Chamber works with Return to Better to spur local growth

MUSCATINE, Iowa-As Muscatine County businesses work to rebuild themselves from the economic setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry hopes to provide beneficial opportunities for them by partnering with the Return to Better Institute of Peoria, Illinois. May 7, the Chamber hosted its first joint event with Return to Better at the National Pearl Button Museum @ History and Industry Center.

Before assuming the role of President and CEO of the Chamber, Erik Reader spent time working for Startup Peoria and helped co-found Bike Peoria. While working as a part of these organizations, Reader reported having positive interactions with Return to Better and in 2020, he and others at the Chamber utilized several of their services to identify new opportunities for Muscatine and to apply for a grant. With economic rebuilding from the pandemic continuing in Muscatine County, Reader considered it an auspicious time to keep working with Return to Better.

At the Return to Better event May 7, a pair of speakers addressed local business leaders and discussed both economic challenges businesses face today and effective means for addressing them. Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Senior Program Officer Melissa Roberts Chapman detailed some of the specific issues midwestern businesses face, including recruiting and retaining talent in rural areas and addressing racial disparities in wealth. She also looked at ways entrepreneurs can ameliorate these issues and help grow their communities.

Return to Better Institute founder and Managing Partner Jake Hamann continued building on Chapman’s themes. Specifically, he detailed how Return to Better’s educational programming, identification of key service providers, policy and advocacy work, and Innovation Fund grants can help small businesses and startups overcome difficulties and thrive.

The Chamber also used the Return to Better event as a time to kickoff their Muscatine Ecosystem Survey to find out what area businesses feel they would benefit from most. After they collect responses from this online survey, the Chamber plans to identify additional educational or networking events that they can host along with Return to Better to meet any unaddressed needs that businesses feel they have.

Following the initial Return to Better event, Reader felt good about the prospect of continuing to work with Return to Better to spur local economic growth. “This was a great start to many good things to come.”

Through carefully chosen future events, he hopes to continue to foster Muscatine’s entrepreneurial character and to continue to keep Muscatine’s local businesses and industries thriving into the future: “Muscatine has a storied history of innovations, and the entrepreneurial spirit is strong here. This isn’t a new topic, but an excellent time to reignite efforts locally and to build off of what the Chamber has been working on over the past year.”