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Higher Quality of Life Points to Greater Economic Health for Communities

July 19, 2022

Summer is in full swing and there are many things that make Iowa summers so great. From hitting the trails to cooling off at the public pool to attending farmers markets, county fairs, and other events – there is not a shortage of things to do. Even in smaller, more rural communities across the state, there is a desire to offer opportunities that bring people together and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. And in fact, research suggests that a higher quality of life points to greater economic health for a community overall.

New research highlighted in an article by the Brookings Institution shows that in smaller midwestern communities, amenities like arts and culture and recreation combined with strong community services (e.g., public schools, access to child care) contribute more to the local economy than traditional business-oriented methods (e.g., lower taxes, business incentives). The data highlights micropolitan areas with a city and area population of 10,000-50,000 and concludes that, “Smaller places with a higher quality of life experienced both higher employment and population growth than similarly situated communities, including those that rank high by traditional economic competitiveness measures.”

Typically, quality of life is seen as the level of happiness and/or individual perception of one’s position in their life. For purposes of this report, “’quality of life’ is measured by the ‘extra’ housing costs that households appear willing to pay to live in a given county…”. This quality of life focused method also expands economic health regionally when a cooperative approach is applied by communities, providing amenities for residents and visitors in a broader area.

“This research and article really hit on why we do our work the way we do,” said Angie Widner, Vice President of Community Impact at the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa. “CFNEIA and our 23 affiliates are working to bring a better quality of life to Iowa communities through grantmaking while also connecting generous people to what’s important to them to create even greater impacts.”

In 2021, CFNEIA granted $6.8 million across 20 Iowa counties and donors gifted more than $14.7 million to the Foundation’s charitable funds. CFNEIA grantmaking focuses on six core areas including arts and culture, community betterment, education and youth development, environment and animal welfare, health, and human service.

“Healthy, vibrant communities is what we are striving to create. Investing in organizations and projects that are building recreation trails and parks, enhancing the arts, providing cultural opportunities, and many other things that enhance quality of life in an area is simply a great way to improve a community’s economic health,” Widner said.

More information about grant opportunities through CFNEIA or one of its affiliates can be found at