To stimulate the region’s economy and provide for growth opportunities, the city of Fort Madison, the city of Keokuk, and Lee County, Iowa, created the Southeast Iowa Regional Economic and Port Authority (SIREPA) through state legislation. In March 2008, the Lee County Economic Development Group, on behalf of SIREPA, selected Hanson to assist SIREPA in shaping its future direction and strategies to enhance the economic development and prosperity of the Lee County, Iowa, area.
Lee County is located along the Upper Mississippi River in the southeastern-most corner of Iowa, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east, the Des Moines River to the south, and the Skunk River to the north.
The agriculturally dominated region, not heavily populated and consisting of primarily small towns, has experienced minimal economic growth in recent years. Overall population – and correspondingly the number of jobs – has been declining since the year 2000. Even waterborne commerce – the preferred transportation mode for grain – has shown a steady decline over the last 10 years in spite of a steadily inclining growth in agricultural production.
One impediment to the economic and growth opportunities for the region is the antiquated and aging lock and dam system on the Upper Mississippi River, a vital and valuable resource for the region.
To gain an understanding of the region’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and needs, Hanson assembled socio-economic, demographic, transportation, commerce, agricultural, industrial, infrastructure and recreational information within the market area as well as in similar areas of the country. Additionally, Hanson reviewed a number of previous state and regional studies conducted by other entities to understand a more complete history of assumed opportunities and previous economic development efforts.
Hanson’s team conducted first-person interviews with numerous state, regional and local area stakeholders; distributed surveys; and investigated four other successful inland river port authorities to provide case study information about their developmental history and the factors leading to their success.
After evaluating the resource data, the case studies, and the local and regional context, Hanson’s team made recommendations to assist SIREPA in focusing on a distinctive, targeted direction, intended to result in near-term job creation and long-term benefits for Lee County.