Dubuque County at risk of losing “Metro” status

Local economy and business experts are coming together to ask the Office of Management and Budget to strike down the proposal
Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 10:31 PM CST
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The Dubuque area could, potentially, lose its Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) designation soon.

As of now, metro areas must have a population of at least 50,000, but a committee is proposing the federal Office of Management and Budget double that number to 100,000 people.

144 metro areas would be downgraded to micropolitan areas if the proposal moves forward. Dubuque County would fall on that list.

Dubuque County would fall just short of meeting the threshold since it has a population of around 97,000. According to the proposal, the county would now be considered a micropolitan area.

Molly Grover, president and CEO of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, said this would go way beyond a name change.

“It is a significant impact to Dubuque,” she said. “To go from a metropolitan statistical area to a micropolitan statistical area basically wipes us off the map.”

Grover explained an MSA designation is one of the first things economic development organizations look at when contracting with site selectors.

“They are looking at those communities for businesses that want to invest, businesses that might want to relocate,” she said. “And they want to make sure that those communities have the workforce, have the infrastructure, have the overall capacity, if you will, to be able to be successful.”

Rick Dickinson with the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation says some assume areas who are not on the MSA list don’t have that capacity.

“Now whether that is accurate or not it makes no difference,” he mentioned. “Perception becomes reality in this case.”

That means industries like Flexsteel or Simmons Pet Food might have never come to Dubuque if it was not for its metro area designation.

Dickinson said the proposal could also affect the county’s ability to receive federal funding, like that for road and bridge repairs.

“The Office of Management and Budget has said, ‘Oh no, there will not be any loss of funding... Right’,” he said. “Maybe initially there will not be, but once you fall off that list then, instead of being part of an allocation, now you would wind up, as many communities are today, having to compete for limited dollars that may be administered through a regional office or would be administered by the state.”

Grover said the committee who issued the proposal is citing increase in population as the reasoning behind it.

“The report seems to indicate that the population has doubled since 1950, therefore the criteria should change,” she explained. “It is not that simple. You cannot just look at the statistical data. You have to look at the financial impact, you have to look at the economic impact.”

Both Grover and Dickinson agree, though, that stopping this proposal from going through must be a community effort, both locally and at the federal level.

“We need this rule change to be rejected, we needed to be halted and in order to do that we need to speak with a really loud voice,” Grover emphasized. “We can provide comments up until March 19, so we will be engaging our chamber membership and our business community, asking them to provide their comments and feedback as well.”

“Congresswoman Hinson, Senators Grassley and Ernst would appeal to them to reach out and say, ‘You know it is not broken, do not try to fix it’,” Dickinson explained. “And we think that is the way, the best direction for the nation to take and the best outcome for the Dubuque Metropolitan Statistical Area.”

In a statement to TV9, Congresswoman Ashley Hinson said she has heard from Dubuque constituents about the negative consequences the change would have on workers, families, and businesses.

“This is absolutely unacceptable and I am working with my colleagues to ensure this harmful proposal does not move forward,” Hinson said.

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