President Barack Obama brought his message of rural economic development Tuesday to eastern Iowa that included stops in Maquoketa and DeWitt, until settling in Davenport.
The White House organized the rural economic forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, about 10 miles west of Dubuque.
The college is home to a popular job training program, and it’s in Dubuque County, where the unemployment rate in July was 5.6 percent. That’s less than Iowa’s 6 percent rate and far below that national rate of 9.1 percent.
Much of rural Iowa has suffered from a lack of jobs and decades of shrinking population, but Dubuque County has seen growth in recent years.
“The college seems to have a knack for having a relationship with the business community,” Iowa Sen. Tod Bowman said.
Local officials credit the college for some of that growth, noting it offers an array of training programs and has been successful at matching graduates with employers.
Among the region’s successes was luring an IBM facility employing more than 1,000 people to Dubuque.
After completing the forum, Obama stopped off at a volleyball practice at Maquoketa High School and ate an ice cream cone at the DeWitt Dairy Treats in DeWitt, where a line of people greeted the president.
He then stayed in Davenport on Tuesday before heading to Illinois today.
Herold said the college and the larger region offer proof that there are ways to stop the drain of rural population seen across much of the nation.
Last month, the census reported that only 16 percent of the nation’s population lives in rural areas. That’s the lowest ever and is down from the 72 percent who lived in rural America in 1910.
Herold said it’s important to focus on developing the rural economy, where many people want to live but can’t find work.
“Our job is about upgrading the skills for rural Iowa,” said Herold.
Obama joined with business owners, farmers and others at the economic forum who broke into groups to discuss different aspects of the rural economy.
The president’s visit to Peosta, population 1,300, caused a buzz Tuesday morning.
About 400 people lined the streets outside the community college, cheering and chanting as Obama’s motorcade pulled into the college.
Some said they showed up simply to see the president.
“I think it’s an opportunity to see the president of the United States come to a small town,” said Tammy Van Cleve, of Peosta. “Whether you are with him or not, it’s an opportunity to see our commander in chief.”
Larry Conrad, of Peosta, agreed. “It’s a big deal for all of Iowa, but especially Peosta,” he said.
Richard Wagener, of Dubuque, said he came to the college to demonstrate his distrust of the president, especially over his support for abortion rights. He held a sign reading, “I don’t trust Obama. Abortion kills.”
Wagener said, “The No. 1 problem is abortion. I just don’t trust him. He’s breaking the country.”
Most others were more supportive, possibly reflecting Dubuque County’s longstanding support for the Democratic Party. Democrats hold a nearly 2-1 ratio in party registration in the county over Republicans.
“We’re just waiting to show the president and everyone else that he’s our president and he’s doing the best he can,” said Carole Reed, of Dubuque.