A few years ago Iowa's 77 rural counties received "regional center" designation for participation in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The Iowa Department of Economic Development and other partners submitted an application in February 2004 seeking approval in support of the Iowa New Farm Family Project.
The Project began in Northeast Iowa over three years ago for the purpose of inviting dairy farm families immigrating from The Netherlands to Iowa. Regional center status offers other interested counties and communities the opportunity to participate if they desire.
The primary purpose of an EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program regional center is to spur social and economic development in disadvantaged regions of the country.
Iowa is a rural state with 99 counties. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 77 of Iowa's counties are considered rural or small urban. A rural county does not contain a community of at least 2,500 persons. A small urban county has fewer than 20,000 persons living in all urban places in the county. Cherokee county is considered one of these counties.
The USCIS designation grants immigrant dairy farm families permanent residency status under immigration law. As permanent residents, they are allowed to own farmland in Iowa. The immigrant families would receive a green-card, integrate as members of the community, and ultimately become U.S. citizens.
Northwest Iowa is developing area groups designed to present their areas to those families interested in emigrating from The Netherlands. In Aurelia the Aurelia Area Dairy Team consists of farmers and businessmen. Their goal is to offer and present a package which positions the Aurelia area as a premier location to raise a family and do business.
The group has developed informational brochures about the dairy farming opportunities in the area and about the community. The brochures are then distributed at various agricultural promotional events and trade shows.
They also put together a list of potential sites in the area that could be purchased by the new families. Tom Kellen from Pioneer Seed in Aurelia said that this area has everything a dairy needs, food sources, quality water, open ground and great communities.
He also notes that the New Family Farm Program is specifically designed to bring in families with their medium sized dairies. Most of the families would run around 400 to 500 dairy cows. They are only interested in producing milk and would purchase feed from neighboring farmers.
A company called The Atlantic Business Development, LLC works with the area groups and families interested in coming to the United States to first, set up tours of various areas, and second, facilitate the new families in emigrating from the Netherlands and becoming U.S. citizens.
The farm families are required to invest at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs directly or indirectly statewide from the operation of their dairy farms. These requirements can be met with the family-based operations planned.
The Iowa New Farm Family Project was initiated by three Iowa communities that wanted to take action to address their future social and economic well-being. ISU Extension was asked to provide educational and facilitation assistance.
Don Avis of the Cherokee County ISU Extension office says the families interested in emigrating to the states are young dairy farm families. These families would help increase enrollment in area schools, in addition to investing their own money into their dairy herds. He is expecting couples to be visiting Cherokee county sometime this summer.
The project is designed to revitalize rural areas. Avis also notes that the New Family Farm Project is just a small piece of the puzzle and is a long term project. He also says that dairy farmers in California are slowly being pushed out of the state for various reasons. Cherokee county and Iowa could be potential relocation areas for these farmers as well.