Merging Transportation and Economic Development Plans in Iowa

Note: This case study initially appeared in the NADO Research Foundation 2012 report Aligning Strategies to Maximize Impact: Case Studies on Transportation and Economic Development and was also a presentation given at the 2011 RPO America Peer Symposium during the National Rural Transportation Conference in Washington, DC.

Following heavy flooding in 2008 and a period of population growth, the East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG) embarked on a new planning initiative in 2010.  ECICOG combined its CEDS with the Region 10 Regional Planning Affiliation’s (RPA) Rural Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) into a Comprehensive Regional Development Strategy (CRDS). The CRDS, notable for its outreach efforts and the active involvement of the private sector, helped form new relationships in the region and revealed new opportunities for aligning resources.

Renewed Regionalism

Prior to the collaborative effort of the CRDS, ECICOG was already accustomed to working with other agencies in the region. In an unusual arrangement for Iowa, ECICOG’s service area also contains two externally-staffed metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). The overlap “requires us to ensure that we take steps to communicate more than in an area where the situation doesn’t exist,” says Mary Rump, ECICOG’s transportation director. “Because we’re in different policy bodies, coordination is both essential and more challenging.”   The ECICOG region is also unique as the only region in Iowa that gained population in all of its counties from 2000 to 2010.

According to Hilary Copeland, geographic information systems (GIS) specialist and transportation planner, this growth helped to generate more interest in planning and a regional identity than in regions that did not experience growth. “It gave the region a more cohesive feel, that we’re all growing together,” she explains.

Severe flooding in June 2008 caused damage across eastern Iowa, concentrated in ECICOG’s three most populous areas. Although the recovery process temporarily hampered regionalism as communities focused on local issues, it also raised awareness of ECICOG’s status as an EDD and the availability of EDA funding. EDA assisted many flood-stricken jurisdictions that previously had little knowledge of the agency or its resources.

With a new recognition of the EDD and its funding, it was “an opportune time to engage the conversation” about collaborative planning, says ECICOG Executive Director Doug Elliott. “The timing was such that people were far enough in the recovery process to be willing to start looking at regionalism again.” This increased interest in cooperation, along with the region’s growth, led ECICOG to make a strategic decision to update its CEDS two years ahead of schedule and combine it with the LRTP.

Private Partnerships

The timing was also ideal for ECICOG to strengthen its relationship with the Corridor Business Alliance (CBA), a membership association concentrated in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids that supports business growth and workforce development. Dee Baird, now the President and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, was a foundational leader for the CBA. Like Elliott, she also cited an increase in interest among the business community in working regionally following the floods, and the CBA began meeting in 2009.

One of the CBA’s early objectives was to complete its own regional economic development plan. Realizing the need for funding and public involvement and aware of ECICOG’s CEDS process, Baird recognized the value in working on a joint plan rather than pursuing separate parallel efforts. The two organizations negotiated the details of the hybrid public-private initiative, which, for example, included more transportation and housing elements than a private sector plan would. “At the end of the negotiation, the feeling was that doing it together was worth it,” says Baird. “We acknowledged each organization’s philosophy to make a more collaborative environment,” so that objectives and roles were clear from the outset of the project.

ECICOG then formed a planning work group analogous to a CEDS committee. The work group’s nine members represented both the public and private sectors and the metro and non-metro areas of the region. ECICOG staff facilitated meetings to condense the information gathered into defined goals and priority investment areas. The work group then drafted a document, which was circulated among the public to seek further input. The CBA hosted a meeting of board members, university representatives, business leaders, and other stakeholders to unveil the final version.

The CRDS planning process cost $45,000, including expenses such as bringing a speaker to the regional economic development summit. ECICOG used funds that were not available to other private organizations, such as the CBA, including regular EDA and Iowa DOT planning appropriations. The public-private partnership allowed each organization to apply its strengths to the project, with ECICOG focusing on facilitation and planning and the CBA convening an extensive network of stakeholders.


The CEDS and LRTP are both compliance documents, meaning that they must follow the requirements established by EDA and the Iowa DOT, respectively. While there are several overlaps in some areas, such as data needs and public participation, meeting both checklists in a single document was a manageable challenge. For example, the public meetings did not generate enough input on transportation issues to satisfy the LRTP’s more prescriptive format, requiring an additional online survey specific to transportation.

