Aligning resources to strengthen Iowa’s Creative Corridor

By Dee Baird and Mark Nolte / Guest Editorial

Last week, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD) announced a new partnership aimed at creating the nation’s most comprehensive and efficient existing industry program.

National figures indicate roughly 70 percent of all job growth in a region is a result of existing companies adding positions. Our collective missions to enhance the local economy recognize this reality and task us with finding the best means to assist the firms we serve. To create the ideal programming and solutions for our clients, we must first seek to understand their needs.

Both organizations utilize the same dynamic survey tool as many economic development groups throughout the country, allowing us to have statistically reliable, comparable data which reveal trends over time. We interview top executives annually from the interstate commerce firms in our region, and with this information, we address immediate opportunities and needs as well as plan long term for legislative issues, workforce gaps, infrastructure and broader community development goals. As we address and better respond to the needs of our existing companies, we create a stronger and more marketable region to achieve our collective goals for attracting and creating new employers.

As we continue to realize how best to grow and strengthen our economy, the leadership of our organizations challenged us to find opportunities for efficiencies and optimizations of service. We have strived to identify ways to work more collaboratively as a region, and recent staff changes presented us with an opportunity.

On the heels of a presidential search, ICAD, in the south node of Iowa’s Creative Corridor, has been evaluating the best way to conduct interviews with its interstate commerce clients. Meanwhile, after a successful merger and organizational transformation, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance tabbed Allison Antes to work with existing industry in the northern part of the Corridor.

Ms. Antes has demonstrated exceptional talent administering these interviews for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. Her knowledge of the area, commitment to customer service and passion for helping employers succeed makes her ideally suited for this role. Rather than duplicating efforts, it made sense to evaluate how both organizations could best utilize her expertise to create the highest level of standardized regional data gathering.

ICAD and the economic alliance have long worked together on various economic development initiatives. Sharing an employee is a great sign of the enhanced trust and commitment to collaboration between our organizations. Not only does this partnership benefit both sides operationally, but also financially, allowing us to dedicate additional resources to serving our clients and aiding in the larger challenge of workforce skills alignment.

During the past year, our organizations have been working beside the lead of Kirkwood Community College and the Institute for Decision Making at the University of Northern Iowa to begin the process of creating a comprehensive, systematic regional workforce plan. This new plan will be announced in the coming months and stands to dramatically impact our ability to align the needs of current and future employers with the skills sets and educational attainment of our workforce.

With the recent announcement that our region will be recognized as one Combined Statistical Area, there is tremendous new potential that we must work to take advantage of. The eyes of the world see us now as a developing and powerful force for future investment. Further, it validates our claim that we are more connected and interdependent than we have acknowledged in the past.

Regional development is a concept that takes time and must be predicated on aligned goals and a foundation of trust and openness. We see this announcement as a great step on the path to strengthening Iowa’s Creative Corridor.


Dee Baird, President and CEO, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Mark Nolte, President, Iowa City Area Development Group.