Shortage of skilled workers seen as impeding growth in Iowa

'It's a race for talent right now'

Rod Boshart
Published: January 29 2014 | 5:45 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:48 am in
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Iowa’s economic development chief made a pitch Tuesday for more state money to fund targeted apprenticeships, internships and other efforts to address a shortage of skilled workers that is dampening expansion by existing Iowa businesses.

“It’s a race for talent right now,” said Debi Durham, director of the state Economic Development Authority, who asked a legislative budget panel to triple funding for apprenticeships to $3 million in fiscal 2015 and earmark $2 million for internships in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas. The efforts would be separate from the $55 million in workforce training initiatives approved last session.

However, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, a co-leader of the Legislature’s joint Economic Development budget subcommittee, said the competition for high-skilled workers is more than a race, it’s a “real serious war” for talent and he believed the state should be investing more in job training, retraining and workforce development than what is being proposed with at least 7,000 jobs “sitting out there unfilled.”

Durham told the budget panel that her agency’s “high-level intel” with Iowa companies interviewed since 2007 indicated that 673 firms have expansion plans representing $9.3 billion worth of economic impact and 7,000 jobs for Iowa communities over the next two to three years. However, she said the “but for” impeding their growth is 311 firms indicate they have no room to expand and 384 say they are experiencing employee recruitment problems.

Durham said her agency has partnered with a private company on a certified site program for firms that don’t feel they have adequate space to expand with an expectation of starting the first round of certifications next month with state opening a new application round this month. The program has $400,000 budgeted for the program this fiscal year and $500,000 in fiscal 2015.

The EDA director also told the committee that Iowa continues to fare well in landing major projects using nearly $17 million in state incentives. Business capital investments under the Branstad administration have topped $7.5 billion and resulted in 26,814 direct and indirect jobs expected for the Iowa economy.

Durham said she expects another “$1 billion-plus” project to be announced for Iowa “as early as this quarter.” She would not comment further, other than to say it would not be another fertilizer project.

“I don’t see any end in sight,” Durham later told the Senate’s Economic Growth Committee in discussing the state’s job-creation successes. “Our pipeline is full.”

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