To measure the economic temperature of business leaders here in Iowa, we had our reporters poll leaders from each of their industries, and we set up an online poll for all of our readers. We asked leaders and our readers, “What do you think the impact will be of the economy on your particular industry.” The big takeaway from the poll is that not much has changed from last year. I was a bit surprised, to tell the truth. I had anticipated  that more people would predict more economic improvement in 2014 than in 2013. There was a slight bump, as about 60 percent of respondents thought the economy would improve either slightly or dramatically, up from 56 percent last year. This isn’t a scientific poll, but it does seem that some of the uncertainties about the economy are still holding people back from feeling fully confident in the economy. 

– Chris Conetzkey, editor of the Business Record

Leader Responses

Finance & Insurance - Improve slightly

Adam Obrecht
Owner and founder, AO Wealth Advisory LLC

“As a financial planner, I get to see the impact of the economy on many clients’ lives. As things improve there is less change happening with client jobs or retirement plans. which brings more stability to my industry. I think the skills shortage in Iowa is what will keep us growing slowly in 2014.”

Manufacturing & Logistics - Improve slightly  

Josh Janeczko 
President, Innovative Injection Technologies Inc. 

“We’re an injection molder for the ag economy, mainly. I’m still very excited for the future; I think employment and sales will be up. I think it will be very exciting the next few years. Obviously, the farm economy has had a long (positive) run, and now prices are tapering down. But I still think that the farm economy is stable, though it’s slowing down. It’s not something that concerns me, because I don’t think there’s a bubble to burst. We have about 200 employees, up from 184 last year. I expect us to be up to about 210 this year.”

Health & Wellness - Improve slightly

Bob Ritz
CEO, Mercy Medical Center - Des Moines 

“The health care industry will continue to see modest growth in 2014 while continuing the adjust to the shift of patients away from hospital overnight stays to less intrusive outpatient settings for care. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act and ongoing transformation of the health care industry will be center stage in 2014. The biggest economic challenges to health care include managing the enormous transition to new payment systems and models of care, while demand for services grows and resources are constricted. Lastly, digital technology and information systems such as electronic medical records and personal health record systems are making health care information more accessible to both providers and patients, enabling better management of individual health and populations of people, all with the goal of improving quality and lowering costs. In summary, while we forecast modest overall growth, significant growth will occur in the new transformational components of our industry (accountable care, patient portals, etc.), the more traditional acute care sectors will experience downward pressure on revenue.” 

Energy & Utilities - Improve slightly

Doug Collins
President, ITC Midwest LLC

“As Iowa’s economy continues to grow, the state will continue to need access to reliable and affordable energy to support that growth. ITC Midwest continues to be a champion of investments in energy infrastructure to give the state energy options. A robust electric transmission network is necessary to ensure that the state’s utilities can find the best solutions to take advantage of lower-cost and more environmentally friendly energy sources. Utility investments aren’t a “just-in-time” expenditure. ITC’s investments will support the state’s growth, not just for 2014, but in the years and decades to come.”

Economic Development - Improve slightly

Elliott Smith
Executive director, Iowa Business Council

“Given the choice, I’d probably use the word “modestly.” If you are saying the work of nonprofit business advocacy groups/organizations is an ‘industry,’ I think that – generally – better economic times can lead to some complacency. As a result, activity or initiative work is not always as motivated or active as maybe it should be. Regarding the nonpartisan Business Council specifically, its CEO members focus on those issue areas that demand immediate attention in order for Iowa companies to remain successful and competitive in the world marketplace five, 10, 20, etc., years down the road. The longer time horizon results in fairly constant attention and engagement in issue work by these business and education leaders, i.e., there is not a hugely noticeable difference when the economy is humming versus when it’s struggling. Issues such as education excellence in the pre-K to 16 system, workforce development and attraction and retention, continuous process improvement, and health and well-being all offer opportunity for active leadership roles to enhance Iowa’s overall economic vitality.”

