May 23, 2014


More than 650 firms in Iowa have the ability to expand to the tune of $9.3 billion in capital - but the state of the workforce is holding them back, said Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham.

Durham spoke to community leaders in the Carroll Area Development Corporation and the Manning Betterment Foundation at the newly opened Manning Regional Healthcare Center during a tour of Carroll County on Tuesday.

Iowa is an industry leader in manufacturing, bio-fields and finance, said Durham. But the state lacks the population necessary to learn the right skills to keep Iowa moving forward in an increasingly global world, she warned.

The issue can be tackled on multiple fronts - the key is to take a long-term approach. Iowa's economic goals should look at least a decade down the road, she said.

Communities must open their doors to - and actively recruit - new residents, as well as create economic opportunities that allow their own graduates to return home, she added.

"Our young people think different than our generation," Durham said. "They are very global, very tolerant, and they want to be connected to the world at any given moment."

Communities must be enthusiastic and creative to tackle - or avoid - the decline seen in so many small western Iowa towns.

"Look at communities like Manning (that) are taking their downtowns back," Durham said.

This attitude encourages start-up companies, which receive the majority of available state grant funding and are responsible for 80 percent of Iowa's growth, she added.

But there is always more room for private investment to promote similar innovation on a larger scale.

Iowans should understand that there are skilled-job openings that do not require a four-year degree, Durham continued. Local educational institutions can capitalize on this need and train workers to fill needs specific to industry gaps in the state economy.

And local economic development leaders must also reach out beyond the borders of their small rural towns. Global partnerships have been key in marketing Iowa products, she noted.

The message on all fronts should be one of opportunity, and the economic development director believes the state is moving in the right direction.

"We want you to move to Iowa because we're ready for you," she said.