February 6, 2006
Rebuilding main street, the heart of Iowa
One of the greatest challenges we face –in Iowa and all across America – is preserving the character and vitality of our small towns. It isn’t just about economics. It is about maintaining our identity as Iowans.
Main Street Iowa helps preserve Iowa’s heart and soul by providing funds to revitalize small town main streets. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am involved in funding hundreds of programs every year. But Main Street Iowa is in a class by itself. It is smart. It is effective. It has a contagious effect. And it touches communities and people in very concrete ways.
In January, I met the newest Main Street Iowa award winners when I handed out grants to nine communities, each of which received up to $50,000. One of the best parts of this program is that these grants have a levering power that far out weighs their size. For every dollar given to Main Street Iowa over the past four years, the private sector invested $105 in downtown buildings. That return on investment is pretty impressive.
If these new grantees are as successful as previous ones, great things are to come. I visited ten Main Street communities over the past two years, and I have been truly impressed by each one. Central City in Linn County is a great example. After renovating four vacant buildings, the city has a thriving main street which supports 14 new full-time jobs.
State Center in Marshall County is another success story. After reviving turn of the century buildings on its main street, it has become a Rural Heritage Center. Old buildings have new uses, integrating tourism and retail. Marshall County and communities all over Iowa are building a great future by reviving the soul of our small towns.
We can look forward to even more innovations next year. I secured $1 million in the 2006 appropriations bill for next year’s grants, which should double the amount of grants we can give out. Iowa has already received $2.5 million since 2002. No other state that gets this kind of funding.
Of course, Main Street Iowa really works because it supports the ideas and initiatives of our towns and rural communities. And this is the way it’s got to be. Washington and Des Moines do not have any magical solutions. We can provide seed money. We can provide technical assistance. But success always comes from local leadership, local teamwork, and home-grown ideas and solutions.
These grants build much more than buildings. They build up the spirit and morale of people in our small towns and local communities. When people see one of the anchor businesses on main street being renovated or expanded, it can change the whole psychology of a town or community. It sets a positive example. It offers hope. It serves as a catalyst for a whole ripple effect of positive changes. And it showcases the innovation and creatively that makes Iowa the greatest state in the nation.