What makes a community healthy? According to the Lincy Institute, “A person’s health is a product of their environment. As such, a healthy community is one in which all residents have access to a quality education, safe and healthy homes, adequate employment, transportation, physical activity, and nutrition, in addition to quality health care. Unhealthy communities lead to chronic disease, such as cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a healthy community as “one that encapsulates both the health of people and place, where people can be physically healthy and live in a neighborhood that is thriving socially and economically.”

Grant County is known for its beauty, Kam Wah Chung Museum and friendly and supportive community. I hear, on a regular basis, Grant County residents who moved away returning saying they missed home, the sun that shines daily, the community feel and safety. Let’s hold on to these characteristics, value them and protect our way of life.

How do we get better and become a healthier community by thriving economically?

1) Get local businesses to cooperate and work together for the good of the town. Sac City, Iowa, population estimated at 2,105 and falling, boasts of its hospital, recreation center, two pools, public school, library, robust day care and the world’s largest popcorn ball attraction despite the decline in residents. Steve Irwin, board member, says, “Sac City’s ‘secret sauce’ is people: super-involved citizens, willing to work together for the good of the town. We always seem to have a champion for a project, somebody or some group that kind of takes the lead.”

2) Support and expand existing businesses, attract new businesses, encourage entrepreneurship, expand and diversify the tax base and improve quality of life with new services and amenities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Smart Growth Economic Development program states, “Many communities are finding economic success by cultivating a competitive advantage by using their unique assets to attract new investment and support existing businesses. These place-based assets might include residents and their skills; local architecture and infrastructure; academic, technical, and medical institutions; local and regional business and employment concentrations; cultural, natural, and artistic resources; and general quality of life. What distinguishes smart growth economic development from conventional economic development is this emphasis on building on existing assets, rather than on pursuing jobs or tax base growth without particular regard for location or synergies with existing assets.” For more information, visit epa.gov/smartgrowth/framework-creating-smart-growth-economic-development-strategy.

3) Support quality of life. A variety of factors can improve quality of life, such as a thriving downtown with retail shops and services with a focus on nutritious and affordable foods, medicine and essential items and restaurants; options for walking, biking, driving and public transit; artistic, cultural and community resources such as museums, public art, community centers, religious institutions and other community gathering spaces; and medical, technical and academic institutions; streets lined with trees and other vegetation that help improve the pedestrian and driver’s environment while absorbing rainwater and improving water and air quality.

4) Ensure a wide range of housing types that are affordable to different income levels. If a city does not have enough appealing neighborhoods including attractive streetscapes and storefronts, it might not attract workers and businesses. Housing should contribute to a sense of place and neighborhood identity, helping retain existing residents. If housing costs are higher than the income of the residents, workers and businesses will not be sustainable.

5) Strategically focus on common goals. 1. Make the distinction between “growth” and “investment.” 2. Be tactical and strategic. 3. Be focused. 4. Start where there is already momentum. 5. Find the right partners for specific goals. 6. Communicate and coordinate.

Let’s take a look at Grant County. Does our chamber of commerce have a community event calendar promoting events that is utilized to support and collaborate with one another? Are Grant County downtowns thriving? Do Grant County leadership and city leadership have a focused strategy to promote healthy communities? What about the citizens of Grant County? Are you involved with community collaboration, revitalization of downtown, supporting downtown business, schools and health care? Does Grant County have affordable housing and housing types to meet our need?

Let’s join together to become a healthier, thriving Grant County community.

Dorothy Nestlerode is a Grant County resident, mother and local author.

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