Keokuk Chosen as Iowa Initiative Partner

Written by on March 4, 2019

The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) at the University of Iowa is proud to announce Keokuk as its next community partner.

A small, rural town of about 10,000, Keokuk is using bold, innovative approaches to tackle declining population and address a rapidly changing economic climate. Undaunted by these challenges—faced by many of Iowa’s rural communities—city leaders and private citizens alike have taken active measures to help stabilize the economy and prepare the community for a renewed era of progress and vitality.

“Partnerships have been a key element in moving the community forward, and these partnerships have been strengthened as we’ve developed and implemented the Keokuk 2030 Comprehensive Plan,” said Shelley Oltmans, Executive Director, Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce.

Keokuk’s award-winning comprehensive plan also laid positive groundwork for the partnership with IISC.

The comprehensive plan provides a road map and vision for future development, city priorities, and public investments for the next 15-20 years.

The plan sets to make desired outcomes a reality, influence public to focus on their community values, and create a positive public perception of the community so they can proudly call it their home.

“City leaders in Keokuk recognize the challenges facing their community, but the need for action only makes them more determined. They’ve already gathered significant public input for their comprehensive plan, so an important first step in the partnership is already accomplished,” said Travis Kraus, director of the IISC. “They are well-prepared to pursue activities with defined objectives that reflect the desires of the community. The projects they’ve proposed will challenge students and leave a significant impact on their community.”

“It’s fantastic Keokuk was chosen,” said Mike Norris, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC). “SEIRPC was a partner for the application and will be for the projects and in the future. IISC has a great reputation in Iowa. Their projects are well-organized and impactful. It is a very unique offering from a university where students from all over the university work for a community. I’m looking forward to working with the students and seeing the results.”

The IISC partnership will take place during the 2019-2020 academic year.

For the IISC partnership, Keokuk proposed public health projects, downtown redevelopment planning, marketing projects, trail connectivity, stormwater mitigation, and many others.

IISC works with faculty, students and staff across multiple colleges and departments at the University of Iowa to facilitate the community engagement projects, which address issues and challenges identified by the community. 

“Being selected as the partner community is a tremendous opportunity for Keokuk to begin the process of completing many projects identified through our comprehensive plan. This is vital as the development phase projects often languish due to a lack of a spark. The IISC will provide that spark,” said Cole S. O’Donnell, Keokuk city administrator.

“Being named a partner community of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities is a big win for the Keokuk area. We look forward to working with students and faculty on all the great things Keokuk wants to accomplish,” said Amy E. Conlee, Keokuk Chamber president.

The Keokuk community application was submitted in partnership with the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce and Keokuk Economic Development Corporation (KEDC). The Chamber and KEDC serve the Keokuk area in all things related to community and economic development to build the economy and support community pride.

The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities is a campus-wide, engaged-learning program housed in the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement at the University of Iowa. The IISC pursues a dual mission of enhancing quality of life in Iowa while transforming teaching and learning at the university.

IISC is currently completing a year-long partnership in Webster City, where more than 120 UI students are working to complete 20 projects with the community.  To view past partnerships and projects visit

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