Staff spotlight: After time in Washington, D.C. Nathan returns to Midwest roots

Small Towns

Many years ago, my great-great-great-great grandparents, Joseph and Malvina Choquette, built a spare frontier cabin in Salix, Iowa, just south of Sioux City. They came from up north in Canada looking for the promise of the American west, hoping to make a new life for themselves on Iowa’s bountiful soil. They did just that, and started generations of Choquettes farming in the area.

A town like Salix has always faced its challenges. The 1920s saw a crashing agricultural economy, the 1930s brought the Great Depression, and the 1980s brought a farm crisis of its own. Through it all, community life, room to breathe, and living on the land have compensated small town folks for their labors. 

Today, new challenges are facing towns like Salix, towns that can sometimes be left out of the equation by lawmakers and other leaders in larger cities. Some of these issues have to do with losing access to health care resources, with a difficult environment for starting small businesses, underfunded schools, and a host of difficulties in the agricultural economy.

For my part, I was born in Sioux City and grew up mostly in Des Moines, so my background is an urban one. Working on a small orchard in Adel and spending a summer traipsing around small towns in southwest Iowa, though, opened my eyes to some of the challenges and opportunities in rural communities.

After college, I worked a number of blue collar jobs, was awarded a graduate fellowship in public policy and law in Philadelphia, and eventually wound up working in Washington, D.C. In our nation’s capital, I worked on federal and state regulatory reform and continued my efforts as a freelance journalist. I always felt, though, that I belonged in the Midwest, and I sought out opportunities to return to the heartland. I wanted to put the skills I had gained in writing and public policy to use for Midwestern people, particularly rural people, rural communities, and the land they live on.

That desire led me to the Center for Rural Affairs, where I am excited to get to work on issues surrounding tax policy, health care, and economic development for Nebraskans. It is good to be back in the Midwest, to be among the spacious farm fields and prairie, and, with the Center working for the benefit of my neighbors.