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2006 Election: Des Moines Register calls for dialogue on the looming “People Drought” October 26, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Education, Media, Workforce.
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I don’t want this to become a political blog – Lord knows that there are enough of those and not enough coverage of economic development and workforce issues – but these issues have undeniable intersection points in the world of politics. And these issues are getting coverage…or, at least, the public is crying out for our civic leaders to focus their attention on these substantial issues.

Nowhere is that cry more clear than in the pages of the Des Moines Register, where the Register’s editorial board posed a series of questions to the two major party gubernatorial candidates related to what the paper calls “The People Drought:”

As members of the baby-boom generation begin to retire in the next few years, there simply won’t be enough younger people in Iowa to replace them — even if the state somehow manages to stem the out-migration.

It’s estimated that Iowa will have 150,000 more jobs than workers by 2012, and it could get much worse thereafter. Rather than new businesses coming to Iowa, the specter is of businesses leaving Iowa because they won’t be able to hire enough workers.

This is a conundrum neither candidate for governor has adequately addressed. Both offer more or less traditional economic-development proposals intended to lure jobs to Iowa, perhaps in the belief that if they bring jobs, the workers will follow.

That’s a dubious assumption, especially when the potential worker shortage due to the retirement of the baby-boom generation is not limited to Iowa. Many states will be scrambling for workers in a few years. The new economic competition among states will be less about attracting jobs than it will be about attracting working-age people.

The Register then goes to suggest a couple obvious areas for solutions:

As a starting point, both candidates are smart to focus on strengthening education. Skilled workers won’t stay and promising recruits won’t come without top-notch public schools, community colleges and universities that train Iowans to compete against the best minds in the world.

Otherwise, though, while the platforms of both candidates contain some elements meant to make Iowa a more attractive place to live, they tend to be mentioned almost as afterthoughts.

Whoever becomes governor will need to shift gears, so that drawing people to Iowa becomes not just the ancillary part of an economic-development strategy, but the core of it.

The editorial board then goes into their Q&A. You’re encouraged to see what the candidates say, especially if you live in Iowa! Kudos to the Register for raising these important issues in this format.

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