'The Middle of Everywhere'

“Live in the middle of everywhere,” reads a post on the Delaware County Economic Development Facebook page. The organization has been working to change the narrative of rural living. 

“It’s so much more than that, though,” says Donna Boss, executive director of Delaware County Economic Development. “We’re more than just a place to live.”

Donna was one of 70 community leaders who met at the Edgewood Locker Event Center on May 16 for the Welcome Home Summit, an opportunity to discuss and develop strategies for rural communities to achieve so-called “brain gain” by attracting and retaining new and returning residents. This regional meeting was an effort to engage leaders to welcome and include newcomers to the community.

“The conference truly emphasized what we are doing and reminded us that we definitely have more to do,” says Donna. 

The summit featured keynote speaker Ben Winchester, a rural sociologist and senior research fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension’s Center for Community Vitality. 

“One of our board members was skeptical of the brain gain until hearing Ben Winchester’s presentation first-hand,” says Donna. “It made a believer out of him to hear that rural communities are making gains.” 

The event also included two panel discussions: one consisting of individuals who decided to move to a rural community and the other consisting of representatives from the community resource agencies Community Heart & SoulTM, Institute for Decision Making — Business & Community Services, Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, and Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development.

The sessions explored different ways to increase quality of life and empower communities to make it easier for people to choose a life in a rural area. Between sessions, participants worked in small groups to brainstorm ideas to test in their hometowns. 

“It was wonderful to see the creativity and collaboration of community leaders as they shared ideas and began to apply their learning to dream up innovative ways to keep their small towns vital and thriving,” says Jason Neises, the Community Foundation’s community development coordinator. “Everyone walked away with new connections to like-minded leaders who could be partners as we work to create a more positive narrative for our region.” 

“Affiliate Community Foundation boards will continue to study and invest in programs that celebrate vitality and welcoming,” adds M.J. Smith, the Community Foundation’s director of affiliate foundations.

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