State Representative to Use Civility Process to Build Wealth in Rural Communities

For immediate release

Monday, June 16, 2014

Contact:       Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, 712-210-7677

                         Kimberlee Spillers, 712-250-0275

                         Frank Spillers, 712-254-1645

      When residents speak highly of their town and area, you are utilizing the very best and least expensive community development tool: word of mouth!”

      “Population loss in my #1 concern, especially for its impact on our schools and how rural communities view each other,” says Representative Dan Muhlbauer, a Manilla area farmer and Iowa legislator. “Downward trends, loss in numbers of students and families that force school consolidation and closing concern me greatly.  Looking only at the generations in my family, I graduated from Manilla, my kids graduated from IKM, my grandchildren will go to IKM-Manning and now the school in Manilla is closing – how far will my grandchildren have to travel to go to school? Will there be gainful work for my family to do to remain in the area? In Iowa? Will our communities exist in 10 or 15 years?  

      “We have businesses that want to grow,” continues Muhlbauer, a lifelong resident of Crawford County. “The cattle industry, manufacturing sectors, and Main Street want to grow. The reality is that in Iowa, we have a 3.5% unemployment rate, with 2% of our population unemployable, so we have little to no workforce to supply the needs of existing businesses, let alone add new ones. Economic development organizations are doing great work in our counties. They have financial tools and great programming in place, but the reality is that we are not growing. I want to try a solid process never used in our area, called Community Builders. Under the direction of Frank and Kimberlee Spillers and their company, Global Horizons, Community Builders is a means of strengthening communities by working together. I want to work toward ‘One Iowa,’ where what is good for each rural community is good for the state.”

       Community Builders, CBs, is a community development process that can be as specific as the organizers wish. The goal is to grow population and school enrollment by capitalizing on the technology infrastructure already in place through local phone companies.

      Community Builders creates an environment where trusting relationships can be built, attitudes can be changed, jobs can be created, and entrepreneurial spirit can flourish. It is an interactive, fun, intra- or inter-community activity designed to promote unity and provide education and awareness of people and businesses in a geographic area e.g.: a county or school district. As for long-term impact, in one rural five-county area that used Community Builders, 250 jobs were created during a three-year span.

      This touring process has two levels: on the surface, it is a successful community-engagement / business-building process revealing businesses, their potential, and opportunities for new businesses to open. On a deeper level, Community Builders reminds a community to always look forward with a growth-mindset, bringing its historic value through its citizens to the future through continual transition.

      Community Builders is completely open to anyone, especially those interested in growing their community. This kickoff information session is crafted from 28 years of rural community development experience from the local, state, and federal levels and will  

  • explain the background and process,
  • describe the importance of Community Builders, and
  • help participants visualize what can happen in an area. 

      At the end of the presentation, communities select a date for their town’s tour; then creativity begins - there are no rules for what happens next! With tours taking place until harvest, guests visiting each town will learn about the businesses and attractions located there, the employee base, sales area, and any other information the organizers want to share. Tourist stops, historical landmarks - anything special to that community - are included. The final stop for the evening includes a meal and education/ development program pertinent to the community and yet to be determined.

Two major results take place through the Community Builders process. One, the “walls” come down between communities. This positive step allows number two: the creation of healthy relationships built between people, establishing the basis where true community growth can happen. Community Builders is an experience that will surprise, educate, and delight!

      What is learned through Community Builders is that even the tiniest towns have exceptional treasures! Communities, even lifelong residents, discover numerous companies with international scope, and more “Main Street” and home-based businesses than you thought you had. Notably, your residents will be filled with pride and amazed at the great town they call home.

  “The large pieces of this Community Builders will be on whether youth feel welcome in their community and technology infrastructure.” says Frank Spillers. “We worked in a rural community school district for several years with the junior and senior high at-risk students. We learned that many students in our rural communities do not feel welcome in their own hometown, so have to look in other towns to feel accepted. They often do not go to college, yet become leaders as mayors, school board, church, and city council members, and business owners in the towns where they feel valued. Many of these students feel their creative ideas could benefit the area and want to be valued community members while still in school. Our Community Builders activity will reinforce the critical role of community attitudes toward their youth, and all participants will learn how to welcome people interested in moving to the area. This is a great intergenerational activity and we definitely need adults to be involved to teach the history of the community to carry forward in positive ways.”

        “The closure of the Manilla school hurts us all,” Muhlbauer adds. “I think we need to look at ourselves individually and as communities to ensure our young people stay or return home and that new people feel welcome. Rural areas can sometimes be “silo” communities – acting on their own for only their own good, and we just have to get by that. This is the first time we have really tried to work together to better the region and help each other. We must have a message that all are welcome here.”

       “This school enrollment and population growth activity can bring notable expansion because of the strong technology infrastructure we already have in place in Iowa,” concludes Kimberlee Spillers. “After using Community Builders, citizens learn different, supportive ways to work together and grow their businesses. These students are so smart about social media and ways to reach the world; we need to capture their enthusiasm, learn from them and their skills, and bring people here! It’s always so much fun to hear people who have lived in a town all their lives exclaim, ‘I didn’t know this business was here’ or ‘we have this many international businesses?’ People are so energized after participating, they just cannot say enough great things about the town they call home. We expect growth to come from Community Builders, as we have seen in other areas. 

       For more information about Community Builders, contact Kimberlee Spillers, 712-250-0275.