win or lose?