Iowa Farm Bureau is a small nonprofit. It’s sitting on a huge business empire.

In May, senior executives at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation finalized a little-noticed financial maneuver that could boost their income for years to come. While a nonprofit, the Farm Bureau owned a highly profitable, publicly traded insurance business, FBL Financial Group. For nearly a year, the executives — whose incomes depended on FBL — had wanted to privatize the company. But the move spurred several lawsuits, with a major investor publicly accusing the Farm Bureau of low-balling the remaining shareholders it was attempting to buy out. To settle, the Farm Bureau paid investors more, and the deal closed this spring.

Parkersburg grits through pandemic

PARKERSBURG, Iowa – After a killer tornado in 2008 and the murder of a beloved community leader a year later, many folks in Parkersburg felt they could take just about any punch thrown at them. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. It claimed lives and took a bite at businesses. But as was the case with those prior tragedies, the people of Parkersburg weren’t about to be defined by this latest challenge. Instead they defined themselves by what they would do to overcome — support one another.

Iowa towns that are thriving, bucking trend of rural decline

A handful of small Iowa towns with 5,000 or fewer people and not part of a larger metro area bucked the trend in the 2020 census and grew their populations. These towns grew populations at a time when the 2020 census showed Iowa’s urban population growing to 64% of the state’s 3.16 million people. The share of urban dwellers in Iowa was near 61% in both 2010 and 2000, 58% in 1990, and 57% in 1980. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

A four-month IowaWatch investigation that included visits to 58 towns of 5,000 or fewer people turned up examples of growing rural communities. One of those growing in population isn’t even incorporated, but counted, none the less, by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Businesses band together for southern Iowa’s Humeston

HUMESTON, Iowa – Terrie and Tom Woods enjoy road trips to small Midwest towns and their locally owned stores, which explains why the retired Sherwood, Arkansas, couple ended up in Humeston in mid-May. “We just like small towns,” Terrie Woods said about being eight-and-a-half hours away from home and searching through Civil War-themed fabric at Snips of Thread Quilt Shop and The Yarn Pantry. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

A group of downtown shop owners in this southern Iowa town of 465 people love stories like  that. They see it as a sign that their efforts are working when collaborating to make Humeston a vibrant place, even though the town lost population in the 2020 census from the 494 counted in the 2010 census. 

“Our businesses work well together to promote Humeston,” Leigh Ann Coffey, a local real estate agent, said. “We’re not in competition with each other.”

Their pitch: good products, good service and the charm of small-town shops.

Denver, Iowa, aiming for new heights after pandemic

DENVER, Iowa – The Bremer County community of Denver, which has dubbed itself “The Mile Wide City,” in contrast to its altitudinally enhanced Colorado counterpart, had quite a mountain to climb out of the pandemic, business, school and community leaders said. But it climbed out. “Denver was fortunate,” said Gene Leonhart, a former longtime mayor, who still serves on the city Planning and Zoning Commission. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

Leonhart and others who were interviewed for the IowaWatch project, “Small Town Solutions,” said the city had a lot going for it headed into the pandemic. IowaWatch spent four months checking into towns that buck the declining trend of other rural areas and show signs of a growing population, a strong sense of community, activities and schools. 

Voters in the Denver Community School District, on the cusp of that pandemic, approved a bond referendum for a new high school and middle school building — just a few years after building a new community recreation, arts and events center, called the Cyclone Center, so named after the school teams’ mascot.