Living in Muscatine can sometimes give you the sense that you live in a small town. There’s not as much crime as there is in bigger cities, you can get just about anywhere in a few minutes, and it feels like a slower pace compared to some of the places that I’ve lived. So, I have to remind myself that Muscatine is one of the bigger cities, and Muscatine County one of the bigger counties, in Iowa.
Muscatine is among the top 25 largest cities in Iowa while Muscatine County is the 14th largest in Iowa. We have a number of global business headquarters in the city, including HNI Corp., a company that is listed on the Fortune 1000 top companies list. Yet, it seems to me like the city is struggling to find its identity, and perhaps it has been struggling with this problem for a long time.
Some view Muscatine as a bedroom community. They live here, they may have friends and family here, but they work and shop in Iowa City or the Quad Cities.
Others view Muscatine as more than just a place to sleep after a long day of work – they view it as their community. They work here, they play here, they worship and volunteer here, and they do most of their shopping here.
For the three-plus years I’ve lived here, it has felt like Muscatine has been teetering on this cusp of what Muscatine is and what its residents would like it to become.
With all of the industry and business in town, it's clearly more than a bedroom community, and despite what I understand was a couple of decades in which the city struggled, it seems to me like it's bouncing back. This is a community that is trying to grow and modernize. It's trying to attract more residents and more business and it seems to me like there is a lot of energy and passion being directed into trying to make Muscatine a modern micropolitan community.
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A lot of money has been and is currently being invested by HNI, Heinz and the other businesses in town to modernize their facilities and to produce more goods and services. This means that they need to hire more employees, which could bring more residents to town to increase our property-tax base, and more customers to our local businesses.
We’ve also seen the expansion of a number of service businesses in town. Both the Hy-Vee on the Bypass and the Hy-Vee MainStreet downtown have done some major investment and remodeling. Trinity Muscatine hospital just wrapped up a major expansion and upgrade to its emergency room and operating facilities, and of course, the new state-of-the-art Palms theater is a wonderful upgrade for Muscatine.
Things seem to be headed in the right direction to facilitate growth and even more modernization, but there have been some stumbles – the recent announcement of the closure of the J.C. Penney store in the Muscatine Mall seems like a real setback. And yes, I wish we had a good book store in town — I still like to read my books the old-fashioned way — and maybe an Irish pub where you can listen to some good Celtic music.
When I’m walking my dogs down Bidwell I wish that previous city leaders would have done a better job of putting sidewalks into the community. I find it odd that there are sidewalks on Mulberry, but not Cedar or Bidwell. To me, they all seem like important arteries into the city. It would be nice if someone who has lived here a while can explain the reason for the sidewalk inconsistency. I hope the city will consider modernizing and adding sidewalks in the future. The downtown is just one significant development away from becoming something special and it'll be nice when Mississippi Drive finally gets an upgrade.
But overall, there isn’t that much I would change or add.
I’m sure that like me, there are some things that you wish we had in Muscatine and Muscatine County that we don’t have. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on that, and I’m guessing our civic leaders would as well. As I’ve said before, if you call Muscatine your home — even if you don’t spend your day here — try to keep engaged. The more people working to make Muscatine the best that it can be, the better it can become for all of us, now and in the future.