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Iowa Jobs and the Economy

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Tonight at 7:00, CBS 2 will present a live town hall on an issue that is crucial to growing and strengthening Iowa's economy. That is, creating and filling high quality jobs. In preparing for that discussion, our panel of experts shared with us where we are, where we're headed and some of what needs to be done to ensure opportunities for Iowa's future. 

Most people probably would cite agriculture as the most important sector in Iowa's economy. Actually, by far, it's manufacturing. "Agriculture is important," says Dave Swenson, an economic scientist at Iowa State University. "And the linkage agriculture has throughout the rest of the state, all those linkages are important but manufacturing is the big story about Iowa's economy."

During the last thirty years, though, our economy slowly has been diversifying with insurance, banking and other financial services, architecture, engineering, health care and health care delivery. And
while those sectors are providing more opportunities, meeting the demand for skilled workers is a big challenge across the board. We have zero growth in our labor force. "The number of people going in isn't enough to compensate for the number of people exiting at the older end," explains Swenson. Dee Baird, President and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance agrees."We do not have a growing population
at the same pace as our jobs have grown."  So Baird says we have to recruit part of our workforce by selling our strengths to a broader audience throughout the Midwest and beyond. "We have great opportunities here and this is a great place to build a life.  Those messages need to get out and that's what we're working on."

Ken Sager, President of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, says we also have to do a better job of communicating opportunities to our own high school and college students, referring to the apprenticeships available in virtually every trade in Iowa. Explains Sager, "They graduate their apprenticeship program with no student loan debt, the entire time they've been working in the apprenticeship program they've been earning while their learning, and a lot of these people are making anywhere from 60 to $80,000 a year."  The state is pumping more money into enhancing apprenticeship programs and that holds promise for the tech sector as well. Bruce Lehrman is the Founder and CEO of Involta, a company that builds and operates data centers and offers IT services. "The Technology Association of Iowa is working on how do we make that apprenticeship program work for technology workers and so that can basically take people, retrain them from where they are to a job where we know we can place 100% of those people in the workforce today," says Lehrman.

A separate challenge for major technology employers like Rockwell Collins is developing a corporate culture for the next generation. Martha May is the company's Senior Vice President of Human Resources."We've got to be more aggressive about making sure that we're creating the kind of workplace, work environment where they've got the autonomy to make decisions and to innovate and that creativity is afforded to them as well as the progress in the community that this is a place that they want to continue to stay and live and work."

Through it all, says Chad Simmons, Executive Director of Diversity Focus, we have to make all people feel welcome."Our biggest challenge is helping crack the code so that our community is more welcoming to those who are new, and that those who are new to our areas understand what it takes in order to get connected to the community."

We hope you'll join in the discussion at 7:00 tonight during "Your Voice, Your Future: Iowa Jobs, A live Town Hall on CBS 2, here on and through our Facebook page, Facebook/KGAN CBS 2. 
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