Seven teams of Drake University management students presented their visions last week for filling the vacant buildings in Perry’s retail district by integrating and marketing the town’s leading attractions: bike trails and prairie art.
The presentations were the first installments in a new collaboration between the city of Perry, Drake University and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Over the next 18 months, Drake students from areas such as design, public relations, business entrepreneurship, journalism, education, planning and environmental science and policy will be working on strategies to boost the city’s image as a trail-friendly, art-friendly and investment-friendly place.
Last Wednesday’s presentations were held in Aliber Hall on the Drake campus, and Perry was represented by Mayor Jay Pattee, City Administrator Butch Niebuhr, Assistant City Administrator Sven Peterson, Perry-Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Wilson and City Engineer Matt Ferrier.
“This pilot marks another step in Perry’s steady march toward economic sustainability and brings a sense of unity to our downtown development efforts,” said Pattee. “We want to invoke the kind of partnership between the public, private and non-profit sectors that have proved so successful in Perry in the past.”
“Working with Perry on a downtown revitalization project provided a great service learning opportunity for the Drake students,” said Deb Bishop, associate professor of management and director of Drake’s entrepreneurship centers. Bishop’s management students visited Perry in April and shared their ideas in the first round of presentations last week.
“The project allowed them to connect with the community while applying classroom concepts,” Bishop said. “Engaging with the world of business gives incredible learning experiences not possible from a textbook. It will be good to see what happens as the interaction between Drake University and the community of Perry continues to unfold.”
The Perry-Drake partnership began in February when Mandi McReynolds, director of community engagement and service learning in the Drake University office of the president, met with a number of local community leaders in Perry to discuss preliminaries of the project. Brainstorming done at that meeting was used by Bishop’s management students to prime their own imaginations.
“Perry has immense potential for successful development,” McReynolds said, “and that’s why the students in our community-development capstone course chose Perry for the pilot project.”
McReynolds said other steps in the collaborative partnership will bring grant-writing interns and research students to Perry. The capstone faculty visited the town in late March to assess the project.
Local attendees at the February meeting included Hotel Pattee owner Jay Hartz, Carnegie Library Museum volunteer Laura Stebbins, Iowa State University Extension Community Development Specialist Alan Vanderhaar, Iowa State University Extension Latino Business and Community Development Field Specialist Jon Wolseth, Perry-Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Wilson, Nudgers Chairperson Cindy Sohn, Art on the Prairie Committee Chairperson Mary Rose Nichols, Perry City Council member Phil Stone, Perry City Administrator Butch Niebuhr, Perry Assistant City Administrator Sven Peterson and others.
February’s two-hour brainstorming session brought out many interesting ideas from the participants. These ideas then informed the students’ research plans as did their visit to Perry in April for a first-hand look at ground zero of Perry’s revitalization efforts.
Other Drake faculty involved in the project include Joan Faber McAlister, associate professor of communications studies; Carol Spaulding-Kruse, professor of Engish; and Kelli Bruhn and Jennifer Glover Konfrst, assistant professors of journalism.
Additional faculty are likely to join the project, which is still fluid in outline. Possible research studies will consider branding, marketing, communications plans, strategies for promoting a distinctive sense of place in order to draw tourists and new residents, trail usage and economic development in historical perspective and an entrepreneurship workshop for women.
The first-round studies are available for review at the Perry City Hall.