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Dan Houston

Last month, Principal was honored to host the Iowa Business Council’s second Vision to Vitality community forum in Mason City. One in a four-part series throughout 2019, the forum's goal is to convene community members, business owners, non-profit organizations, educators and elected officials to discuss Iowa’s workforce challenges, learn from best practices, and provide a platform for feedback from citizens.

Iowa's workforce shortage is felt in every corner and every county of the state. It is felt at global companies headquartered in Iowa as well as local Main Street shops, manufacturing floors, and the classroom.

Though most of us know this anecdotally, the Iowa Business Council's data backs it up.  Our 2019 report highlights our high labor force participation rate in comparison to other states. Coupled with our low unemployment, a main area of focus for the IBC is addressing workforce shortages by upskilling our current population and looking at strategies to increase the number of individuals and families we keep in Iowa and attract to live, work and play here.

It's clear from our discussion that the region is working hard to address these same issues by coming up with innovative ways to work within and outside of their community to retain new residents, collaborate across city and county lines and across industries to develop a more robust economic outlook for the region as a whole and increase student work-based learning opportunities with local business to reveal the careers North Iowa has to offer.

The panelists came from a variety of backgrounds including law enforcement, economic development, small business and education. Each panelist provided a different lens into addressing workforce and economic development through retention, attraction and education.

For example, in an effort to provide adult learners with opportunities, North Iowa Area Community College and the North Iowa Economic Development Corridor have partnered on classes that teach relevant introductory information in high-demand industries like Manufacturing 101.

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We also learned the Mason City Community School District is answering its recruiting challenges by adjusting its hiring practices, increasing some position pay and implementing a mentoring program for new teachers. The Mason City Police Department has started implicit bias training and conducts mock interviews with high school students to build relationships and expose them to public safety careers.

Though we've seen great momentum, we know there is still work to be done. Feedback from the audience and panelists indicated the community should consider developing a strategic plan to retain newcomers to the area. Ideas to do so included starting a welcome center, offering resources for new residents that create recreational activities and opportunities to connect and network with current residents to grow their roots in the region. Another audience member urged the school district and local business to implement teacher externships which engage teachers during the summer to learn real-world applications of their material through local business projects.

Community work takes the full community. Principal will continue to hire interns and work to incorporate them into our business units providing an immersive experience for both students and our company. We support and directly participate in community efforts like Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG) which works with students experiencing barriers to high school graduation or transitioning from high school to further education and sometimes directly into careers. 

Members of the Iowa Business Council believe it's our duty to learn and grow from all communities throughout Iowa; it's critical we listen to our counterparts in rural, suburban and urban regions to learn best next steps to actively retain and attract our team members. The eventual goal will bolster economic growth and Iowa's overall prosperity.

We know there is not only one solution and that it will not come from just one city, county or organization alone – it will take all of us working together to move our best foot forward. Together, we can ensure Iowa's future is more robust, inclusive and economically thriving than ever before.

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Dan Houston is chairman, president and CEO of Principal. Principal is a member of the Iowa Business Council, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is comprised of the top executives from Iowa’s 23 largest employers. For more information on the Iowa Business Council, go to www.iowabusinesscouncil.org.

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