Housing initiative seeks to dramatically increase community’s growth.
For several decades population growth in rural areas has been on the decline. Communities within a reasonable distance of metropolitan areas managed to hold steady, but small towns in rural Iowa have struggled to maintain residents, let alone attract new businesses and homeowners.
Some industry professionals have seen this trend beginning to turn since the pandemic. Developments like Middlebrook in Cumming, Prairie Trail in Ankeny, and Beaverbrooke Pointe in Grimes are attracting residents looking for a small-town feel within easy commute to the metro.
But families longing for a more rural community have also begun to realize that today’s technology makes earning a living from nearly anywhere possible. They can settle in their dream community, no matter where their employer is based.
That creates a different challenge for Iowa’s small towns—attracting builders and retailers to support that potential growth. Marshalltown is well on its way to meeting that challenge.
“Make Marshalltown Home is a cash incentive program that offers home buyers $10,000 when they close on a newly constructed home valued at $180,000 or more,” says Joe Carter, incoming Board Chair of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce. “The program applies to any permits filed after the first of June within the Marshalltown city limits.”
“The Chamber committee overseeing the program got started late in 2019,” he says. “We held the press conference to announce the program less than 18 months later.” But before the initiative went into effect, news of its potential spurred development in the community. “We have two developments already begun,” Carter says. “Those developers have both said this housing initiative was the impetus for their projects.”
Commercial growth was already taking place in the community of nearly 30,000. A new hospital, new medical clinic, and numerous retail and restaurant expansions are in the works. “We have some multifamily housing and senior residential facilities in development as well,” Carter says. “This initiative is a way to support more single-family projects.”
He says the average number of new homes built has averaged a mere five homes per year since 1975. Now there are enough plans in the works to build 100 in just the next two years.
“Marshalltown is one of the only seven ‘micropolitan’ communities in Iowa—a city with population between 22,000 and 35,000 not directly connected to a large city. But we’re one of the two micropolitans that’s actually growing,” Carter says.
The Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce realized that to maintain that and to grow wisely, the city needed a plan. “We wanted to manage the way our community grows,” Carter says. Part of that was ensuring the city had the services to attract new residents, and part of that was drawing the builders who could provide the homes.
“Marshalltown is a great place to live,” he says. “We have a beautiful trail system, and we’re expanding that to connect with other communities and trail systems nearby. We have a wide variety of employment opportunities. We have a diverse population, an historic theater, and so much to offer.”
The Make Marshalltown Home program is initially set to cover only the first 100 homes that qualify. Carter anticipates that it could continue, depending on funding.
Between the multifamily projects and the Make Marshalltown Home initiative, the Chamber hopes to nearly double the town’s population by 2030. “We would like to see steady, managed growth, with more residents living and working here,” explains Carter. “Cutting the commuter rate in half in the next five years is part of that goal. This program will help us achieve that.”