If the leaders of some of the most important economic development groups in the state are correct, look for a strong year in the Greater Des Moines and Iowa economies.

The leaders of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa Business Council all feel optimistic about 2014. 

That doesn’t mean the state is without issues. Leaders routinely point out the state’s challenges in supplying and developing the workforce. Many of the initiatives these organizations are involved in are designed to help alleviate that problem.

Overall, they say, there are reasons to believe 2014 will be a year of growth in Des Moines and Iowa.

Debi Durham, director
Iowa Economic Development Authority

Top goals and initiatives 

Durham highlighted a couple of state initiatives that could help build the state’s workforce. One is the Home State Iowa initiative, which is meant to connect military veterans with jobs in the state. The initiative will target veterans nationwide. 

The other is a push for more apprenticeship programs in the state. Gov. Terry Branstad called for an Iowa Apprenticeship and Job Training Act in his Condition of the State address. 

Durham pointed out that apprenticeships could be set up in sectors that people wouldn’t traditionally think of, such as manufacturing and information technology.

IEDA will administer that program, provided it is enacted by the Iowa Legislature.

Biggest challenges facing the state

The biggest challenge, Durham said, is the a shortage in specific fields  of the state’s workforce. Many places around Iowa are nearing full employment. Part of the solution is bringing in workers to increase the talent pool in the state. Part of it is training people in new skills to fill the middle-skills gap that has been identified as a problem in Iowa.

Potential opportunities 

Durham sees renewed opportunities in manufacturing, as a lot of companies are now “reshoring,” she said. The bright spots in the state continue to be in the finance and insurance sector and in the information technology sector. 

One thing businesses should know about the Iowa economy

Playing off Branstad’s Condition of the State theme, Durham said, “Iowa is working.” The economic development plan that Branstad brought in when he took over office is working, she said. “You can count on us to have a pro-business approach to how we do things,” Durham said.”

Jay Byers, CEO
Greater Des Moines Partnership

Top goals and initiatives ahead

The Capital Crossroads planning initiative is set to play a key role in the Partnership’s plans this year, Byers said. Part of those plans:
• The Partnership plans to roll out a branding strategy for the Capital Corridor between Des Moines and Ames, intended to strengthen the biosciences industry cluster identified in Capital Crossroads.

• To help strengthen the finance and insurance industry cluster, the Partnership will help host a global insurance symposium in May. The symposium is designed to bring in renowned industry keynote and panel speakers to talk about the challenges facing the global insurance industry.
Market Street Services, the firm that helped in the early stages of Capital Crossroads planning, will do a mid-plan evaluation. 
The Partnership will put together and roll out a regional workforce and education initiative. 

Biggest challenges facing the organization

2013 was such a good year, Byers said, that one of the biggest challenges facing the Partnership is to not get complacent. Paul Schickler, the 2014 Partnership chair, also identified that as a challenge at the group’s annual dinner.
Biggest challenges facing the state

The biggest challenges, Byers said, mostly have to do with outside forces. Those include federal government policies and the world economy. 

Potential opportunities 

Beyond executing the Partnership’s goals, Byers sees all the projects going on in the area as opportunities for the region – projects such as renovating Walnut Street downtown and the convention hotel. Those are coupled with “quality of life” investments that are continuing to come to fruition, such as the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden renovation and NASCAR’s purchase of Iowa Speedway in Newton. Byers also sees an opportunity to further market the region to businesses that might potentially move or expand to the area.

One thing businesses should know about the Iowa economy

“The Greater Des Moines economy is more globally connected than most people realize, and getting more so every day,” Byers said.Iowa

Teresa Wahlert, director
Workforce Development

Top goals and initiatives 

Home Base Iowa is also one of the key initiatives of Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), Wahlert said, as is the Skilled Iowa Initiative, which aims to teach potential employees skills that employers need. One push for Skilled Iowa this year will be assisting schools in finding opportunities to train students.

Wahlert said that IWD will continue its focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) strategies. 

Biggest challenges facing IWD

About 80 percent of IWD’s budget comes from the federal government, meaning that the agency is often at the mercy of money decisions it can’t control. Last year, the federal sequestration forced IWD to quickly adjust how it was spending money. 
Biggest challenge facing the state

The population is not growing fast enough, Wahlert said. 

“I think we are losing economic opportunities because of our labor force,” she said. 

Unemployment is low, which is good, but that can limit expansion because there often aren’t enough workers. That has been a problem particularly in the technology field, as many leaders have identified a tech worker shortage. 

“It’s important that we continue to supply the labor force with the correct foundational skills,” Wahlert said.

Potential opportunities 

A big opportunity for IWD, Wahlert said, is assisting the underemployed – people who lost their jobs during the recession and are now working in jobs that pay less. Helping people learn the skills that can get them higher-paying jobs is a goal of her agency, she said.

A big opportunity for the state, she said, will be the recently announced Advance Southwest Iowa Corp., which is a partnership between Iowa and Nebraska to develop the Omaha-Council Bluffs region and bring companies to the area. 

One thing businesses should know about the Iowa economy

Businesses that are looking to locate to Iowa should know that the state has a fiscally sound government that listens to businesses, Wahlert said. There is a lot of stability in the state, and as the economy continues to rebound, businesses should feel confident in investing in Iowa.

Elliott Smith, executive director
Iowa Business Council

Top goals and initiatives

Smith also listed workforce development as a top goal for the Iowa Business Council, which is made up of top executives in the state. That includes the Home Base Iowa initiative, and continued investment in the STEM programs that are currently going on.

Wellness is also a priority for the executives who make up the council, Smith said, and many of the companies are actively involved in the Healthiest State Initiative. 

Biggest challenges facing IBC

Smith listed three challenges that directly affect the organization:

Making sure that the education reform passed last year gets carried through. “You hear rumblings of small pockets of policy-makers who would like to see the Iowa core go away. That’s essentially the foundation of this whole reform effort,” Smith said. “We’re keeping an eye on those activities.”
The workforce. CEOs have serious needs for highly educated people as well as middle-skill-level workers.
Continuing to move forward in the Gallup  Healthways Well-Being Index. Iowa was No. 9 in the index as of 2012. 

Biggest challenges facing the state

Smith also listed three challenges facing the state:

The state is behind in the number of “knowledge jobs,” or high-skill jobs.
Iowa is trailing most states in population growth and net overall migration.
Going back to the health component, the obesity rate in the state is too high. In addition to concerns about overall health of students and workers, that raises insurance rates.

Potential opportunities 

The state has a real opportunity to market itself not only to people living here, but also to people and businesses that might look to move here. Smith points to all the best-of lists that routinely spotlight Des Moines and other Iowa cities.
One thing businesses should know about the Iowa economy

The Iowa economy has been very resilient, he said, largely because of the diversity of its industries. The state entered the recession in a better position relative to others and has come out of it relatively better as well.