The Case for Place-Based Economic Development

Posted January 23, 2024
Rezoning of Lower Muscatine Avenue in Iowa City

The recent rezoning recommendation of the vacated Kirkwood Community College at 1816 Lower Muscatine Road by the Iowa City Planning & Zoning Commission has opened the door to re-examine the current land use pattern in southeast Iowa City through a new lens — one based in “place.” 


The universal concern of many civic leaders is how to best secure a region’s economic future.  This means pursuing lasting economic development — i.e., seeking a sustained increase in prosperity, jobs, and quality of life.  We believe the right approach is place-based economic development that focuses on an area’s unique identity and sense of place as a competitive advantage for creating and sustaining growth. Placemaking, placed-based economic development, and activity centers all share a common origin in the importance of a strong neighborhood and the people that gather there, be it residential or commercial.  This is a driving approach of our new organization. 


A first test: Procter & Gamble Oral Care is interested in acquiring additional property adjacent to their current site in the Sycamore area of Iowa City.  P&G is responsible for the employment of more than 1,300 people locally with high-quality jobs that are accessible to community members from all backgrounds and education levels. They have been a cornerstone of the local economy since 1956. If P&G Oral Care is not able to expand locally, they will expand elsewhere outside our region. 


The site – currently being recommended to city council for Industrial rezone – sits adjacent to P&G Oral Care between a major arterial, a railroad, an electrical power substation, and the vacated Kirkwood buildings.  From a market perspective, their interest in future expansion of the site makes perfect sense and meets the goals of the current Comprehensive Plan. 


This could be the first domino to fall into a place-based approach of economic development. Businesses need predictability and understanding of the community’s goals and regulatory structure. Without a strong neighborhood vision or support, the market will exclusively dictate the next steps. So, let’s give them one. A clear neighborhood-scale vision for this area could demonstrate or drive how the unique attributes of this place can and should be leveraged to enhance and build prosperity for the larger neighborhood and community.  How does the growth of a critical, healthy jobs base in a centralized location support a stronger neighborhood? What could that look like? P&G Oral Care has long held the reputation of a good corporate partner. More information and a stronger neighborhood vision will help all involved.


As a new organization, we have a unique opportunity to work with our stakeholders to support transparency of process, accuracy of information, and a proactive vision for this area and others – respecting the existing place, local neighborhoods, emerging and long-standing businesses and community members. This is the opportunity of the moment.  Get engaged, learn, and support these efforts at