DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa's workforce is top of mind for lawmakers next year, Republicans and Democratic state leaders told economic development groups Wednesday.
The four-person panel, featuring Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, and House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, agreed that Iowa is suffering from a workforce shortage that needs to be addressed in order to keep the state growing.
Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, and State Rep. Brian Best, R-Glidden-- key lawmakers on economic development issues---also spoke at the The Iowa Chamber Alliance luncheon Wednesday. The Iowa Chamber Alliance is a nonpartisan coalition of 16 of the state's largest chambers of commerce and economic development organizations.
The coalition highlighted its legislative priorities designed to improve Iowa's business climate, including reform of corporate tax rates for Iowa businesses and investment in workforce.
Sen. Charles Schneider, whose Republican party controls both chambers of the legislature again next year, said his caucus hasn't discussed specific policy yet, but aligns with the Chamber Alliance's goal of improving Iowa's economy to make it more appealing to businesses. He hailed the tax reform package last year as a positive step to making Iowa more inviting for business.
"It's important to take what we did last year and find ways to improve on it in the years to come," Schneider said. "Tax climate is always going to be an issue that's important to [Republicans]."
Sen. Bill Dotzler was quick to respond, arguing that Iowa's tax structure isn't to blame for the struggles facing Iowa's economy. Instead, he said, it's a workforce shortage.
“The number one problem that’s holding Iowa’s economy back isn’t the tax structure, it’s the lack of talent across the state to meet the ever changing needs of business in Iowa," Dotzler said. "The technological advancement that’s happening across the nation and here in Iowa is shocking.”
He condemned Republicans' cuts in funding to Iowa's Regents Universities and community colleges in recent years, calling it part of the problem that's contributing to a "brain drain" instead of a "brain gain" of skilled workers in Iowa.
State Rep. Todd Prichard, the newly elected Democratic Leader from Charles City, also highlighted the importance of adequate investments in education in order to retain highly skilled workers to fill job openings across Iowa. He said as an employer in rural Iowa, he feels the need for workers everyday.
"If you build it, they will come," he said, refercing famous Iowa-based movie "Field of Dreams."
Schneider, Dotzler, Best and Prichard all praised Future Ready Iowa, an education and jobs training initiative aimed at getting 70% of Iowa's work force trained or educated beyond high school by 2025. The bill passed unanimously in 2018 and now needs lawmaker approval for $18 million in additional money to full fund the programs it establishes.
All four lawmakers signaled they are committed to funding the program.
"I think this Future Ready Iowa program will be very successful if it creates that pipeline to where graduating seniors know 'hey I can make a good living, with an interesting career field right here in North Iowa or Western Iowa," Prichard said.
The legislature reconvenes January 14.