Doubling Marshalltown’s population
A bold goal has been set by the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber wants to grow Marshalltown’s population from roughly 27,000 to between 50,000 and to 70,000 by December 2030, while also cutting Marshalltown’s commuter rate of 22 percent in half by 2024.
Joe Carter, Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce chair and president and CEO of MARSHALLTOWN, said the goal of growing Marshalltown’s population has been discussed internally at the chamber level for a long time.
“We decided there wasn’t anyone else who was really going to try and put out the growth drive,” Carter said.
He said Marshalltown and seven other communities in Iowa around the same population size such as Burlington, Fort Dodge and Muscatine are facing struggles with growth.
Carter said he has seen Marshalltown grow from one of the wealthiest cities in Iowa per capita in the 1970s to one of the more impoverished today.
Marshalltown is fortunate in there has been some population growth in last 60 years, with a 15 percent population increase from 1960 to 2020, while other cities such as Burlington and Mason City are seeing population declines.
“If we drive population growth, especially with a decrease in the commuter rate, we’re going to bring in higher-end jobs, we’re going to bring in more wealth into the community and what that does is brings in more attractions, more things that people want to do, brings in a bigger tax base, it just helps be able to create a community that can really be in a better situation,” Carter said.
He said he’s heard plenty of comments voicing doubt in the ambitiousness of the goal.
“If you don’t set up a goal that’s incredibly ambitious like we’re talking about, no one is asking the question, ‘How are we going to do it?'” Carter said. “If you’re sitting at 20,000 people and you’re satisfied at where we are, we’re going to continue to see a decay, poverty level that is higher, we’re going to struggle to get further along and make Marshalltown a viable entity as a community.”
In order to grow Marshalltown’s population Carter cited further expansion of the industrial and manufacturing sectors, more entrepreneurs to start up businesses to grow the city’s retail options and amenities, but said the biggest problem facing population growth in Marshalltown is housing.
The City of Marshalltown partnered with the Chamber by contributing $250,000 to the “Make Marshalltown Home” program, which gives homebuyers $10,000 if they purchase a newly constructed home in Marshalltown valued at $180,000 or more. Building permits for qualifying houses need to be issued by June 1 of this year, with properties in development such as at the intersection of South Seventh Avenue and 800 Southridge Road plus the development off West Merle Hibbs Boulevard.
Marshalltown City Administrator Jessica Kinser said housing studies done in 2017 and 2018 have shown a need for multi-family housing and single family housing in Marshalltown.
The study also broke down the commuter rate, showing about two thirds of the 22 percent of the workforce commuting to Marshalltown would be renting living space while the other one-third would be owners if they moved to the city.
“It’s very difficult to get new people into your communities who have no connection to your community,” Kinser said. “So by focusing on the commuter rate, you’re saying these people have a connection to our community and how do you strengthen that connection.”
Marshalltown Community School District Superintendent Theron Schutte said schools have a lot to do with community growth.
One thing the district is doing to leverage more employees to live in Marshalltown is offering a reimbursement of up to $2,500 in moving expenses for new certified teaching staff. The district is also offering a sign-on bonus of up to $5,000 for new hires or internal transfers to specific, high-skill certified teaching positions.
There’s also focus on retention for students by positioning them for success after high school by ensuring students are career or college ready by graduation, while also getting the word out about career opportunities in Marshalltown.
The district is in the process of hanging career tree graphics in middle school and high school classrooms that symbolize career paths to 13 local businesses and industries in Marshalltown.
Project-based learning within the modular technology lab at Miller Middle School helps students explore career fields from medical to engineering, all with a local connection to business and industry.
“Our hopes are that we can get more and more kids to that point so that they can fill the employment pipeline, first and foremost right here in Marshalltown because there’s great job opportunities right here if we can get the kids in a position of being able to access those,” Schutte said.
Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611