Alliant Energy and IBC Leaders Speak on North Iowa Successes, Room for Improvement

March 16, 2021

Jared McNett, Globe Gazette

Each and every year, the Iowa Business Council drops its "Competitive Dashboard" that's intended to show how the state stacks up against the rest of the country in metrics such as economic growth, education and governance. In any year, it's helpful for seeing both where Iowa has been and where it's headed.

Especially in a year dominated by the pandemic.

Rather than the pandemic sinking everything in Iowa, there were areas of improvement for the state in realms such as labor force participation and median household income. And Iowa Business Council members believe 2021 will only see a furtherance of those promising trends.

"We’ve come back from really catastrophic situations in our state but Iowans always come back. But it’s really important that we really set the tone and course for future success," Iowa Business Council Executive Director Joe Murphy said.

Terry Kouba, the president of Alliant Energy, an Iowa Business Council member, concurred.

"I don’t think I look at one tangible place where there is opportunity to grow. You’ll see businesses being more optimistic right now," Kouba said. For North Iowa, both Kouba and Murphy acknowledged that there are multiple fronts for the region to build on.

In the Iowa Business Council's Dashboard, Iowa is 35th in the country for active primary care physicians per 100,000 people with 84.8.  But an area such as North Iowa has the potential to up those numbers because of the presence of a regionwide health care system like the Mercy One North Iowa system.

"I would say we're not a health care association but they’ve done a great job in providing regional health care and leadership," Murphy said. 

For the past year, that health care has included a greater emphasis on telehealth to provider easier access for both patients and physicians. Murphy said that Mercy One and other health care systems should lean into those services as much as possible, not only because they'll bolster the well-being of an area, but they'll make it more appealing to outsiders as well. 

However, both Kouba and Murphy said that a further telehealth expansion isn't entirely possible without better addressing rural broadband issues. "We think we can help in this area a bit. It’s not only the infrastructure but we also then think about making sure we get the devices in the hands to utilize that network. A number of folks just don’t have that," Kouba said. 

At the beginning of March, the Mason City Council voted 6-0 to approve a proposed development from internet service provider MetroNet that would likely have them in the market before the end of the year. Murphy said that adding providers to a market can, at least, alleviate, some of the broadband issues seen in North Iowa and elsewhere in the state.

"I would say more providers provide more competition which will provide more services but on the whole we have to understand Iowa ranks 45th in internet connection speeds and that’s not a statistic we want to see," he said.

Along with improved infrastructure for the state's health system and communication network, Kouba and Murphy also agreed that upgraded recreational infrastructure is important. 

"From a workforce perspective, building strength in communities is critical," Murphy said. 

When asked about developments such as the Mason City Multipurpose Arena or the quest for an expanded trail system, Kouba echoed Murphy about the kind of strength such things can provide for a community. "Our company gets focused on how do we grow this rural economy? Amenities and opportunities that make Iowa an attractive place to live and work and when we add those those will tilt the scale a little bit."

Listen to full discussion here.


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