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Business, Legislature focus on Iowa’s workforce shortage

Business, Legislature focus on Iowa’s workforce shortage

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DES MOINES — State legislators began work Thursday on the next phase of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa initiative, the same day a business group issued a yearly report indicating the lack of available skilled workers remains the biggest threat to Iowa’s long-term growth.

Legislative subcommittees gave initial approval to a multipronged measure that includes a child-care challenge grant program for working Iowans, a workforce diploma pilot program, computer science instruction, work-based learning coordinators, apprenticeship training and last dollar scholarships to help a broad range of Iowans find a niche in Iowa’s workforce.

“We are going full force ahead” to make Iowa more competitive, the governor told her weekly news conference. “There are a lot of things that we are focusing on that can help address the workforce shortage that every state in the country is experiencing.”

Mary Andringa, leader of Vermeer Corp. in Pella and the Iowa Business Council, said the council’s latest competitiveness check shows the lack of available workers remains the biggest threat to Iowa’s long-term growth.

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“As has been for a while, we have more job openings than we have people unemployed,” Andringa told a Statehouse news conference. “So we definitely have a need to bring more people into the state.”

According to the IBC’s yearly report, Iowa is in a strong financial position but faces an ongoing challenge in filling jobs with skilled workers,

“Over the last year, the state experienced a solid gross state product figure, a budget surplus and low unemployment,” Andringa said. “But we know that for businesses to continue to thrive, we need an expanded skilled workforce.”

According to the IBC report, Iowa’s economy has remained steady, maintaining a $190 billion gross state product.

It said Iowa’s population growth, diversity and an uncompetitive tax climate continue to be challenges.

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Creating a future-ready workforce, connecting businesses with education and attracting a more diverse population will be critical to long-term economic prosperity, according to the report.

According to the IBC report, its members employed more than 163,000 Iowans and had a combined payroll exceeding $7.5 billion.

They also spent over $3.2 billion in capital improvements and more than $1.5 billion on research and development; gave more than $76 million in charitable contributions and more than 240,000 hours of volunteer time; and spent more than $26 million on education and training.

Iowa’s affordable cost of living, good schools, short work commutes and opportunities are appealing to people who have moved to Iowa, Reynolds said. But “we definitely have a need to bring more people into the state.” 

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Here are some of the findings from the Iowa Business Council’s 2020 report:

Economic Growth

• Despite geopolitical uncertainty, trade disputes, and volatile weather patterns, Iowa’s economy has remained steady, maintaining a $190 billion gross state product.

• Iowa continues to rank high for labor force participation but paired with our consistently low unemployment rate, Iowa faces a persistent shortage of available workers.

Education and Workforce

• Iowa is ranked No. 1 in the country for the state’s average composite ACT score, tied with South Dakota.

• Iowa ranks in the top 10 for the percentage of population with a high school degree plus some level of postsecondary credential or degree.


• Iowa ranks in the top 10 as a best run state, attributed to its low unemployment, high percentage of the population with access to health insurance and high public-pension funded ratio.

• Iowa’s corporate and individual income taxes make it less competitive, though tax reforms of 2018 will likely positively affect these numbers once triggers are met.

Health and Wellness

• Iowa decreased its percentage of obese individuals in the last year, highlighting the need to continue programs like the Healthiest State Initiative.

• While the number of insured Iowans continues to be high, the state struggles to recruit and retain active primary care physicians.

Demographics and Diversity

• Iowa’s population growth has consistently trailed the national average and its net migration decreased by nearly 30 percent, over 1,000 people in the past year.

• Although Iowa’s ethnic diversity is increasing, with trends pointed toward consistent growth, Iowa ranks in the bottom six states for the ethnic diversity of the population.

For access to the full report, visit

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