To compete, Iowa must cultivate its career pipeline and grow

By Joe Murphy | Guest Column

The Iowa Business Council has worked to elevate Iowa’s economic vitality through global thought leadership, research and advocacy since it was established in 1985. One way we identify where we need to focus IBC’s efforts is through an annual report — Iowa’s Competitive Dashboard — released since 2011.

The 2020 data shows that while Iowa has held strong in most categories, our population growth, diversity and an uncompetitive tax climate continue to be challenges for business growth. As top business leaders evaluate the state’s landscape, creating a future-ready workforce, connecting business with education and attracting a more diverse population will be critical to long-term economic prosperity.

In the last year, the state experienced a better than expected gross state product, a budget surplus, continued low unemployment and high labor force participation. While these remain to be economic advantages for Iowa, it is paramount that the state expand its skilled workforce and recruit new individuals to Iowa.

When it comes to education, Iowa is ranked first in the country for average composite ACT score and ranks in the top 10 for the percentage of population with a high school degree plus some level of post-secondary credential or degree. This provides a solid foundation for our students and young professionals to fill in-demand careers. In today’s global, knowledge-based economy, state and local communities are increasingly differentiated based on the ability to educate, train and recruit a qualified workforce that meets the needs of industry. The IBC is focused on working with K-16 education systems to engage students and educators through work-based learning opportunities, exposing students to various career pathways through public-private collaboration.

As we look to our state’s competitiveness in demographics and diversity, it’s clear we have work to do. Iowa’s population growth has consistently trailed the national average and its net migration decreased by more than 1,000 people in the past year. Iowa’s ethnic diversity is increasing, with trends pointed toward consistent growth, but Iowa ranks in the bottom six states as it relates to diverse make-up.

Population growth must be accelerated in urban and rural communities to ensure economic prosperity while increasing the percentage of Iowa’s ethnic diversity. The IBC remains committed to advocating for the modernization of the immigration system so legal immigration can be used as a viable tool to recruit and retain talent. The IBC also is working with state elected leaders to engage on innovative policy changes relating to licensing requirements and tax incentives to remove barriers to employment.

We have much to be proud of as Iowans. We have opportunities that many states do not, such as our special blend of industry and career opportunities, safe neighborhoods, good schools, housing affordability, short commute times and recreational amenities. Simply put, Iowa is the place to live the life you’ve always dreamed of living.

As the IBC tours the state with this data, we will be working with communities to better understand their challenges and asking them to join us to upskill their population, attract new people to our state and create a welcoming environment for new Iowans. A collaborative approach is our best opportunity for success, and we look forward to working with Iowa’s Creative Corridor to reach our collective goals.  •

Joe Murphy is executive director of the Iowa Business Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose 23 members are chief decision makers of major Iowa employers.