Story County, Iowa, is a community looking to strategically align economic development and quality of life. Located just north of the state capital of Des Moines, the county has a long history that dates back to the arrival of first railroads to the area in the late 19th century.

More recently, the county has faced increasing pressure from development interests seeking to expand. This has caused some friction between these interests and some long-term residents who wish to keep much of the land outside the county's 15 towns and cities exclusively agricultural. As the county seeks to develop and expand its economic base, it must draft a plan that will address both sides of this critical issue.

Development pressure is especially strong along the Lincoln Highway corridor between the City of Ames and the county seat of Nevada. A number of plans have been drawn up to take advantage of this economic opportunity for the county. These plans expand opportunities for development in the county while also incorporating long-held desires to preserve agriculture and promote natural resources and open space. However, achieving community-wide support for any one option has become a serious challenge.

The Community Planning Assistance Team played an important role in fostering dialogues that allowed residents and key stakeholders to voice their hopes and concerns for the future of Story County.

Balancing this input with their professional evaluations of community plans already on the table, team members helped stakeholders determine what types of development will best serve residents' needs. The ultimate goal was to work towards a comprehensive vision plan for development in Story County, including an implementation strategy that cultivates community participation and support.

Wayne Feiden, FAICP, a planner with much experience with technical assistance teams across the country, led a CPAT team that included three additional planning professionals with expertise in land use and economic planning, public participation and coalition-building in diverse communities, and project implementation.

A Strategic Story: A Framework for Story County Economic Development

Community Planning Assistance Team Report

By many measures, Story County is an economic success story. The unemployment rate is dramatically lower than that of the United States as a whole and wages are generally stable or increasing. Although wages are often lower than many larger urban markets, the cost of living, especially housing, is so much lower than in many urban markets and in the United States as a whole that overall purchasing power is excellent.

Project Updates

January 2012
The Story County Community Planning Assistance Team recognizes that economic development and quality of life are woven together. Business location and expansion decisions are based on financial feasibility, but also on how appealing a community is for employees and executives.

People and businesses are increasingly footloose and have a wide variety of options. Quality of life is often a major part of those decisions, including walkable downtowns, urban amenities, cultural activities, safety, recreation, aesthetics, clean air and water, shared economic benefits, local food, agricultural preservation, education, and strong sense of place.

Any economic development strategy in Story County should reflect on quality of life in addition to jobs, economic activity, and improved tax base.

The APA Story County CPAT recommends strategic efforts and investments in four broad areas to support improved economic development and quality of life:

  1. Vision and long range planning
  2. Strategic partnerships and investments
  3. Trails, recreation, and other quality of life issues
  4. County planning organization

October 2011
On Sunday, October 23, 2011, the full team arrived to Story County touring various cities and sites around the area. The following day, after an initial meeting with the County Board of Supervisors and County Planning and Zoning Staff, the team held back to back focus groups with different stakeholders from all parts of the county. Team members heard not only from mayors and representatives from local governments, but business leaders in the county as well. In the evening, the team convened a public forum which brought a group of interested citizens into the conversation. It was clear that there is established economic activity and potential already in the county, but defining the role of the county government is the challenge. The Iowans who came out for the forum showed their pride for their community and state, showing what a special place Iowa is.

Tuesday, October 25, the team started its intensive work to start formulating recommendations.  Doug Johnston, chair of the City and Regional Planning Department at Iowa State University, was generous to host the team at the College of Design. Working with planning students from the university, the team worked on their recommendations and started to create a presentation for the community.

On Wednesday, the team finalized their work during the day at ISU with students. That evening, the team presented their recommendations in a public meeting held at the Ames City Council Chambers to a group of local residents. Citizens, stakeholders, and the Story County Board of Supervisors enthusiastically received the recommendations and are looking forward to receiving the final report.

September 2011

On September 29, 2011, Team Leader Wayne Feiden, FAICP, and APA staff visited Story County Iowa for their preliminary visit. Community contact Charlie Dissell, AICP, led a county-wide tour, visiting all cities in the county as well as visiting major economic development projects, such as the large wind farm in the northeast portion of the county. The following day, the County Board of Supervisors spoke with the CPAT representatives, who also held focus groups for key stakeholders from the public, private, and academic sectors. The project was refined to focus on what active role the county government can play in economic development as an advancement from the past. 

News Coverage of the Story County Team

Ames Tribune: Public meeting Thursday for county 20-year plan (2015)

Ames Tribune: County seeks input for long-range plan (2015)

Iowa Planning: APA's Community Planning Assistance Team Visits Story County

Ames Tribune: Supervisors will hear economic development plan

Ames Tribune: County pushed to get economic plan

Meet the Team

Wayne Feiden, FAICP
Team Leader

Wayne Feiden, FAICP

Wayne Feiden has 30 years of planning experience. He led Northampton to the highest score in the Massachusetts scoring of municipal sustainability efforts and helped earn APA Great Streets recognition. Feiden also has a small consulting practice and serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Massachusetts and Westfield State University. His publications include three APA Planning Advisory Service Reports, most recently Assessing Local Government Sustainability. Feiden has a BS in natural resources from the University of Michigan and a master's in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina. His Eisenhower Fellowship to Hungary, Fulbright to South Africa, and Fulbright to New Zealand all focused on sustainability.

Deborah Meihoff
Team Member

Deborah Meihoff, AICP

Deb Meihoff brings 18 years' experience with redevelopment and revitalization planning. Her consulting firm has completed more than 40 community development and redevelopment plans for local governments and developers around the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on neighborhood redevelopment, public/private partnerships, redevelopment financing, and public process. Prior to opening Communitas, Meihoff was project manager for the Portland Development Commission, Portland's economic development and redevelopment agency. She holds a master's in urban and regional planning from the University of New Orleans and a BA from the University of Colorado.

Cathie Pagano, AICP
Team Member

Cathie Pagano, AICP

Cathie Pagano is a Planner for Gunnison County, Colorado. She has more than 10 years of experience working at the local government level on rural and resort planning issues. She has worked on projects ranging from agricultural preservation initiatives to energy policy. Pagano has a master's degree from the University of Denver in environmental policy with a focus on energy and sustainability. She is a member of the Regional Energy Advisory Board, Gunnison County Land Preservation Board, and the Gunnison County Carbon Policy Task Force. Pagano also works as a correspondent for Planetizen.

Russell Soyring, AICP
Team Member

Russell Soyring, AICP

Russell Soyring brings more than 30 years of experience in local government and regional planning. Most of that time he has served as planning director in Traverse City, helping earn that city APA Great Streets recognition and designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Soyring was past president of APA's Michigan Chapter, the Michigan Association of Planning, and continues to work outside of his community to address planning challenges. He holds a master's degree in regional planning from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's in resource development from Michigan State University.