The Iowa Business Council released its fifth annual “Competitiveness Index” Monday night at its annual meeting. The index is a report card of sorts that ranks areas of business using green, red and yellow. IBC executive director, Elliott Smith, says overall many areas stayed yellow, indicating no significant change from last year, but there was one area which stood out.
“Workforce demographics and diversity, which sort of takes a look at what our workforce is made up of, what the availability of certain skill levels are, and sort of the makeup of the workforce. That changed from yellow to red,” Smith says. “It’s an area I think that the Business Council is to focus on the next few years, trying to generate the sort of skill sets and the number of the workforce that various industry segments need to grow.”
Smith says Iowa’s slow population growth is one of the problems in this area. “One statistic that is a little concerning to the council — and it’s a statistic that has been out there for a while but it’s carried forward in the index — Iowa was the only state from 1900 to 201 that did not increase its population by at least 50 percent,” Smith says. He says that makes it tougher to increase the diversity and skill of the workforce and means they must focus on keeping college graduates in the state. The Iowa Business Council includes the top 25 largest employers in the state.
Smith says the state has introduced several projects to try and turn that tide, and the Home Base Iowa program targeting veterans is one the IBC has helped sponsor. “And over the course of 2014, we’re proud to say that business council companies have hired 871 veterans so far,” Smith says. “And we’re hoping to do at least that and maybe more in 2015.” When it comes to education, Smith says the state is taking steps to improve elementary and secondary education, and the state ranks 6th in the country for the number of people over 25 who have a high school degree. “Where we stumble a little bit is looking at those in the workforce who have at least a bachelors or degree above. And there, Iowa comes in 36th,” Smith says.
Another area of concern is the amount of government debt. Smith says the state has done a good job of reducing its debt, but that’s not the case for local government. “The local debt number has increased and that’s a concern. Part of that we think is generated by the state maybe passing along to the local level a debt obligation or two that causes the local governments to be very fiscally aware of how their revenues are coming in locally and what they have to pay for now,” Smith says.
The state tax system continues to be a concern too. “From an income level, both individual and corporate and property tax. There is just a complicated morass of laws and regulations that tend to drive economic developers and business growth agents away from Iowa,” according to Smith. To see more on the 2015 Iowa Competitiveness Index, visit the IBC website at: www.iowabusinesscouncil.org.