Sen. Joni Ernst is from the small town of Red Oak. So, hearing about pressing issues from a dozen

young entrepreneurs in New Providence on Wednesday was a welcome distraction from the

government shutdown and personal issues that have been in the news lately.

“I am thrilled to death,” Ernst said of speaking to the business owners. “Coming from a small, rural

community and to see this level of engagement from so many young individuals really investing in

their community really gives me hope.”

 

Ernst asked questions about the advantages and challenges of working and living in smaller

communities, and what the federal government could do better to help those small towns thrive.

The entrepreneurs agreed that a sense of community comes with the territory when living in a small

town. They know there’s a good chance they could make more money in Des Moines or Cedar

Rapids, but choose to live and work in Hardin County.

 

“I think (the advantage) is to serve the people that you know and have relationships with,” said Blake

Richie, owner of Blake Richie Designs in New Providence. “You see return customers, friends and

family, I think that’s the biggest thing. If we were in it solely for the money we probably wouldn’t be

here.”

 

Grand JiVanté CEO Korey DeBerg agreed. “If you need help everyone is willing to help,” he said. “You

don’t feel like you are on your own like you would be in a larger community.”

 

Ali Steiner, owner of The Rustic Rose in New Providence, told Ernst it’s about choosing how you

want to live. “One thing is quality of life,” she said. “You live in a rural community versus a city. It’s a

different way of life, but I like it. You don’t have access to absolutely everything, but you don’t need it.”

 

That’s not to say there are not challenges associated with starting a business in rural Iowa. Richie

said it’s tough for his business in New Providence to compete for quality employees. “I think the biggest

con to owning a business here would be the cost of health care, and today with the (low)

unemployment rate, to retain good employees, they want benefits and it’s hard for us to

afford that,” he said. Others agreed. Steiner said just getting access to health care is difficult because

she and her husband are both self-employed.

 

Caitlin Landt, who runs Heartland Family Chiropractic in Story City and lives in New Providence,

said she pays $680 per month for a mid-range plan for herself. Ackley Mayor Erik Graham said

before his wife started a new job with better benefits it would cost his family $1,400 per month for

coverage. “(Health care) a hindrance to so many small business owners because they either will have a

spouse that will go work elsewhere for the health benefits, or they find themselves trying to devote

themselves to a full-time job that has benefits and trying to start their own business with the time on

the side and you can’t really develop a strong business if you’re a part-time employee,” Ernst told the

group.

 

She added that both Democrats and Republicans can agree that making health care pricing more

transparent and revving up the competition would be steps in the right direction. “We should know

what it’s going to cost for a certain procedure,” Ernst said. “Then if Montgomery County Memorial

Hospital has this price and Adams County, or over at Corning they have this, then I can decide where to

take my services based on price.”

 

The group also discussed education. Of the 12 young entrepreneurs, only three had four-year college

degrees and only one was working in a field directly related to their degree. Ben Speck, who owns New

Providence Hardware and Speck Electric, said he thinks students need to weigh their options before

shipping off to four-year universities. “Entrepreneurs and people getting in and starting their own

business — it doesn’t take a four-year degree,” he said. “Now, you talk to high school us (referring to the

people in the room), and that’s all the teachers talked about was you have to go to college, you have to

go to college. You don’t have to go to college.”

 

Iowa Falls lost its largest child care provider in November, an issue that has plagued many small

Iowa communities. Mark Buschkamp, director of the Iowa Falls Area Development Corporation told

Ernst the lack of child care in the area is directly affecting families and businesses alike.

“We lost our child care center a couple of months ago and that’s had an impact on the workforce,” he

said. “People being able to go to work or having to leave work because now they have some stopgap

measures piecing two or three different people together to watch their kids.”

 

After the meeting, Ernst said she was headed to Washington D.C. on Wednesday night to vote on

ending the partial government shutdown. She said she didn’t know if the President Trump,

Republicans and Democrats could come to an agreement on Thursday.

 

“We have a series of votes that are scheduled and I will remain optimistic until proven otherwise,”

she said.

 

Ernst also clarified that Trump never officially asked her to serve as his running mate prior to the

2016 election, but she did talk to him about the possibility before deciding it wasn’t the right time for

her. “I withdrew my name (from consideration),” she said.

 

By Matthew Rezab, Times Citizen