As ECICOG’s transportation director, Rump valued the broad participation process for generating input on transportation issues from stakeholders other than service providers and policy makers. This allowed the transportation portions of the CRDS to give “a true planning perspective and move beyond an emphasis on programming,” she says.

Many of the differences between the CEDS and LRTP are procedural; “in planning themes, they’re not completely dissimilar,” explains Copeland. The planning work group mentioned above served as the CEDS committee. One of the biggest differences in requirements related to jurisdiction and the overlap of the six-county EDD and seven-county RPA service areas. Cedar County, which would not have normally been included in the CEDS, is part of the CRDS. ECICOG was able to address all timeframe requirements by identifying objectives as short, middle or long-range.

Overall, the “issues came together nicely,” says Copeland. Both the CEDS and LRTP require data to support the objectives that ECICOG identified, so the joint planning process was integrated and efficient. Whereas an explicit relationship between transportation and economic development was missing in prior planning efforts, the CRDS established the link and, according to Rump, “moving forward can only enhance the relationship.” The CRDS also uses a higher level regional perspective than the CEDS or LTRP alone, which “ties the elements together more so than at the local level,” she says.

Using the Document and Implementation

To help the whole region understand the content of the CRDS’ 131 pages, ECICOG created a two-sided brochure with a condensed version of the vision to hand out at meetings that refers the reader to the full document available online. Members of the CBA have used the same brochure when talking about economic development planning across the region.

ECICOG has used the information collected in the planning process for other related purposes. When applying for grants, the agency is “able to provide a consumable base of information” that has already been collected and analyzed, explains Elliott. The CRDS also helps ECICOG be more “nimble in responding to Federal Funding Opportunities.” Several large employers and other regional leaders have requested data from ECICOG, which helps to raise the agency’s profile and build relationships.

The CRDS also encouraged ECICOG to diversify funding sources for specific projects. According to Rump, she and other staff previously focused only on traditional transportation funding that was available to them, without recognizing that “what we want to do doesn’t need to be funded through transportation programs—there are other programs that could have a significant financial impact on transportation and economic development.” For example, private corporations and employment training programs interested in ridesharing services can partner with ECICOT.  These funding sources require different groups to work to together to create a larger scale project that has benefits for multiple groups. “These relationships weren’t there before” the CRDS, says Rump.

The CRDS does not assign any priorities, timelines, or responsible parties for the policies and actions it recommends. According to Elliott, this was a strategic decision because the plan was “built on relatively new relationships.” One year after the document’s completion, ECICOG challenged the nine-member work group to reconvene and prioritize actions in each policy area. Elliott expects the process will take three months, and encourages the group “to be bold and presumptive” about who will take responsibility for implementation. As these meetings continue, the work group will identify methods of measuring accomplishment and the viability of the plan’s objectives.

Looking Forward

“The success of the process itself has been more than anticipated,” says Elliott. One of the most important outcomes is the strength of new relationships. For example, ECICOG joined the CBA, which Elliott believes would have been unlikely prior to the CRDS. ECICOG’s transportation planners now have a relationship with the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, moving towards the plan’s goal of promoting a more resilient region.

Aligning transportation and economic development planning has helped ECICOG also align resources to meet its policy and program objectives. The involvement of numerous public and private agencies in the CRDS laid the foundation for continued regional collaboration.

Takeaway #1: “Put the good stuff up front”

The CRDS process challenged the ECICOG staff to combine different sets of requirements from the EDA and DOT with public input from a variety of stakeholders into a user-friendly document. Elliott’s goal in crafting the plan was to keep the most compelling portions up front and place the high quantity of data and other federal requirements in the back. This strategy keeps the document consumable and accessible. A simple brochure outlining the regional vision also helps to distill the content.

Takeaway #2: “Be flexible”

ECICOG experienced a learning curve in combining its CEDS and LRTP for the first time, which required the staff to be flexible throughout the process to respond to unexpected challenges. The staff met weekly to evaluate progress and adjust as necessary. For example, according to Copeland, the staff intended to use modeling software and other scenario planning tools, but found that the diversity of the region made this method too complex. They decided instead that a simpler approach to data collection and analysis would produce a higher quality product that could serve as the basis for policy recommendations.

For more information:

This case study was researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Graduate Fellow Kate Humphrey under the direction of Associate Director Carrie Kissel and is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-06-H-0029 through the NADO Research Foundation’s Center for Transportation Advancement and Regional Development (  Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.


Contact Joe D'Antonio

Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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