IRDC Newsletter Article, Nov. 2017: IRDC Expanding Their Impact

Since 1992, the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC) has been engaging partners and assisting small towns.  And there are steps being taken to boost the work of the Council and expand its impact.

The IRDC was created as part of an Executive Order and ensuing Farm Bill in 1992.  It received federal funding for many years and was later housed in the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  But both state and federal funding dissolved and the group has operated informally without paid staff since 2005.

In 2016, the IRDC hosted the first-ever Iowa Rural Summit, bringing together 300 individuals from more than 60 rural communities.  That event sparked a resurgence in interest among rural advocates and convinced IRDC partners, who include federal and state agencies, Regents’ institutions and community colleges, utilities, non-profits and statewide associations, to revitalize the Council’s ability to support rural development.

“This is an organization that has impacted rural Iowa for a quarter century and is positioned now to do more,” said IRDC chair Sandy Ehrig, who runs the Iowa Farm Bureau’s “Renew Rural Iowa” program.  “Our rural summit in Jefferson last year was a big step and the Council is ready to build on that momentum.”

Beginning in 2018, IRDC will develop sponsorship levels open to partners, including for-profit businesses, seeking to support strategies and policies that benefit small towns and rural places.  And that will allow the Council to bring on a paid executive director, former USDA Rural Development state director Bill Menner.

Menner, who served at USDA from 2009-2017, was previously economic development director in Poweshiek County.  He will help the IRDC connect with new partners, resource providers and innovative rural communities who can provide successful case studies for other places.

“Rural Iowa has so much, from engaged residents to committed leaders and forward-thinking businesses,” Menner said.  “But many times they start from scratch when they work to develop new ideas or address community needs.  Instead they could be just looking down the road for direction and I think the IRDC can compile and share those best practices.”

The financial resources created through sponsors and engaged members will position the IRDC to launch new programs that address rural issues, build capacity with small towns, and capitalize on opportunities that exist to enhance the viability of rural communities.

Those opportunities may revolve around issues the IRDC sees as central to rural development, from housing to workforce to broadband to entrepreneurship.

For more information about the Iowa Rural Development Council or the 2018 Iowa Rural Summit, contact Bill Menner at iowaruralcouncil@gmail.com or 641-990-4757.

Iowa Rural Development Council Leadership Team (left to right): Rand Fisher, Iowa Area Development Group; Mark Reinig, Iowa State University CIRAS; Bill Menner, IRDC Executive Director; Sandy Ehrig, Iowa Farm Bureau “Renew Rural Iowa”; Amy Kuhlers, Iowa Economic Development Authority; Jim Thompson, Iowa Economic Development Authority; James Hoelscher, University of Northern Iowa Institute for Decision Making; Gary Taylor, Iowa State University Extension.  Not pictured: Kathy Anderson, ABI; Sue Cosner, Iowa Area Development Group; Dave Duncan, Iowa Telecommunications Alliance; Zachary Mannheimer, McClure Engineering.

PollUp.io, Ames

PollUp.io began very simply; just three guys that wanted to create a cool software application. Kenyon Brown, Dave Leo, and Neil Saigal decided to develop a business-to-business tool that would “make work more enjoyable.” They started working on the app in October of 2015 and began developing a company business plan the following March.

PollUp.io discovered the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) through Iowa State University’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. “[I] knew [SBDC Regional Director] Ted Bair and immediately felt comfortable working with the organization,” writes Kenyon. The SBDC conducted market research for PollUp.io during the summer of 2016, helping them develop their minimum viable product. After a period of customer discovery and development, PollUp.io launched their pilot program in December of that year. They then used what they learned from the program to refine their product and successfully launched their app commercially on March 6, 2017.

PollUp.io is a feedback software that assists companies with training, engaging, and increasing productivity with employees. “You wouldn’t check in to see how your spouse is feeling once a month. You would instead talk to your spouse every day. So, why would you treat your employees (the people you arguably spend most of your time with) any differently?” asks Kenyon. PollUp.io uses polling to gather feedback from employees in a timely manner, helping to build a stronger company culture, while providing a return that benefits the bottom line. The company currently operates out of Ames, Iowa.

Kenyon describes the assistance they received from the SBDC as “quick, simple, and effective. It allowed us to further understand the market we were getting into,” he explains. “This was especially needed as we were entering a new ball game for us in terms of who our potential customers were. [The SBDC] allowed us to discover the best ways to further communicate and build relationships with companies we wanted to work with.”

PollUp.io plans to continue expanding their company, with a new development that the industry has been desperately needing coming hopefully by the end of the summer. They were recently nominated as one of the top five student start-ups in Iowa by the Technology Association of Iowa, yet they would describe their biggest triumph as launching a product that solves the exact problem they set out to solve back in October of 2015.

For more information on this interesting company, visit PollUp.io.