3 cheers for The City Beautiful!

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

As we celebrated the Fourth of July this week I was reminded how great Storm Lake is. There’s no better town in the state.

I’ve lived in several places around the nation, cities both large and small, urban and rural, and I have to say that my hometown of Storm Lake lives up to its motto as “The City Beautiful.”

What other town our size — or larger — wide, tree-lined avenues shading stately old homes as well as newer domiciles, two high schools, two colleges, beautiful churches serving many denominations, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper and, of course, our beautiful namesake lake? And is there any better community celebration than our fabulous Star Spangled Spectacular?

Storm Lake has been my home for 52 of my 68 years and I will put it up against any other place in America.

Problems? Sure, there are a few, but what community doesn’t have a few challenges? The few cranks who complain about Storm Lake live in places that are much less desirable than our community. They’re probably envious of our good fortune. And if they don’t like Storm Lake, I’m glad they’re gone.

My only regret about Storm Lake is that it isn’t closer to Omaha. It would be nice if we were an hour apart.=

THE MAIN OBSTACLE to Storm Lake’s development — and all of western Iowa — is neglect by our elected leaders. All economic development is concentrated on central Iowa, the so-called “Golden Circle” around Polk County.

Storm Lake has two crown jewels that are the envy of every other town our size — our namesake lake and Buena Vista University. We were worried about losing our lake so we did a great job rejuvenating it. Now we need to redirect our attention and develop a “Manhattan Project” to sustain and enhance BVU.

Small private colleges around the nation are struggling with enrollment, and our city should develop a greater relationship with Buena Vista’s leaders to sustain and enhance the university’s future. We can’t take Buena Vista for granted.

We do everything possible to bring more pigs and turkeys to Storm Lake; how about the same effort to bring more college students here?

BVU’s Capital Campaign, which raises a modest amount of money from local citizens, isn’t enough. In partnership with BVU, the city should make a concerted effort at every level to attract and retain college students and professors to Storm Lake. Maybe there’s a law school in Buena Vista’s future. Or a medical school.

It’s not crazy. Rochester, Minn., was just an isolated little farm town when Dr. Mayo moved there from LeSeuer to help Franciscan sisters care for the people of southeast Minnesota. (By the way, the Mayos and Franciscans were all immigrants — you know, those people who don’t do anything for our country but take, take, take.) This modest idea grew to become the leading medical center in the world, in a relatively small city still surrounded by farmland.

Our goal should be to double Buena Vista’s enrollment within the next 10 years. Create a city position just under the manager — an education czar, if you will — whose only job is to help BVU and Iowa Central Community College grow and prosper. Maybe the city could float bond issues to fund scholarships and loans that could be forgiven if the students agree to live here after they graduate. The city could back bonds to build a medical or law school here as well.

We’ll have to do it alone, because the state doesn’t have the vision or the will to help us. They’re focused on pigs and fertilizer. The legislature has turned its back on education.

Our state leaders are doing nothing to improve rural Iowa except give lip service to the idea that we value our rural communities. All the economic development effort goes to Des Moines and Iowa City. Instead of building computer server farms in Ankeny or Waukee, build them in Pocahontas or Sac City. Tie economic development funds and tax breaks to corporations that build in the underserved areas of western Iowa. If Apple wants to build in Des Moines, fine. But they’ll do it on their own dime. Come to Storm Lake and we’ll offer them some financial encouragement.

I haven’t run this by BVU President Josh Merchant or Mayor Mike Porsch. But I’m always available to offer free advice whenever they seek it.