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What can Austin learn from Dubuque?

When you use words like "integrity," "prosperity" and "vibrancy," you in turn hear words like these:

"Best Small City to Raise a Family," "No. 3 in the Nation for Job Growth," "One of the Seven Most Connected Cities in the World."

Those are just a fraction of the things Dubuque, Iowa, has been hearing, and Austin's leaders want to hear them, too.

The mayor, city manager and other officials of Dubuque were in town Wednesday to explain how — in addition to multiple other accomplishments — it went from a desperate, dying town to an international force.

The event, sponsored by the Development Corporation of Austin, was designed to increase awareness of how a community vision process might positively affect the Austin community.


What about Austin?

Yes, but...

That was clearly the thought of many present Wednesday, as evidenced by the questions that followed the presentation.

A $188 million project that restored the area along the Mississippi River is a huge draw in Dubuque.

"What if you don't have a river to build on?" one man asked.

"Then you take your strongest asset, and that's what you present to the rest of the world," Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol said.

In fact, said Rick Dickinson, director and COO of the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, "The Mississippi River was the most unsightly part of our community, and it was our gateway. Things don't always look like assets right away."

Young people are returning to the city, inspired by the solid employment and other opportunities.


But Austin is an "old" community, without much youth.

"Iowa is the fourth oldest state, on average," Dickinson said. "And Dubuque has the oldest average age in the state of Iowa. So we're the oldest-average town in the fourth-oldest state."

Look around you, he said. Within 100 miles of Dubuque, there are 250,000 college students; they are welcome with open arms, invited to lunch with CEOs and taken on business tours.

"Cast a big net, and think of them as your own," he said. "If you come to Dubuque, we're going to show you the love."

The reaction

"Austin is a great place to be," said Mayor Tom Stiehm, "but that's not enough. We have to keep moving. We have assets to build on."

Dubuque has shown us that this can be done, he said, "and I think the people in this room will make that happen."

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