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A Rural County Offers Free Land to Housing Developers

Andrew B. Clark, SPOKE Communications, LLC

A small county in South Central Iowa is launching an innovative approach to attracting home builders. Officials in Clarke County are starting to give away land to prospective contractors.

The Clarke County seat is Osceola, a town of about 5,000 people. There are more than 4,400 non-farm jobs in town, more than half of them held by people who don’t live there. The executive director of the Clarke County Development Corporation, Bill Trickey, says this means employers in Osceola are constantly scrambling to find workers. One solution, he says, is to remove the risks for residential developers.

“We will provide a lot to the builder at no cost to the builder," Trickey says. "And then we will cover the builder’s interest costs on a construction loan for 12 months from the start of the project.”

Trickey says there’s possibly a vibrant housing market just a half hour south of the sprawling Des Moines metro area.

“We’re trying to convince builders that there’s the same kind of demand, or some demand anyway, in rural towns," he says. "It’s just hard for them to take the risk. It’s a challenge facing all of our rural communities.”

Trickey says many communities offer tax abatements for home buyers, but not many provide incentives for home builders.