A solution to Iowa’s worker shortage
Des Moines Register, Mary Andringa
February 27, 2019
For the better part of the last century, Iowans have struggled with flat population growth. In 1900, Iowa was the 10th most-populated state. Based on the 2018 U.S. Census population estimates, we now rank 31st. That drop is the largest such decline among states.
Our stagnant population is becoming an impediment to continued economic growth across the state. If you ask just about any Iowa business owner — regardless of business size — you will most likely hear about our workforce shortage.
Now is the time to take an active step toward addressing the main crux of this workforce issue: increasing our population by attracting a diverse set of individuals to fill Iowa’s quality careers.
As the chair of the Iowa Business Council (IBC), a nonprofit organization comprised of 23 executives from Iowa's largest employers, our industries vary but our challenges are similar. We all understand the implications of a tight labor market. The good news is, our companies are invested in Iowa and know it is going to take enhancing the workforce — both in strategically recruiting new, diverse faces and transforming the current workforce with a series of upskilling opportunities — to overcome our barriers to increased economic success.
Annually, the IBC releases Iowa's Competitive Dashboard, a report that measures how Iowa is competing nationally in five indicators: economic growth, education and workforce, governance, health and wellness, and demographics and diversity. In response to this data and Iowa's performance in these metrics, our members identify priorities that will help move the needle and strengthen our economy. When reviewing the 2019 dashboard, the data backs up our first-hand experience of our current primary deterrents to growth: the need for an expanded, trained and diverse workforce.
With this data, we have set goals associated with each indicator. To increase population and diversity, we’re conducting research from around the state and country to evaluate how we can best position Iowa to potential newcomers and potentially implement other states' successful efforts here.
Over the past quarter century, Iowa has seen many initiatives to grow its population. This time, IBC members are coming together to put our collective shoulder behind diversifying and growing our population. This means attracting diverse talent from other states and standing with efforts to modernize our country’s immigration system to better recruit and retain international talent.
In the near future, we’ll bring together a partnership of stakeholders to make recommendations on how we can succeed in this effort. We will identify how we can create more inclusive spaces for all to feel comfortable to succeed, evaluate Iowa’s landscape, and work to leverage existing resources to attract a wide array of families, young professionals and middle-career executives to our state.
I know this approach can stimulate growth because I have seen it firsthand. At Vermeer Corporation, an international company based in Pella, Ia., our team members speak 25 languages to support our business in Iowa, and around the world. Our continued success is a result of our ability to attract and retain a diverse set of workers, with the expertise needed to fill today’s high-skilled careers.
The IBC commends Iowa’s elected officials for working to address workforce issues through bipartisan legislation like Future Ready Iowa, which the IBC actively supports. Nevertheless, our labor shortage will not simply be fixed by one piece of legislation.
Iowa’s companies and communities need to be the leaders in bringing about change. The IBC is excited to take a leading role in the effort to increase our current population, attract more diverse workers and up-skill those willing and ready to learn. We look forward to the entire business community’s involvement to grow our state’s economic potential.
Mary Andringa is chair of the board of Vermeer Corporation.