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Menner named USDA director of Rural Development for Iowa

By DANN HAYES

William Menner, executive director of Poweshiek Iowa Development

(POW I-80), has been named the Iowa State Director for Rural Development at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“William Menner will be an important advocate on behalf of rural communities throughout the state and help administer the valuable programs and services provided by the USDA that can enhance their economic success,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Menner, who has been with Pow I-80 since its founding in 2004, will work out of the Des Moines Federal Building and hopes to begin his new position by the end of the month. The search for his successor is currently underway and he said he will work with Pow I-80 to ensure a seamless transition.

“Although it has been about seven weeks since Sen. Tom Harkin called to say he was nominating me for the post, I am still pinching myself,” Menner said. “It is a great opportunity and would not have happened without the help of many people.”

According to Menner, his background in both public radio and as a member of a number of local boards and organizations was pivotal in his being named director.

“I will lead USDA’s rural development efforts using everything I have learned, seen and done,” he said. “And, I’m excited to begin helping to implement the vision for rural America developed by President Obama and Secretary Vilsack.”

Named executive director of Grinnell Renaissance in 2001—a position created in a partnership between the City of Grinnell and Grinnell College—Menner said the post helped him gain insight into city politics and policy making.

“I was asked by a member of the board ‘What do you think about one-way streets?’” Menner said of his time with Grinnell Renaissance. “I replied, ‘What do you want me to think about one-way streets?’”

Soon after, Menner developed a study explaining the rationale of one-way streets. He found that one-way streets are an effective way to get people out of town.

“We didn’t want that,” he said. The one-way signs in Grinnell were eventually removed with the road work and remodeling of the downtown area. “It was a great experience for me,” Menner said.

One of his many successes was in helping to locate area support and funding to upgrade and keep the Strand Theatre open in downtown Grinnell.

“It sends a message when in a little town the movie theater has a closed sign,” he said.

And there has been more.

“There has been a remarkable amount of energy returning to downtown Grinnell,” Menner said.

His focus changed a little in 2004 when he was named executive director of Pow I-80.

“I think we’ve had some great success,” he said. “But there are many more challenges out there.”

Menner moved to the Grinnell area in 1990 with his wife, Barbara Trish, a political science associate professor at Grinnell College. He would commute between Cedar Falls and Grinnell while working at the National Public Radio station, which aired from the University of Northern Iowa.

Menner holds a master’s degree in political science and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, both earned from Ohio State University.

Rural Development administers and manages more than 40 housing, business, community infrastructure and facility programs as laid out by Congress through a network of 6,100 employees located in 500 national, state and local offices.

These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers. It also improves the quality of life in rural America. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of over $114 billion in loans and loan guarantees.

UPDATED July 21, 2009 1:44 PM

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