Time to take us seriously

Monday, December 22, 2014

Those of us living well to the west of Interstate 35 have not given up in the battle against population loss and accompanying economic decline, but Iowans in the rest of the state seem to have little concern for Western Iowa.

Completing the Highway 20 project as a second major east/west corridor through the state has dragged on for decades as a result of resistance from Iowans from the eastern part of the state.

Completion would bring a dramatic increase in traffic on the highway, not only as an alternative to I-80, but also to I-90 through Minnesota. The new corridor would provide more Iowa options for companies who are considering new construction.

It has been lamented that the state seems to be unattractive to young people starting careers as professionals. A few exceptions to this are the communities containing state universities, where the activities and opportunities created by the presence of a major university make those cities attractive to young professionals.

Besides completing Hwy 20, what the state needs to do is build a fourth Regents university in Western Iowa, clearly establishing that Western Iowa is indeed part of the state.

The new university could be fairly modest in size to start with, serving less than 5,000 students, and it should be in a town that currently has no university, such as Cherokee or Le Mars.

Although the university would compete for students with the three other state universities, it would also compete for students who would otherwise attend colleges in South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota, as well as other colleges throughout the country, especially if the university established one or two areas of specialization along with programs in the major disciplines.

Rather than the three states mentioned being a net draw of college students away from the state, Iowa could be a net draw from those states.

Admittedly, a state university is about as likely to come to Northwest Iowa as a blizzard in July. After all, if the state can't even show enough interest in this part of the state to complete the Hwy 20 project, what hope is there for creating a university here?

Perhaps the only reason that eastern South Dakota and eastern Nebraska are growing parts of those states while western Iowa declines is because of the relative importance each state places on that portion of its geography.