Former Ashford campus crucial for Clinton’s role in rural economy

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CLINTON, Iowa - The push is on to create a STEM and vocational academy at Clinton's former Ashford University campus.

"We've had a lot of meetings with state officials like the governor, lieutenant governor and their staffs," said Mike Kirchhoff, Clinton Regional Development Corporation, on Thursday, December 15, 2016.

When the campus closed in May 2016, some 150 jobs also disappeared.

"This place has taken some hits, but so have most rural communities,"  said Dean Barber, a site consultant with Barber Business Advisors.

Kirchhoff envisions residential, day and international students that could also collaborate with area businesses for internships and jobs.

"This is a great thing for population and for our workforce in Iowa," he said.

Clinton leaders are learning why rural economies need to be flexible. Barber's presentation calls for embracing the digital age.

"If you're adapting to this new digital machine age, I think you can win," he said.

Barber, who is based in Dallas, praised Innovation Rooms at Clinton schools that have attracted national attention.

"Now, the tough part is getting the collaboration between educators and the private sector," he said.

Clinton leaders reviewed accomplishments and challenges during 2016.

The Illinois deal to revive Exelon's plant also gives Clinton something to cheer about.  The decision saves some 90 jobs in the Clinton area.

"It's important for the entire region," Kirchhoff said.  "It's a major economic impact and a major economic win."

Clinton is looking for a future in rural America that blends tradition with new ideas.

Envirovision Recycling revived a long-vacant warehouse while tripling its workforce.

"It's been a real blessing," said Plant Manager Chris Cobb, back in August 2016.  "The city's been great to work with, too."

When Clinton's Target store abruptly closed, developers seized the moment.  They created seven stores in the same space.

A new Aldi store and $30-million apartment complex complete this new gateway to the city.

Local developers plan to ramp up its Industry Program in 2017, cultivate international contacts and get certification for its Rail Park site, among other initiatives.

"These are very positive things for Clinton," Kirchhoff concluded. "We're very excited about this."