WAPELLO — An effort to provide an overview and gather input on a long-range planning document for economic development, community development and transportation in a four-county area of southeast Iowa was launched Monday in Wapello by the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC).

Zach James, SEIRPC assistant director, was joined at the Briggs Civic Center by SEIRPC regional planners Jarred Lassiter and Steven Stransky, for the initial presentation of a draft Transportation & Development Plan for the Great River Region of Lee, Henry, Des Moines and Louisa counties.

According to James, the Wapello meeting was the first of four planned in the region over the next several weeks. Once all the meetings are completed, a final plan will be presented to the SEIRPC Board of Directors for approval.

“We have three other meetings and depending on what we hear we’ll have to make some adjustments, but the plan is to present it to the (directors) at the end of July,” he said.

In an introduction sheet presented at the meeting, the SEIRPC planners explained the long range plan was important because it allowed a forum where new ideas could be discussed across multiple sectors, such as private industry, small business, public sector, education, health care and other areas.

The plan will also help everyone understand regional issues and trends; provide both SEIRPC and its partners with direction in which to focus its efforts; and support local and regional decision making and grant funding opportunities.

James said population numbers that peaked in the 1980s and have now been slowly dropping and aging housing were two key negative concerns facing the four-county area.

However, he stressed there were some positive developments in the four-county area as well.

“Tourism expenditures have been steadily rising over the past 10 years and retail sales are up,” he said.

While input the SEIRPC collected through surveys, stakeholder interviews, social media and other sources contributed to the development of specific goals and objectives, the comments received all related back to a regional vision “to have the highest quality of life.”

James said the long-range plan would probably look out about 30 years, although the breakout for specific ideas were categorized from five years or less up to six years or more. There was also a category for issues that were ongoing, with no specific timeframe for completion.

“(The plan) is a requirement (the SEIRPC) has with the Iowa Department of Transportation,” James said, adding the plan will also comply with U.S. Economic Development Administration planning requirements.

However, while the plan will meet requirements from various state and federal agencies, it will also provide local residents with the opportunity to voice their opinion.

“Ultimately this plan is a chance for us to hear from the region about things we should be focusing on or working with our communities on and how our communities can work together on,” James said.

The remaining three open houses will be at: Lee County — July 11, Pilot Grove Savings Bank, Donnellson; Henry County — July 16, Iowa Wesleyan University, Howe Center, Mount Pleasant; and Des Moines County — July 17, SEIRPC, Suite 100, West Burlington.

All the open houses will run from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

A copy of the plan is available on the SEIRPC website at www.seirpc.com.

Comments on the plan can be emailed to zjames@seirpc.com until July 20.