Business Leadership Network holds community forum in Mason City

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, along with staff and faculty from the UI College of Public Health, recently visited Mason City in north central Iowa. The visit was part of a series of community forums organized by the College of Public Health’s Business Leadership Network (BLN).

Formed in 2011, the BLN reaches out to small and medium-sized businesses in Iowa communities to form collaborations around public health needs identified by local residents. To date, the BLN has hosted 15 community forums throughout the state, bringing together business owners, economic development leaders, public health officials, health care providers, local elected officials, agency and organization representatives, and university personnel to talk about local health issues.

“Our role is to facilitate conversations about these topics, encourage connections to address concerns, and provide education and resources whenever possible,” says Tara McKee, BLN coordinator.

The Nov. 4 Mason City forum focused on workplace health and safety, mental health, obesity, smoking cessation, and employer-employee relations. Past forum topics have included agricultural health and safety, cyber-bullying, health care reform, women’s health, and substance use.

“We do these forums with great anticipation and excitement that we’re going to bring people together in a community who might not actually be in a room together on a regular basis, and that they’re going to learn from each other as much as from us,” adds Sue Curry, dean of the College of Public Health.

Learn more about the Business Leadership Network community forums and community grant project at

BLN, UI President Harreld visit Mason City

The UI College of Public Health’s Business Leadership Network held a community forum in Mason City on Nov. 4. Faculty and staff from the College of Public Health and UI President Bruce Harreld met with community leaders in health care, business, government, and education to discuss health topics.

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Business Leadership Network announces Community Grant awards

Business Leadership Network logoThe University of Iowa College of Public Health and its Business Leadership Network announced six award recipients under a new Community Grant Program. The organizations received cash grant awards ranging from $1,253 to $3,000.

The recipients of the first round of funding are: Athletics for Education and Success, Fort Dodge; Carry on Bags, Fairfield; Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health, Mason City; City of Storm Lake, Storm Lake; Hamilton County Public Health, Webster City; and Southern Prairie YMCA, Creston. (The projects are described in more detail below.)

The grant program funds, in conjunction with an equal cash match from another organization or business, will be used for public health-related initiatives and projects in the recipient communities.

“These grant awards underscore the College of Public Health’s commitment to collaborating with local businesses, organizations, and leaders throughout Iowa to improve the health and well-being of our state’s residents,” says Sue Curry, dean of the College of Public Health. “This initiative provides resources that will help to strengthen our college’s ongoing partnerships with those in Iowa’s business community.”

The College of Public Health provided the grants as part of its Business Leadership Network (BLN) initiative. Some of the funds for the grant program are provided by the UI Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The BLN, established in 2011, fosters ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships between the College of Public Health and small and medium-sized businesses and communities in Iowa. Through these relationships, the college engages and collaborates with communities in development of cutting-edge, high impact public health research, enhances educational programs with service learning opportunities within businesses, and promotes a culture of health throughout communities.

The first round of grant funding was available to nonprofit organizations and local government entities within the Business Leadership Network regions in north central, west central, and south central Iowa. A second round of the grant program is expected to be offered again in 2016. Details about the grant program, as well as additional information about the Business Leadership Network, is available at:

Community Grant Award Projects

  • Athletics for Education and Success will work towards curbing incidences of youth violence by providing enriching and fun activities on weekends that teach healthy social skills for children.
  • Carry on Bags provides food security for children outside of school hours and seeks to increase visibility and donations and develop an evaluation process for its program.
  • Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health seeks to improve their ranking in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Ranking through establishing a worksite wellness education, recognition, and reward program.
  • The City of Storm Lake will offer a 10-session interactive class that assists citizens in becoming more connected with local government and intends to bring together a wide cross section of citizens who want to make a difference in the community.
  • Hamilton County Public Health seeks to advance intergenerational dialogues and allow youth to engage in shared leadership roles in their community through conversations that explore the concept of public health and identify public health issues important to them.
  • Southern Prairie YMCA will partner with Creston High School’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America to strengthen community well-being through youth-centered focus on reducing current and future health and financial risk through preventative dental care.

