The top three factors influencing where CEOs locate new facilities are, in order: availability of skilled labor, highway accessibility and quality of life. That’s according to a 2016 survey of CEOs by site selection and economic development publication Area Development. As a state economic development official, I believe my role is to position my state to meet these global economy needs. But state government definitely cannot go it alone—private/public partnerships and a strategic vision to elevate the whole State of Iowa is how our economy will compete on these factors and more.
1. Availability of skilled labor. Whether you’re a small research lab with less than 40 technicians or a manufacturer of large-scale construction equipment employing hundreds— the attraction and retention of skilled labor is critical in today’s business environment.
Iowa has the nation’s top public high school graduation rate, but like all states, our manufacturers are asking us to help them find workers with more advanced, job-ready skills. Our goal, through our Future Ready Iowa initiative, is for 70% of Iowans in the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. Our soon-to-be-governor, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds has spearheaded this initiative along with private industry leaders like Dan Houston, President and CEO of The Principal Financial Group.
Our universities confer the 5th most science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees per capita in the U.S., and we are working to interest even more students in STEM. Grade school STEM programs increased the number of students in our high schools taking STEM-related AP tests 22% in three years. Plus, Chief Executive ranked Iowa’s workforce quality 2nd best in the country.
2. Highway accessibility. In Iowa, our focus is on intermodal transportation—trying to create seamless cargo movements between, trucks, rail and barges. The Iowa Department of Transportation recently engaged with a nationally reputable logistics company to analyze our transportation infrastructure and make recommendations for strategic improvements for freight transportation. One of those improvements we are in the process of implementing is construction of a large transportation terminal in the eastern part of the state which will offer cross-dock, transload and intermodal services. Our goal is to optimize how Iowa’s manufacturers get their products to emerging global markets.
3. Quality of life. To keep our towns pleasant, our economic development department administers a nationally recognized Main Street America program, which helps communities restore historic downtowns and attract independent businesses to retain and enhance community character. Our cities are vibrant and growing, including a booming craft brewing scene, and accessible outdoor recreation—including more than 2,200 miles of state-maintained trails for biking, running and walking.
Iowa employees bring talent and commitment to the job and they also benefit from an affordable quality of life. Lower housing, utilities and food costs allow Iowans to stretch their take-home pay and live the lifestyle they want. Plus, the average commute time of 19 minutes gives you something money can’t buy—time.