The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

May 13, 2014

Survey will seek input on Iowa's small towns

AGENCY — Many small towns in Iowa struggle to survive even though they offer quality of life features that are hard to find in big cities. Understanding these unique features is the goal of a new Iowa State University study.

Researchers Terry Besser, Stephen Sapp, Deborah Tootle and Georgeanne Artz have received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to study the quality of life in Agency and other small towns and assess how these characteristics affect community survival.

This is the third time Agency has been selected to participate in an ISU study of community life. The first time was in 1994 when researchers surveyed about 15,000 residents randomly selected from 99 communities — one in each county. Residents in the same towns were surveyed in 2004 and another group of residents will again be asked to participate in 2014. The three studies spanning 20 years can provide valuable insight into the changes in small-town life over the last 20 years and the effectiveness of various development strategies.

“We have the wonderful opportunity in this study to learn how the events of the 1990s and the 2000s impacted small-town life. This knowledge will be useful for small-town leaders and residents in their efforts to help their towns survive and even thrive in the future," Besser said.

Within the next two weeks, researchers will contact randomly selected households in Agency by mail and ask a designated adult in the household to participate in the study. Each person who receives a survey represents 20 to 35 other Agency residents. Therefore, it is vitally important that those selected complete and return the survey.

It will take several months, perhaps as long as a year, before the survey process is completed and the information is analyzed. At that time, a report of the results will be made publicly available through local extension offices, the local newspaper and/or library and directly through Iowa State University’s Department of Sociology website.

Any questions may be directed to Besser at or Sapp at

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