Story County, Iowa
Story County, Iowa, is a community looking to strategically align economic development and quality of life. Located just north of the state capital of Des Moines, the county has a long history that dates back to the arrival of first railroads to the area in the late 19th century.
More recently, the county has faced increasing pressure from development interests seeking to expand. This has caused some friction between these interests and some long-term residents who wish to keep much of the land outside the county's 15 towns and cities exclusively agricultural. As the county seeks to develop and expand its economic base, it must draft a plan that will address both sides of this critical issue.
Development pressure is especially strong along the Lincoln Highway corridor between the City of Ames and the county seat of Nevada. A number of plans have been drawn up to take advantage of this economic opportunity for the county. These plans expand opportunities for development in the county while also incorporating long-held desires to preserve agriculture and promote natural resources and open space. However, achieving community-wide support for any one option has become a serious challenge.
The Community Planning Assistance Team played an important role in fostering dialogues that allowed residents and key stakeholders to voice their hopes and concerns for the future of Story County.
Balancing this input with their professional evaluations of community plans already on the table, team members helped stakeholders determine what types of development will best serve residents' needs. The ultimate goal was to work towards a comprehensive vision plan for development in Story County, including an implementation strategy that cultivates community participation and support.
Wayne Feiden, FAICP, a planner with much experience with technical assistance teams across the country, led a CPAT team that included three additional planning professionals with expertise in land use and economic planning, public participation and coalition-building in diverse communities, and project implementation.
A Strategic Story: A Framework for Story County Economic Development
Community Planning Assistance Team Report
By many measures, Story County is an economic success story. The unemployment rate is dramatically lower than that of the United States as a whole and wages are generally stable or increasing. Although wages are often lower than many larger urban markets, the cost of living, especially housing, is so much lower than in many urban markets and in the United States as a whole that overall purchasing power is excellent.
The Story County Community Planning Assistance Team recognizes that economic development and quality of life are woven together. Business location and expansion decisions are based on financial feasibility, but also on how appealing a community is for employees and executives.
People and businesses are increasingly footloose and have a wide variety of options. Quality of life is often a major part of those decisions, including walkable downtowns, urban amenities, cultural activities, safety, recreation, aesthetics, clean air and water, shared economic benefits, local food, agricultural preservation, education, and strong sense of place.
Any economic development strategy in Story County should reflect on quality of life in addition to jobs, economic activity, and improved tax base.
The APA Story County CPAT recommends strategic efforts and investments in four broad areas to support improved economic development and quality of life:
- Vision and long range planning
- Strategic partnerships and investments
- Trails, recreation, and other quality of life issues
- County planning organization
On Sunday, October 23, 2011, the full team arrived to Story County touring various cities and sites around the area. The following day, after an initial meeting with the County Board of Supervisors and County Planning and Zoning Staff, the team held back to back focus groups with different stakeholders from all parts of the county. Team members heard not only from mayors and representatives from local governments, but business leaders in the county as well. In the evening, the team convened a public forum which brought a group of interested citizens into the conversation. It was clear that there is established economic activity and potential already in the county, but defining the role of the county government is the challenge. The Iowans who came out for the forum showed their pride for their community and state, showing what a special place Iowa is.
Tuesday, October 25, the team started its intensive work to start formulating recommendations. Doug Johnston, chair of the City and Regional Planning Department at Iowa State University, was generous to host the team at the College of Design. Working with planning students from the university, the team worked on their recommendations and started to create a presentation for the community.
On Wednesday, the team finalized their work during the day at ISU with students. That evening, the team presented their recommendations in a public meeting held at the Ames City Council Chambers to a group of local residents. Citizens, stakeholders, and the Story County Board of Supervisors enthusiastically received the recommendations and are looking forward to receiving the final report.
On September 29, 2011, Team Leader Wayne Feiden, FAICP, and APA staff visited Story County Iowa for their preliminary visit. Community contact Charlie Dissell, AICP, led a county-wide tour, visiting all cities in the county as well as visiting major economic development projects, such as the large wind farm in the northeast portion of the county. The following day, the County Board of Supervisors spoke with the CPAT representatives, who also held focus groups for key stakeholders from the public, private, and academic sectors. The project was refined to focus on what active role the county government can play in economic development as an advancement from the past.