A Visit to Akron, Iowa

Embedded Community Experience

Sharon Frerichs, the mayor of Akron, Iowa invited me to come and be a part of the Embedded Community Experience in September. I spent three days there.

WHAT HAPPENED:

I told the mayor, that once I stepped out of my car, I was hers. She took me at my word. The embedded community visit started at 11 a.m. Tuesday and we wrapped it up at 2 p.m. on Thursday. Many businesses were visited, as were the coffee groups. Tuesday evening, the City Council meeting hosted a question and answer session with me as the guest. Wednesday evening I presented to interested citizens about Innovative Rural Business Models. I explored empty buildings, visited non-profit groups, ate at local food places, spent some time at the river with Justin Higman and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

PROMOTE YOUR POSITIVES:

Location, location, location – you are the gateway to the Loess Hills, situated on the Big Sioux. This is a tourism dream! Start with activities you can do around the Big Sioux: canoeing, kayaking, fishing, etc. Don’t forget winter activities: ice fishing, snow shoeing, etc.

  • Local winery right in town.
  • An old hospital re-energized into a makerspace, a home for a local artist, housing a massage therapist and a collector of fine things, and room for more businesses.
  • Beautiful houses.
  • A local grocery store, pharmacist, medical clinic, local veterinarian, and local hardware.
  • Great places to eat and shop.
  • A school system envied by many and locals who support it. This includes the pre-school and the thrift shop that supports it.
  • Senior apartment living and nursing home, too.
  • A farmers market.
  • Local community theater.
  • Local musical education and entertainment.
  • A beautiful building that houses your history.
  • A campground area with cabins, RV space and activities.
  • Alternative healthcare options – massage therapy, essential oils, etc.
  • Hole in the Wall
  • Artists that live and work in your town

Suggestions for things you can do:

Big Ideas:

  1. Places to stay. Outside of the Hole in the Wall, there is not really anywhere for visitors to community to stay. However, there are ideas you can put into place. Upstairs housing that can be used as AirBNB is one avenue. Opening a boutique hotel is another. Both of those can be costly, and require investors. They are worth pursuing though.
  2. There are communities near you that have overnight stay housing available: Hawarden and Le Mars. What if you worked with them to create an itinerary that includes Akron? Give visitors a reason to stay in the area for two or three days.
  3. Add entrance and exit signage to your community.
  4. Work with the students and the Old Geezer Club to get that workspace used more often.
  5. Use the fact that you are the entrance to Loess Hills for your marketing of the town.

Now look at how you can take small steps to make it happen.

SMALL STEPS IDEAS:

A “Plant Your Flags” party has been scheduled for Monday, October 23 at 7:00 p.m. in the Security National Bank Community Room. It will let those who have ideas to get together, grab a flag, put a thought or idea on it, and let those with a similar interests join together to work towards a common goal.

If this sounds a bit vague, that’s because it is. This is a gathering for folks to come together and share their ideas. It’s not a committee meeting. Note taking and decision making are not suggested. Those who wish together on an idea will do so. This is where the small steps start: gather your crowd.

Perhaps a few folks could reach out to the hotels in surrounding communities and begin talking about places to stay, and offering them possible itineraries that include visiting Akron. This could be done by the Chamber or City, but what if there’s a few folks interested in doing it? Maybe parents whose children attend some classes at the SPA could partner with the volunteers at the community theater.

What if the Old Geezers Club started involving students in their workspace. Could they design some ideas for entrance and exit signs? It starts with just having a conversation about it. What would they want it to look like? Who do they know that could help them? Gather Your Crowd and Build Connections.

ACTION ALREADY BEING TAKEN:

  • Mayor Sharon Frerichs and Justin Higman attended a Mayors Conference on the Big Sioux river. Justin is attempting to get all of the mayor’s together from North Sioux to Sioux Falls, and then meet with the Iowa DNR and the SD DNR to set up a meeting on cleaning up their part of the river, and getting/pursuing info on a bike trail.
  • Agreement came through for the tear down of the old auto parts store.
  • Julie Madden covered the visit for the local paper at http://akronhometowner.com/
  • The city is showing the SaveYour.Town webinars for the entire community.
  • Prospective new business owners have been to town to look at possible locations (not at liberty to share their information).
  • The Akron Development Council is looking at investing in a new business – details will be released when the paperwork is completed.
  • Mackenzie Waddell is working with the Opera House to begin the process of historical status and main street store front restoration.

The beauty of Embedded Community Experiences is that it’s a chance for the town to see through my eyes. We hear so often ‘there’s nothing to do here’ that we start to believe it. Now, this small town can no longer say that. There’s many things to do, to be proud of and they are taking small steps to create their own brighter future.