Aug 5, 2021 - Politics

The push for a regional planning district across central Iowa

Illustration of money falling off what looks like a dead tree.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Central Iowa missed out on $470K of no-match federal pandemic grants because the area lacks a regional planning body, according to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

What's happening: To make sure the area doesn't overlook more opportunities, the MPO is trying to start an Economic Development District (EDD) — similar to those used across the U.S.

  • The proposed district would include Polk, Warren, Story, Jasper, Dallas, Boone and Marion counties.

Why it matters: Without one, tackling future disaster recoveries and business expansions could become more challenging.

By the numbers: Iowa areas with EDDs averaged $25 per person in federal grants from Jan. 2018 through Jan. 2021, compared to $4 per person in central Iowa, according to MPO's analysis.

How it works: By banding together, counties across a certain geographic area can pool resources and coordinate economic development planning.

  • EDDs can often get a head start in grant application processes because they're able to quickly form plans that demonstrate how projects meet regional needs.
  • In order to get the formal EDD designation, they'd need approval from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Of note: Local governments would need to contribute a combined total of $70K a year to a central Iowa district to cover administrative costs, the MPO estimates.

What's next: Supervisors in the seven counties have already unanimously passed resolutions in support of creating a district. A nonprofit being made to oversee the EDD will request the formal designation in early September.

  • The goal is to launch the district early next year.

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