The newcomers created over 400 new businesses that market, program, manufacture, or trade. I worked at two of the town's 40 software and telecom companies; my ex worked for a technical recruiting firm. A friend of mine programs databases for Overland Sheepskin, which sells its wares from Fairfield, and another founded a national ceramic-tile business. The largest employer right now, Cambridge Investment Research, serves broker/dealers nationally and employs 400 Fairfielders.
None of these businesses needs to be in cities, as long as they can rely on good communication and transportation infrastructures, which the town provides.
Fairfield suggests a way forward for small Iowa towns that have lost agricultural and manufacturing jobs: information-age "knowledge" work as programmers, salespeople, online retailers, and middlemen. Fairfield needed to attract college-educated people who were committed to staying, and got them thanks to the Maharishi. It provided the necessary infrastructure and capital. The result jumps out at you as you approach the town and start seeing the large new homes. Fairfield also has built a hoppin' performing arts and convention center (named for Stephen Sondheim, go figure), a premier park and trail system, and a well-stocked library. It also hosts a monthly art walk on which you can visit the surprisingly numerous local galleries, eat food catered by local chefs, and dance to music from a bandstand.
Some argue that to create real wealth, businesses need the kind of face-to-face interaction that only cities can provide; others argue that the Internet and modern travel make urban location irrelevant. They find support in the example of Fairfield. I haven't checked to see how Fairfield's economy, dominated by small businesses, has fared recently and I figure its ups and downs will reflect those of the overall economy, but it is hardly the only Iowa town to buck the bleak trends pictured by Bloom.
Iowa's emphasis on education has provided Bloom's bread and butter, and mine too; I work for the University of Iowa, whose regents hold the license for Iowa Public Radio's classical service. I first looked into a classical radio career when I lived in San Francisco in 1991 (Bloom was there writing speeches for the mayor). The head of the major station told me his field was dying and that the jobs would disappear over the next decade. But in 2001 I began what is now a ten-year career in Iowa, whose abundance of orchestras, choruses, and bands points to why it steadfastly maintains a classical service.
Like Bloom, I have lived in Iowa City, the Berkeley/Cambridge of the state; I now live in Cedar Falls, a leafy college town in the northeast, which is part of a larger urban community centered on Waterloo, an industrial city like many in the Midwest and Northeast. Mention of Waterloo reminds me that Bloom overstates the religious and racial homogeneity of Iowa. Waterloo is 13.9 percent African-American (PDF); Martin Luther King gave a sermon there in 1959. The fastest-growing population in Iowa is Latino -- their numbers increased by 84 percent in the last decade, accounting for 58 percent of Iowa's overall population growth. Latinos now make up the majority of residents in the town of West Liberty, 15 miles southeast of Iowa City -- the first such majority-Latino town in all of Iowa. The oldest functioning mosque in America is in Cedar Rapids, a half-hour north of Iowa City, but you can also find mosques in Iowa City, Des Moines and Davenport, not to mention a Hindu temple in Madrid, near Des Moines. Greek Orthodox churches thrive in Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Waterloo, Des Moines, and Dubuque. And Iowa City's Agudas Achim offers both Reform and Conservative Jewish services; should one want more, there is the Hillel Society and the Chabad center on campus.