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.

As Iowa opens up, COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to slow

It’s a hot evening at the Broadway Neighborhood Center in Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Student volunteers have set up a mobile COVID vaccination clinic among the apartment complexes that house many immigrant and refugee families. 

But the clinic struggles to attract residents. In recent weeks, demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa has declined sharply, even though less than 70 percent of Iowans have had at least one dose. 

Andrew Coghill-Behrends, the center’s site director, hits the streets. His goal is to get at least 20 people in for the shot. “It’s really about talking to people and seeing if you can find them where they’re at, and encourage them to come over, said Coghill-Behrends.

Stimulus money was only a short-term fix as rural hospitals brace for the next COVID-19 surges

One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry. 

Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.