Staff Spotlight: Nick looks forward to amplifying rural voices

Small Towns

Small cities have been the backdrop of my entire life, on a technicality. While both Iowa and Minnesota classify incorporated municipalities as cities regardless of their population, my hometown—Marshalltown, Iowa—and the town where I went to college—St. Peter, Minnesota—may be cities in the eyes of their respective states, but, to me and the residents who live there, they are rural in nature. I grew up in the largest town in rural Marshall County, Iowa, and most of my family who live in Iowa, live in rural communities. 

When I think of rural, I recall visiting my grandparents and riding horses with my grandpa. At the same time, the more urban identity that comes from living in a micropolitan area seemed misplaced as well. I didn’t live in a city, like Des Moines, but I felt a distinction between myself and people who lived outside of city limits. I didn’t spend any significant time on farms; I spent most of my time in town. Nonetheless, my hometown felt small and tightly knit, even though by Iowa standards, it has a relatively large population. 

In high school and summers during college, I worked at my parents' small veterinary clinic. I did a little bit of everything, from walking dogs and cleaning to answering phones and handling the front desk. This experience gave me a sense of how important small businesses are for a community. My family has always been a busy bunch. In addition to running a small business, my parents volunteered for various groups in our town, and my siblings and I played a variety of sports and joined an inordinate number of clubs. I believe we knew pretty much everyone in town, so while my hometown (population about 28,000) may not be small by Iowa standards, we saw it as a tight-knit community.

My years at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, a community about a third the size of my hometown where I studied political science and played soccer, made me love tightly knit communities even more. I was fortunate enough to intern for a congressional campaign and work as a field organizer for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. I met lots of rural residents in southern Minnesota and was able to hear their stories and about their priorities. Working in electoral politics showed me how easily elected officials can overlook issues that affect rural communities even if a huge portion of their constituents live in those communities. A lot of people I spoke with while recruiting volunteers or conducting phone banks were most interested in having someone who would listen to them as they talked through their worries and hopes for the future.

That’s what drew me to the Center for Rural Affairs. I have a strong desire to advocate for policies that will benefit small towns and rural communities, especially in Iowa. When I think about the people who stand to gain from stronger and more vibrant rural communities, I think about my friends and family. So even if my connections to rural communities are only tangential, my desire to make a positive difference for and with the people who live in them is personal. 

Nick is living in his hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa, which is just a short drive from the Center’s Nevada office. You can reach him at or 402.687.2100, ext. 1016. You can also follow him on Twitter @NickS_CFRA.