Transportation - Improve slightly

Jeb Brewer
City Engineer, City of Des Moines

Near-term government investments in transportation construction, along with modest commercial growth, should allow for stable to increasing prices. Long-term investment needs in transportation still require federal and local attention to shore up road use funding revenues so as to not impede long-term recovery.

HR & Education - Improve slightly

Karen J. Miller
Executive Vice President, Manpower, Central Iowa

2014 hiring trends have started off steady, particularly in sectors including manufacturing, construction, retail and wholesale, with expert analysts projecting that this year we will see the strongest hiring intentions since 2008. This continued optimism for employers, despite the uneven economic recovery and other global and domestic influences, means great news for the staffing industry. Today, almost every major business decision focuses on knowing how to access, mobilize and optimize workforces to remain competitive, and that’s where the staffing industry can support business growth – through their expertise in identifying top talent.

Tech & Innovation - Improve slightly

Mike Colwell
Executive director, Business Innovation Zone, and founder, Plains Angels

“Technology industry growth will continue to be held in check by limited availability of talent in several key areas including programming, user interface/user experience, management and sales.”
Real Estate & Development
Improve slightly
Kurt Mumm
President, NAI Optimum
“We continue to see more tenant activity, both expansions and relocations, than we have seen in the past three years. The amount of new development and redevelopment in the metro area is very exciting  and points to the confidence in the overall market. Our critical mass in the insurance and finance industry continues to bode well for the local economy as well. The redomiciling of Fidelity & Guaranty Life is just one example of how the combination of our business-friendly environment and our highly educated workforce will continue to garner the attention and consideration of out-of-state companies with an eye on growth. “

Law & Government - Improve slightly  

Rick Clark
City manager, Des Moines

“The latest local unemployment rate was 4.1 percent and is trending down. The value of building permits issued by the city of Des Moines was $411,865,663 in 2013, which represents an increase of over 60 percent for each of the last five years. Beyond these statistics, we are experiencing a surge of new developments in Des Moines. In downtown we have about 500 new housing units under construction, and another 500 will begin construction in 2014. Principal Financial Group Inc. has embarked on the largest reinvestment in office space in the city’s history ($238 million), Hampton Inn and Residence Inn are about to open downtown, and at least three other hotels are in the planning stages. A major new insurance company (Fidelity & Guaranty Life) just announced its relocation to Des Moines from Baltimore, Md.  Additionally, we have industrial expansion (Kemin Industries Inc.) and sizable investments in retail (Ingersoll Avenue, Southridge Mall, East Village, Highland Park, Merle Hay Mall).  In short, the Des Moines economy has emerged from the slow economy in the recent past, and we are seeing a surge of investments which is reflective of a high confidence exhibited by residents, businesses and investors in Des Moines.”

Ag & Environment - Regress slightly

Roger Zylstra
President, Iowa Corn Growers Association

“Agriculture has had a couple of years of strong prices, but many of us in Central Iowa have seen somewhat reduced yields due to weather extremes. The price of corn has fallen over 40 percent from a year ago without much prospect of a recovery. It will be more difficult for me to expect 2014 to be a good year.”

Culture - Improve slightly

Sally Dix
Executive director, Bravo Greater Des Moines

“Central Iowa’s growing economy and visionary community leadership have allowed for incredible investments in arts and culture, and the fruits of those efforts will shine in 2014. The opening of the Des Moines Social Club firehouse, the renovation and expansion of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, completion of the Des Moines Community Playhouse renovation, the Africa expansion at Blank Park Zoo and the transformation of Cowles Commons are just some of the projects that will reinforce the value of a vibrant cultural community as economic fuel for the region.”

