Looking at data and recent studies, it’s easy to see why Iowa has received accolades for our economic growth, governance, quality of life and education. Our state’s unemployment rate is under three percent. In fact, according to Iowa Workforce Development data, some Iowa counties are seeing unemployment levels below two percent.
Our high school graduation rate is best in the nation. Iowa is among the top three states for affordability, and we’re also in the top tier of best-run states.
These recognitions, and the policies and initiatives implemented to achieve them, ought to be celebrated. However, to position Iowa for the future, citizens and policymakers should adopt a mindset that we’re only approaching the precipice of exponential growth.
Recently, the Iowa Business Council, of which I’m a member, released its annual report, Iowa’s Competitive Dashboard. The organization, which is comprised of executives from some of Iowa’s top private employers, identified areas in which our state can improve in order to solve challenges that will impede future growth.
The Iowa Business Council’s study found that more can be done to address workforce training. At Wells Enterprises in Le Mars, the company I have the privilege of leading, we’ve been forced to begin establishing a talent pipeline beyond Iowa’s borders to fill the high-quality careers we have available today. Simply put, we’re having difficulty finding workers with the right skillsets to meet the requirements of today’s careers, let alone the technical careers in our state’s future.
Unfortunately, this challenge isn’t unique to Wells Enterprises nor to other Iowa Business Council-member companies. The governor’s Future Ready Iowa Alliance, which examined workforce needs, recently released its findings showing that a public-private partnership was needed to strengthen workplace readiness for job seekers and employers across our state.
We recognize that government won’t be able to solve this problem alone. To address this challenge, Iowa Business Council members have committed to collectively hire 30,000 interns, externs and apprentices by 2025. Preparing workers to be successful means demonstrating to them and their educators the types of skills and training they’ll be expected to have upon entering the job market.
In an area of the state in which our neighbors, South Dakota and Nebraska, have lower individual and corporate tax rates, Siouxland families and small business owners understand how important having a competitive tax climate is for Iowa. The Iowa Business Council’s Competitive Dashboard found that Iowa’s state business tax climate index ranked us 40th out of the 50 states. Not only do job creators look at these metrics when deciding where to grow and invest, but workers look at individual tax rates when determining where to live, work and grow their families.
The Iowa Business Council is pleased that the governor and the Iowa Legislature have demonstrated a willingness to make Iowa’s tax structure simpler and more competitive. Like lawmakers, Iowa Business Council members also believe that these steps should only be taken in fiscally responsible ways.
Simply put, job creators need predictability from government. A fiscally responsible approach to reducing Iowans’ tax burden will not only make our state more competitive and spur growth, but it will also maintain stability in state government, which will give job creators the confidence to grow and reinvest in our local communities.
Iowans should be proud of the national recognition we’ve received for good governance, education and quality of life. However, it’s imperative that as a state we don’t become complacent.
Iowa Business Council members will continue to advocate for positioning Iowa families and Iowa job creators for an extended period of economic growth. The Iowa Business Council’s Competitive Dashboard provides a valuable roadmap to achieve success, and a series of policy recommendations that policymakers ought to consider this legislative session to improve our state’s overall competitiveness.
Mike Wells is president and chief executive officer of Wells Enterprises, which is headquartered in Le Mars, Iowa, and is a past chairman of the Iowa Business Council.