Corning, Iowa

Iowa | 1998 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/15/1998

Corning (pop. 1806) was established in 1857 and became the county seat in 1869. Prosperity followed for nearly 100 years and it was known as the most progressive town in southwestern Iowa. Corning had chautauquas, lyceums, a Commercial Club, Culture Club, schools, and an academy — much more than the average town of its size for the region. However, this small rural community has had to struggle to achieve its goals and has come face to face with economic challenges.

The population had steadily declined since the turn of the century and, in the 1960s, a food processing plant, Major Brands, moved away, leaving 150 people without jobs. The depressed farming economy of the 1980s hurt local businesses, and in 1990 the National Farmers Organization relocated, leaving another 117 people unemployed, and abandoning six buildings on main street. Additionally, a tornado in the business district and fires in several of the local landmarks physically marred the face of downtown.

Corning found the courage and leadership to mold a consensus to fight for survival and succeed. A cooperative spirit emerged from the local government, business sector, educators, and citizens that together they can succeed in making their community vibrant and healthy.

Corning's downtown revitalization effort started before the establishment of the Iowa Rural Main Street Program. As a result of the state's Assessment of Services and Community Needs survey, the Retail Development Committee created a long-term comprehensive plan for downtown. A Certified Local Government commission was established to provide guidance in planning, repair, and preservation. Three years later, Corning was accepted as one of the first Rural Main Street communities in the State of Iowa.

Since 1990, the revitalization effort has generated 74 new jobs and 65 new businesses. One hundred thirty-two renovation projects have spurred more than $1 million of private investment in rehabilitation. Taxable sales have increased 26 percent, and the real estate tax base has increased 6.35 percent. Corning has become a shopping destination by marketing a mix of quality goods and services with small town hospitality to lure shoppers from the metropolitan areas of Iowa and Nebraska.

Corning is an excellent example of what an active approach to downtown management can do to boost a rural community faced with adverse conditions that truly believes and practices that it can succeed in making downtown an attractive and profitable place to live, shop, and work.