Downtown Dubuque, Iowa: A Study in Economic Diversification

real estate  /   /  By Tracy

Iowa is a state with an economic history based in reinventing itself. While farming has always been an intricate part of its economy, Dubuque itself has moved through a variety of industries since it was founded. The downtown central business area was devoted to the machinery of this city’s economy and remains the heart of the economy to this day.

History of Dubuque

The first settler within its territory, Julien Dubuque, was drawn to the minerals tucked beneath the ground. Although he died before all the lead deposits could be extracted, the knowledge of what laid beneath the ground drew settlers and pioneers. The area reflected the European culture of its settlers, including the French aspects. Yet the lead did not last. So the city diversified, opening itself up to a variety of industries. The timber and mill working industries grew due to the city’s close proximity to the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota. By the 1880s, this city had grown to be a significant urban center. Shipping and trade were based on its strategic location next to the Mississippi River.

Dubuque, Iowa

The city’s industries included boat building, brewing and the railroad. As a result, the city drew immigrants who were following the manufacturing jobs. These immigrants were predominating Roman Catholic, so the area became the seat of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Convents, abbeys and religious education institutions were built throughout the following decades. Today, although there is much religious diversity, the city still retains a strong connection with its Roman Catholic roots. For example, the only Catholic daily newspaper in the United States, the Daily Tribune, was published in Dubuque.

Overtime, automobiles began their ascent in the culture of America. Dubuque also was part of this industry. During the early 20th century, it hosted a portion of the brass era automobiles. Although this industry folded, Dubuque continued to maintain its strong manufacturing roots well into the 1980s. Yet this was a decade of significant change for the district, as rules in manufacturing and the crisis in farming meant the economy suffered. Still, the community did not sit on its laurels, but began to move away from heavy industry throughout the 1990s.

Today’s Dubuque

Today, this economy reflects not only its farming roots, but light industry, tourism, technology and publishing. Along with growth in the health care and education sectors, Dubuque has seen its economy thrive without a major manufacturing focus. An example of the city’s growth is the Port of Dubuque, which is a source of development and investment. Tourists find plenty of options, such as the city’s orchestra, aquarium, opera house and casinos. The parks throughout downtown also give residents plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy.

Downtown has maintained many of its historical features, but reflects the changes of the city itself. This center of both transportation and commercial interests also serves as the hub for all other districts and surrounding neighborhoods. Throughout this district, there is evidence of a hard working population that continues to draw business to this area in the heart of the Midwest farm country.

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