As part of the final leg of his tour of all 99 counties in the state, Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg visited Clarinda Nov. 16 to view the progress being made to convert the upstairs portion of the Clarinda Chamber of Commerce office into two new apartments.
A group of local business and civic leaders gathered at the Chamber of Commerce office to welcome Gregg to Clarinda. Mayor Craig Hill informed Gregg of some of the efforts the community has undertaken in recent years to beautify the downtown square.
In addition, Hill said there are various locations in the area of the downtown square that could be utilized to help address the housing needs facing Clarinda.
“I have a vested interest in this project because 40 years year ago, when my wife and I were married, that was our first home,” Hill said.
Clarinda was awarded a Community Development Block Grant to help finance the downtown facade project. Then, acting on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Clarinda was awarded a $200,000 Downtown Housing Grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority to help fund the creation of the apartments.
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“This has been a really effective strategy in many of our small communities where you’ve got these beautiful main streets and these beautiful town squares. But sometimes what happens with those buildings is they fall into disrepair over time,” Gregg said. “When we can kind of kill two birds with one stone by investing in the downtowns, investing in buildings that have fallen into disrepair, and add housing stock in a community, it’s a win, win, win all the way around.”
After touring the apartments, Gregg said he was impressed with the construction taking place and the features the new apartment facing to the north would offer future renters.
“I got a sneak peak at some very nice apartments that are going to be completed here in the very near future,” Gregg said. “One of the units has a view overlooking the town square and a beautiful view of the courthouse with huge windows. I think definitely think that is going to be quite an asset. I can imagine people really enjoying the ability to have a cup of coffee and look outside and see what is going on downtown. I see the Christmas lights out there that I’m sure will be lit up here sometime in the near future. I can imagine a future tenant having a beautiful view of a lit up downtown that I think will be picture perfect — fit for a postcard.”
Although there is a need for housing of all types in Iowa, Gregg said he was pleased Clarinda was looking for ways to increase the number of rental options available in the city.
“They’ll be rental units, which I think is a helpful thing in rural communities. I think it helps, particularly, recruit young people who want to try out a community, but would be nervous about signing a 30 year mortgage anywhere. I think to have some rental units in the marketplace is very, very helpful. Folks can come and try it out for a year or two, and I think they’ll find they like the quality of life in rural communities,” Gregg said.
Following the tour, Gregg also visited with those attending the event about other housing related needs in the community. One of those challenges, Hill said, was bringing high end broadband internet service to Clarinda and other neighboring cities.
“We have the jobs available in the community. We just need to make sure we keep our workforce here and try to entice our young people to stay. You can live anywhere in this country, now, if you have a good connection to the outside world,” Hill said. “We have providers that give us enough internet service, but they don’t really meet all of our needs, especially from the standpoint of the businesses.”
Gregg said he appreciated learning of the challenges cities like Clarinda face with the structure of the broadband grant programs offered by the state.
“They expressed the need for some investment in communities that do have service, but would like to expand that service or make it faster. That’s very helpful feedback that I can take back to the Governor and to our team to think about how we structure grant programs in the future,” Gregg said.
Amy McQueen, Executive Director of the Clarinda Economic Development Corporation, also informed Gregg Clarinda is exploring the potential of utilizing the Homes for Iowa program offered at the Newton Correctional Facility to help meet the need for housing in Clarinda.
“There’s a definite need for it,” McQueen said. “We won’t stop building our own houses, but this would be a nice addition.”
Gregg said Homes for Iowa is a Prison Industries program that teaches offenders the skills necessary to build homes. The homes constructed by the inmates are then sold to rural communities across the state to address the housing shortage.
“I think it’s a very positive program because it helps solve a number of challenges. Number one, it helps us with our workforce needs because we’re training people in skills that are needed all across our state and across our economy. That skill training is going to offenders. Folks who have fallen into a life of crime and they have found themselves incarcerated, but want to improve themselves and not find themselves in that situation again. By having skills, by having these types of abilities, it makes it far less likely they’re going to going to recidivate. So it improves our public safety,” Gregg said.
Page County was the 98th stop for Gregg on his annual tour. The final stop was a visit to Red Oak in Montgomery County Wednesday afternoon.
Gregg said he had enjoyed the opportunity to see several of the projects taking place in Iowa at various stages of completion.
“Governor (Kim) Reynolds and I travel all 99 counties every year. It’s one of the best things we do because we get to get out and see the great things that are going on, particularly in our rural communities. Today was certainly no exception,” Gregg said.