If you ask economic development director Debi Durham, Iowa has a lot going for it – it just needs to be a little more vocal about it.
Durham had no problem praising Iowa when she spoke to the Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids on Monday afternoon. During her presentation she gave a review of the state’s public-private economic development strategy, touted new projects and hit on some challenges the state needs to address.
Iowa is bringing in huge capital investments, she said, and is working toward attracting more. And while studies show Iowa is conservative when it comes to doling out incentives, Durham said the vast majority are tax incentives to make a more competitive business climate.
“Until we get competitive, we need tools to be able to compete,” she said, adding the incentives are performance based. “You have to do well, we don’t just cut you a check.”
Durham said that, to continue to grow, Iowa should focus on what it’s good at, which is being a strong player in the financial services, advance manufacturing and bio sciences. Leaders also should not be afraid to tell people that.
She said the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) is aggressively joining the conversation.
“If there is a conversation on food safety or about feeding the world, we’re in it,” she said.
IEDA is actively bringing in more people to tour the state as well, using events such as wrestling tournaments and RAGBRAI to show off.
She recounted a story of a Texas site selector who had never visited until he came to ride in RAGBRAI. After cycling across Iowa, the group had secured a project, she said.
However, Iowa’s economic picture isn’t all rosy. There is a skilled labor shortage, she said, and IEDA is helping push Iowa Workforce Development’s Skilled Iowa Initiative, aimed at getting unemployed Iowans internships at companies where they can learn a marketable skill while collecting benefits.
Skilled Iowa also pushed the National Career Readiness certificate — advocating that job seekers test and asses their skills and employers hire those who are certified. About 7,200 businesses have signed onto the program, she said.
The development agency also would like to get an apprenticeship program up and running. Durham said she’s toured a Tulsa, Okla., welding school and spoke with the German ambassador about that country’s apprenticeship model.