In terms of demographics and diversity, Iowa has some work to do.
When accounting for ethnic diversity, Iowa is ranked No. 45 when looking at all 50 states comparatively. In terms of total population, Iowa ranks at No. 30 — this all according to a recent report by the Iowa Business Council presented to the Ames Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Wednesday.
But Iowa is also thriving, with the report touting low unemployment, high labor force participation and a competitive high school education attainment rate.
In a 25-minute presentation, Georgia Van Gundy, executive director of the Iowa Business Council, listed recommendations as to how Iowa can prosper as a state in addition to addressing key areas where Ames can be of assistance.
“It’s probably no surprise to you that our economy is strong. Our gross state product increased by $11 billion, our median-household income is up $2,000,” Gundy said.
Yet there’s still some work to be done.
The Iowa Business Council compiles a report on an annual basis that ranks Iowa competitively in five different topics — poor, average and competitive — in terms of economic growth, education and workforce, governance, health and wellness and demographics and diversity.
Unlike previous years, Gundy will present about the state of Iowa’s economy at 10 different locations.
“If we really want people to be looking at our initiatives and what our leaders think are significant initiatives to move our state forward, and for them to actually use them too, we need to get out and talk about it,” Gundy said.
Dan Culhane, president of the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, was specifically interested in Iowa’s unique opportunity to recruit and retain Iowans as it relates to economic growth.
“I think here in Ames and Story County there is a little bit of a false sense of security because we’ve got 7,000 young people every year looking for their first job,” Culhane said. Culhane said he hopes to show students there is meaningful empyment in Ames. Gundy suggested tools, such as a work-based learning portal, to “hopefully catch students early and let them get into the businesses and understand what the jobs are like.”
“We have a good amount of people from Iowa going to the universities and graduating, but then, how do we retain them here?” Gundy said. “That’s an area where our colleges and university towns can take a look at the [education] metric and see where they can really make an impact.”
Reginald Stewart, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Iowa State, said that he appreciated the presentation focusing on diversity as an economic driver and wanted to know how he can help support that as a community leader.
“If you think about lawmakers, who are the ones who are driving the change — not the state but federally — all they’re hearing is from people who don’t want to see any difference,” Gundy said. “What we’ve heard is that we need to do a better job at putting together consistent stories saying why it is important and why having a diverse population is more about strategic and having thought processes.”