JEFFERSON: Greene County Development Corporation leaders have been ironing out an ambitious project with an Iowa Latino outreach firm to attract employees and shoppers from Iowa’s fastest-growing demographic to the county — which is facing an urgent labor shortage.
Carlos Argüello, president and co-founder of Latino IQ, delivered the main address at the GCDC’s annual dinner Sept. 29.
The GCDC is working on a final arrangement with Latino IQ, and a vote is expected within that organization in coming weeks on what could be a years-long, gradual, but aggressive plan to build the ranks of Latinos in the region, both as residents and commuting employees.
“This is one of the most important projects we have ever discussed,” said Sid Jones, GCDC president.
Jones and GCDC Executive Director Ken Paxton said businesses and industry face challenges to attract and retain labor. Efforts to keep local high school students at home and recruit veterans, with Greene County serving as the inaugural Home Base Iowa county, have yielded results, but not enough to meet demand, local business leaders say.
So the county is turning to Latino IQ for strategies on how to reach into the Perry, Des Moines, Denison and other Latino-rich labor pools in Iowa.
“If we don’t do something about it, I think we know what will happen,” Jones said. “We will struggle.”
Argüello and Latino IQ have had experience working with a number of Iowa companies and organizations, including Webster City, Tyson, Iowa Student Loan, Iowa Lakes Corridor, Des Moines Area Community College and John Deere.
“We have the experience, and this is right up our alley,” Argüello said.
Argüello, who lives in Grimes, is a native of Nicaragua who grew up in Carroll.
“When my family moved to Carroll, we were one of the first Latino families in the area that actually stuck around and went through the school system,” he said. “I love the area. I know the area. I think what we are doing in this part of the state has some great opportunities.”
Argüello said the project is a natural for Greene County, which pursued a casino, high-tech jobs and other opportunities that have drawn statewide and national attention.
“What we do is help organizations understand and market to their Latino stakeholders so they can better acquire them as customers, residents, employees,” he said. “We provide our clients with critical and actionable data points.”
The goal is to raise the profile of Greene County with the Latino community.
One of the biggest concepts is to make Latinos feel welcome the region, Argüello said, so that job applicants come to employers’ doors in Greene County.
“It also means that we need to become a shopping destination,” Argüello said.
“Because we have to,” Argüello said. “If we don’t want to run the risk of what similar communities in Iowa and across the Midwest are going through right now, or are at great risk of going through, with their young professionals going to the cities, with employers going outside to other communities, we have to think outside the box a little bit.”
Argüello said Greene County is strategically located near several Latino-heavy Iowa cities.
“We have some very awesome opportunities,” he said.
Another component is the boldness and innovativeness of the county — which shows the community is willing to embrace change, Argüello said.
“We want to set the standard in Greene County,” Argüello said. “We want to be the pride of Iowa. We can be the pride of Iowa and show the state how to do this in a community it is not expected from.”
Argüello said Yankton, South Dakota, is a leader in boosting the ranks of its Latino workforce, and that Jefferson and other Greene County communities can learn lessons from that experience.
“It is impressive,” Argüello said. “This is not a pipe dream. It is happening all around us.”
Argüello said Latinos are church-going, community-minded and hard-working.
“We have among the lowest call-in rates to employers,” he said. “We work when we say we’re going to work. We do what we say we’re going to do. That dependability in a community like this can be very, very important.”