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Iowa Economic Development Director Debi Durham says she and her team travel the state about three days a week, focusing on development efforts at the local community level. And in her keynote address at the Marion Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting Oct. 17, she said she’s been continually impressed with Marion’s development initiatives in recent years. “I’m a big fan of yours, and the reason why is your commitment to your plan and the way you bring people together collaboratively,” Ms. Durham told about 400 meeting attendees at the Cedar Rapids Marriott. “You allow for diversity of thought – in fact, you embrace diversity of thought. But the key part is you actually are very intentional about implementation of your plan. For that, I give you a great deal of credit, and I send a lot of people your way to say ‘you should do it like Marion does.’” In her 30-minute presentation, Ms. Durham pointed out that while the state faces numerous economic challenges, from a dramatic workforce shortage and a need for more child care spots, she said she her office is promoting Iowa’s liveability to prospective new residents. Advancing the state’s economic prosperity, Ms. Durham said, “is about building a business climate in which our businesses can prosper – everything (from) taxation or regulation (to) workforce training and infrastructure investments. But today, I would say it's almost equal, if not more, about building communities that people want to live in.” Iowa has also revamped its Workforce Development division to move from an image as an “unemployment office” or a regulatory agency to one that proactively pursues workforce retraining and includes a Business Engagement division. “Not only did we shrink the number of days or weeks that you could get unemployment, because we were one of the richest in the nation,” Ms.Durham said. “We’re still allowing for those anomalies. If you have a major plant closing in a small community, we're always going to do right by those people. “The other thing was we created this concierge service,” she added. “So instead of touching base with someone coming in for unemployment at week five, we’re touching them at week one. What we’re seeing is that it works both for the employers and the employees – and I would say actually more for the employee, because we can find out what they enjoy about work. We can get you connected to a career that you want to go to work every day. So it's been tremendous.” Also, by marketing Iowa’s liveability, the state can attract younger families who, because of the expanded remote work opportunities from the COVID-19 pandemic, aren’t restricted to higher-population urban areas to live and raise a family, Ms. Durham said. And it begins when people visit Iowa for the first time, and their perceptions of a sometimes-obscure state are changed. “Clearly, we need to grow our population,” she said. “We're not going to do it organically, but we have to bring people in. So the question is, when people travel and they have this ‘wow experience,’ does it cross their mind that they can see themselves living here?” The meeting also included remarks from current Chamber board chair Matt Skogman, 2023 board chair Holly Corkery, Chamber president Jill Ackerman and Uptown Marion Main Street program director Brooke Prouty. Ms. Ackerman pointed to several city development highlights, including the completion of the Seventh Avenue streetscape and north plaza improvement projects. The city has received a $3 million Destination Iowa grant for the next phase of Uptown revitalization, the Central Plaza reconstruction project, set to begin in 2023, and the Indian Creek master plan was completed, identifying nine locations for new amenities along the creek’s route through Marion. In the past year, the Marion chamber has added 39 new members, boosting its membership to 308, and participated in 31 ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings, according to information presented at the meeting. Nine new businesses opened in Uptown Marion over the past year, and the Chamber has distributed 1,000 community welcome packets to prospective new Marion residents. The Chamber’s new Welcome Center also totaled $19,000 in Marion-themed merchandise sales.