Project Better Together

Project Better Together aims to build a transformed future for our community with greater economic diversity, growth, inclusivity, resilience, and well-being for all. Led by The Iowa City Area Business Partnership, Iowa City Area Development Group, Think Iowa City, and the Iowa City Downtown District, this community-wide recovery effort includes leaders from the four partner organizations, all three hospitals, the school district, area non-profits, social services, private business, and elected officials from all levels of government.

To help drive the work it will take to achieve these goals, the four organizations announced the appointment of former President & CEO of the Iowa City Area Development Group, Mark Nolte, to serve as Director of Project Better Together. Under Nolte’s leadership and strong back-end support from the four partner organizations, Project Better Together will begin by working with the network to quickly identify an organizational framework that is inclusive, agile, and strategic.


Thanks to the support from Johnson County, MidWestOne Bank, West Bank, GreenState Credit Union, Great Western Bank, Hills Bank, Two Rivers Bank, U.S. Bank, CBI Bank and Trust, and other area partners, the Project Better Together team created a community-wide Shop Local program to help encourage and motivate local spending at Johnson County local businesses. The Holding Our Own Shop Local program motivated $823,870 of local spending through showcasing and incentivizing local businesses from June to October 2020.

HOO Final Report

Project Better Together Project Updates

Community Input:
Survey response data pulled from our June survey will help us create a new vision for the area that will ultimately shape future policy and actions.

Affordable Housing:
Strategic Doing Committees have begun work to help coordinate existing resources and develop new methods for addressing access and affordability or housing.

Black Lives Matter Demonstrations:
Members of the Project Better Together coalition worked to support peaceful protesting following the murder of George Floyd by providing support stations to protestors. Members also worked to clean graffiti from private businesses and met with organizers to advocate for peaceful protests without property damage.

Pop Up Service Centers:
The United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties, in collaboration with the Iowa City Community School District and their many partner agencies hosted CONNECT Pop Up events last week in North Liberty, Coralville and Iowa City to help people navigate housing assistance, food, internet access for students and a variety of other services available to support families.

BIPOC & Immigrant Business Grant Program:

A portion of the proceeds raised from the Holding Our Own Shop Local program are being reinvested through the Community Foundation of Johnson County to provide grants to BIPOC and Immigrant owned businesses impacted by COVID-19.



Social Justice:
The Project Better Together team continues to have discussions with community leaders, elected officials, and leaders of the Black community. We’ve conducted listening sessions and various webinars, and are participating in implicit bias training as well.

COVID-related Support:
We are currently working on opportunities to expand testing capacity locally and assisting with messaging for the 18-30 age group to encourage mask use

Holding Our Own Shop Local:
The highly successful shop local gift card program was launched in June and continues to build momentum. Community members are rewarded for spending with locally owned businesses with a FREE gift card.

Food Security:
The Food with Love Program was implemented as an immediate response to COVID-19, and efforts are now being made to expand ways to provide food resources to our most vulnerable, while also expanding the capacity for locally grown and sourced food. Two Strategic Doing groups are working simultaneously on these efforts.

Getting Clear on the Vision of a “Better” Johnson County, Iowa

Please take a moment to complete the survey below to provide input to our steering committee. We are working to translate the survey into multiple languages and will update them as they become available.

We need your ideas.

As we pull together as a community, we don’t just want to get back to “normal” we want to emerge stronger, better, more resilient. To do that we need to paint a clear picture of what “Better” looks like.

Necesitamos sus ideas.

Al unirnos como una comunidad no solo queremos volver a la ¨normalidad¨, queremos salir más fuertes, mejores, y más resistentes. Para hacer eso, necesitamos pintar una clara imagen de que es Mejor.

نحن بحاجة إلى أفكارك.

 بينما نتعاون معًا كمجتمع ، لا نريد فقط العودة إلى الوضع “الطبيعي” الذي نريد أن نظهر فيه أقوى وأفضل وأكثر مرونة. للقيام بذلك نحتاج إلى رسم صورة واضحة لما هو (الأفضل ).

The Project Better Together

Steering Committee


Brent Smith, Council Member (North Liberty)
Bruce Harreld, University of Iowa
Cady Gerlach, Shelter House + ICDD Board
David Barker, Board of Regents
David Kieft, University of Iowa
Dave Loebsack, US Representative – 2nd District
Ellen McCabe, Johnson County Housing Trust Fund
Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City
Jim Conard, West Bank + ICABP Board
Josh Schamberger, Think Iowa City / CVB
Judith Johnson-Mekota, Iowa City VA Medical Center
Kate Moreland, Iowa City Area Development
Katie Knight, United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties
Kelly Hayworth, City of Coralville
Kim Casko, Iowa City Area Business Partnership
Mark Butland/Lori Sundberg, Kirkwood Community College




Janet Godwin, ACT
Matt Degner, Iowa City Community School District
Mazahir Salih, Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa
Mitch Gross, Council Member (Coralville)
Nancy Bird, Iowa City Downtown District
Peter Matthes, University of Iowa
Royceann Porter, Johnson County Board of Supervisors
Ryan Heiar, City of North Liberty
Sean Williams, Mercy Iowa City
Shanti Roundtree, Pearson + Think Iowa City Board
Shelly Maharry, Community Foundation of Johnson County
Suresh Gunasekaran, University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics
Susan Mims, Council Member (Iowa City)
Ying Sa, Community CPA + ICAD Investor
Zach Wahls, State Senators/Representatives

Join the Team

Do you have an idea that can improve how we do things as a community? Are you willing to pitch in and make that idea come to life? If so, we want you on our team! Fill out your name, email, and let us know how you’d like to get involved. We’ll be in touch soon.

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