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Strategist says North Iowans must overcome 'culture of no'
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Strategist says North Iowans must overcome 'culture of no'

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MASON CITY | North Iowans must overcome the "culture of no" that impedes its progress, a community strategist told civic leaders Thursday.

Jeff Marcell, senior partner for TIP Strategies, a consulting firm that helps communities with economic development, spoke at the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting at North Iowa Area Community College.

TIP has been hired by the EDC, the Mason City and Clear Lake chambers of commerce and other organizations to help identify community needs and goals and put together a strategy to achieve them. It is part of the Vision North Iowa program.

Part of its research has been getting input from citizens for the past six months through community surveys, workshops and personal contacts.

On Thursday, Marcell gave some preliminary findings based on responses from more than 700 North Iowans who took part in the surveys.

One of those findings was the negative attitude revealed. "It was obvious," Marcell said, "not a majority, but obvious nonetheless."

"You're too hard on yourselves," he said. "You have an awful lot going for you."

He identified strengths such as:

• Infrastructure, including an airport and major highways.

• Proximity to major markets.

• NIACC.

• Outstanding quality of life.

• Entrepreneurships and training at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

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• Leadership already in place.

• Enthusiastic, talented, eager young people.

• Examples of past successes such as the restoration of the Park Inn Hotel and the restoration and cleaning up of Clear Lake.

Marcell said at the end of the TIP process, when strategies and implementation plans are developed, one component will be "internal marketing" — making sure North Iowans talk to one another about the area's strengths.

Marcell did not mince words in identifying challenging trends in the past decade.

He said there are several areas in which the county is moving in the wrong direction, including:

• A slow but steady population decline, although there was an uptick in 2016.

• Median household incomes below the state and national average.

• The 20-to-34 age group is the smallest part of the population, while 65 and older is the largest segment.

• A below-average number of people with four-year degrees.

• The loss of 3,100 jobs.

Marcell said when all the data has been collected and analyzed, a five-year plan will be developed, hopefully by September, and then implementation will begin.

He said citizen involvement has been important from the beginning, when the surveys were developed in January, and will be important in the implementation stage as well.

"We want to build an army of folks to help us," he said.

During the business portion of Thursday's meeting, Deb Blaser Gretillat took over as chairwoman of the EDC board, replacing outgoing chairman Dan Varnum.

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