The Iowa Business Council has released its third annual measure of how the state is doing in the business world. The Iowa Competitiveness Index uses 25 measures in five categories or metrics, to gauge the state’s business standing.
Council executive director, Elliott Smith, says this year’s index looks a lot like last year’s. “Out of the 25 that we look at only four or five those did move and on the overall scale — which looks at the five issue areas combined — nothing changed, everything status quo,” Smith says.
“Doesn’t mean that’s bad, doesn’t mean that’s good necessarily, there just wasn’t any dramatic move up or down.” The index give each area a rating of green for improving, yellow for maintaining, and red for worsening. Smith says education and workforce readiness is the top priority of the council this year and there were two greens and three reds in that metric.
“Proficiency levels for math and reading in eighth grade continue to fall down the rankings, and the same can really be said for any grade level. And it’s not so much that our kids aren’t scoring as well, the test results have remained fairly level or static. It’s that the other states that were once behind us have vaulted over us and are doing much better,” according to Smith.
Smith says while Iowa used to be in the top 10 or 5, and even number 1 among states for math and reading at one point, we are now down in the 20’s and 30’s. “And that’s just a development which is unsettling certainly for employers and the level of the workforce, and also not fair for the kids in coming out and trying to achieve their own person successes,” Smith says.
He says on the positive side of education, ACT scores have remained solid and high school graduation rates remain high. The government financial area saw a mix of green, yellow and red ratings.
“The state debt number changed from yellow to green, we thought it improved enough that that deserved a change there,” Smith explains. “The local debt number — since it had gotten worse — moved from yellow to red. So, within a matter of two metrics under the same heading, we noticed some good and bad there. The state has been doing a good job of keeping their debt obligations in line, but the local level has seen maybe some of that pushed down to them, or maybe they’ve seen some more.”
Smith says the debt issues at the local level impact property taxes. Many of the issues highlighted in the index are under consideration by governor and the legislature. Smith says that’s good, but they don’t expect a rapid turnaround in any of the areas.
“The pace of change often with some of these metrics is very glacial. It does take time to adopt new systems or for initiatives to take affect,” Smith says. “Health and well being is another area where we are just seeing very slow gradual changes. It’s trying to change the way people live, and affecting a culture of how people live, changing eating habits, changing exercise habits, things like that.”
Smith says it will be interesting to see how the issues in the works in the legislature end up impacting the index in the next year. The Iowa Business Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose 25 members are the top executives of 21 of the largest businesses in the state, the three state university presidents, and Iowa’s largest banking association.
Find out more about the Iowa Business Council on their website at: www.iowabusinesscouncil.org.
See the Iowa Competative Index results here: IBC Competitiveness Index 2013 PDF