The Business of Better Health

Small and mid-sized businesses are the foundation of many Iowa communities—the hubs of activity that are plugged into every aspect of community life. They sponsor softball teams, contribute to charitable organizations, and support the local schools. These businesses also rely on a productive workforce, and their leaders understand the value of creating livable communities with healthy populations.

In 2011, the UI College of Public Health rolled out a new initiative, the Business Leadership Network (BLN), designed to engage Iowa businesses and communities with the training, service, and research opportunities offered by the college. The BLN currently encompasses 46 counties throughout the state with the ultimate goal of engaging all 99 counties. The BLN provides participants with opportunities to connect with other business and industry leaders throughout Iowa around public health priorities, and to share ideas and best practices for community health and wellness.

Place-Based Public Health

“We understand that public health is place-based,” says Sue Curry, dean of the College of Public Health, “and we wanted to establish a network that would help us create and foster mutually beneficial relationships with businesses and communities around the state.”

According to Curry, the great strength of the network is its flexibility. There is not a menu of prescribed public health programs or a list of services. Instead, the course and shape of the business and community relationship with the college is guided by local needs and priorities.

“The concept of ‘network’ is really central to the initiative,” Curry explains. “We want people to view it as a way to share information, exchange ideas, and explore opportunities for collaboration, not only between the college and various businesses, but from business to business and community to community as well.”

The network has a steering committee of 10 businesses leaders who have an intrinsic interest in public health and a strong commitment to their own communities.

“These people are the ones who make the network function,” says Mitch Overton, Business Leadership Network coordinator. “They open doors for us, help us organize meetings and events, and essentially function as our liaisons to help identify people in their own communities and networks who should be involved in any public health-related discussions.”

In addition to the steering committee, the network has grown to include more than 300 business, community, and health care leaders across Iowa.

Healthy and Safe Employees

Gerald Edgar is the health and safety manager for Mitas Tire North America in Charles City and serves as a member of the BLN steering committee. According to Edgar, the connection with the UI College of Public Health is an important one for both his company and his community.

“Having healthy and safe employees is important for any company, and working with the college and other businesses to share information and expertise is a real benefit,” says Edgar.

Through Edgar’s connection with the BLN, Mitas Tires and the college are discussing opportunities for students and faculty to conduct research that could be useful in creating a safer work environment for Mitas employees.

Creating Relationships

The BLN has focused on creating relationships in two areas of the state where the college has not traditionally had a strong presence: north-central and south-central Iowa. In the past two years, the Business Leadership Network has hosted eight community forums in these regions, taking CPH faculty and students on the road to present information and, most importantly, engage participants in public health-related conversations that lead to new collaborations.

Curry says the forums have been a beneficial experience. “Members of our faculty have given presentations on important topics such as the Affordable Care Act and cyberbullying, but to me, the highlights of every forum are the group discussions among community members, faculty, and students,” she says.

Topics at these discussion tables have included aging populations and the workforce, community health and wellness, and workplace health and safety. While the discussion tables are given a topic, they have no specific agenda and participants are free to explore ideas. According to Overton, CPH faculty have established some potentially productive relationships with community members at these forums.

“By simply getting the college together with these community leaders and sharing information and ideas, we’ve started a dialog that can lead to valuable collaborations and innovations to address public health issues in Iowa,” he says. “That’s exactly how a network is supposed to work.”


Business Leadership Network Steering Committee

  • Jill Baze, Van Gorp Co., Pella
  • Gerald Edgar, Mitas Tires North America, Charles City
  • Maureen Elbert, Kossuth/Palo Alto Economic Development, Algona
  • Mona Everson, Life and Health Care, Webster City
  • Greg Fenton, Lee Container, Centerville
  • Claudia Gates, U.S. Bank, Ottumwa
  • Michael Halley, Natural Selections, Fairfield
  • Kevin Klemesrud, American State Bank, Osceola
  • Rich Paulsen, Creston News Advertiser, Creston
  • Don Woodruff, Woodruff Construction, Ft. Dodge