Sales & Marketing -Improve slightly  

Angela Ten Clay
President-elect, American Marketing Association Iowa chapter

“As the economy improves slightly, we will see a shift in the prioritization of marketing as a function of the overall strategic growth plan. When consumer confidence is up, people are willing to spend. Yet research indicates that during slow and recovering economies, consumers are much more willing to invest in experiences than in commodities. With the economy slowly improving, companies will start to look at sales and revenue and be willing to make the marketing investment again. For brand-savvy companies, however, that marketing investment will be devoted to the creation of great consumer experiences.”

Retail & Business - Improve slightly  

Tyler Dingel
Vice president, CBRE|Hubbell Commercial

“It can be argued that the retail industry took the hardest hit from the Great Recession but has made a strong recovery. Many of the empty bays and big-box stores that once scattered the Des Moines landscape have been backfilled with healthy new tenants. Retailers that had previously put their plans for a Des Moines location on hold, such as Lifetime Fitness and Nordstrom Rack, are now under construction on their new locations. I expect to see much of the same trend in 2014.  The one challenge is an overall lack of A product for retailers to call home. There is some speculative construction taking place, and I expect to see more of that in the coming year.”

Survey Responses

Sales & Marketing - Improve slightly  

Connor Flynn
Chairman, Lessing-Flynn Advertising Co.

“Advertising and marketing will be robust again in 2014. However, increased pressure on the ethanol industry and crop prices, plus high input costs will slow the ag economy in the future here in Iowa. Nevertheless, we see another solid year ahead for 2014.”

Real Estate & Development - Improve slightly  

Creighton Cox
Executive officer, Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines

“Housing continues to strengthen, which in turn stabalizes the economy. Locally, I see 7-9 percent growth in housing, and a correlated improvement in the metro economy.”

Real Estate & Development - Improve slightly  

Jim Tansey
Chief operating officer, Hawkeye Real Estate Investment Co.

“Commercial real estate will continue to slowly improve, despite general economic headwinds caused by the federal government.”

HR & Education - Improve dramatically 

Katie Roth 
Owner, Portico Staffing

“2014 should be a banner year for the staffing industry. With declining unemployment, it is getting tougher and tougher to find great candidates.  Our clients tell us the candidates they are looking for aren’t looking for them. They turn to us to find them.”

Economic Development - Improve slightly  

Kevin Crowley 
Chief operating officer and manager, Iowa Realty Commercial

“As demand rises, we are seeing speculative industrial development in the Greater Des Moines metro area. As office space vacancies continue to decline, developers will be motivated to build speculative space in the suburban markets. The lending environment will limit this activity to qualified developers and users.”

Tech & Innovation - Improve slightly  

Michael Sadler 
Assistant vice president for public policy, CenturyLink Inc.

“As Iowa’s small businesses recover, they will be looking for ways to improve their operations through technology.”

Real Estate & Development - Remain about the same

Mike Knapp 
CEO, Iowa Realty Co. Inc.

“Metro Des Moines has proven to be a reliable real estate market. As the economy improves, reluctant first-time home buyers will enter the market in greater numbers, while mortgage rates remain at historic lows. Price increases will create added equity for current homeowners desiring to sell. New home construction will continue to rise to meet added demand. Result will be a 4 percent increase in units and an 8 percent increase in average sale price.”

Real Estate & Development - Improve slightly  

Mike Webster 
Vice president for operations, Webster Electric Inc.

“Finding skilled workers will continue to be a challenge. The timing is right to train and introduce new workers to learn a trade. Training is an investment and critical to the construction industry.”

Sales & Marketing - Improve slightly  

Stephen Fry 
Owner, Spindustry Group of Companies

“In our practice, we’re seeing many No. 2 companies in the various industries we serve really starting to invest in taking on the No. 1 companies. There’s a stronger sense of confidence in our economy among our client partners.”

Finance & Insurance - Improve slightly  

Suku Radia 
President and CEO, Bankers Trust Co.

“The pressure on net interest margin is a function of our Federal Reserve’s artificially propping up the economy. We have recovered sufficiently such that it is time to let free market forces come into play.”