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Workforce attraction and retention proves tough on small towns

North Iowa business leaders meet
Workforce attraction and retention are two main challenges small town Iowa business owners are dealing with.
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 6:31 PM CST
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CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (KTTC) – Workforce attraction and retention are two main challenges small-town Iowa business owners are dealing with. In the Midwest, for every one person on unemployment, there are three who have left the workforce. Researchers have found that within the past few years, baby boomers are retiring early and non-college-educated women are leaving their jobs at higher rates.

“Iowa, and the U.S. overall, is getting back to close to where we were pre-COVID that I would guess we’re going to have workforce problems for many years to come,” Director of The Center for Industrial Research & Service Dr. Ron Cox said.

Thursday, North Iowa chamber members and economic development leaders met to discuss what is next for companies outside the big cities.

“Our pool isn’t getting any bigger for talent and employees. So we’re just trying to work on how do we attract people to our community. How do we retain them? How do we train them up for the jobs today and in the future?” North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation CEO & President Chad Schreck said.

Dr. Cox, who conducts research at Iowa State University, has been exploring how to grow Iowa’s economy. He advises companies to look for the barriers keeping certain types of people out of the workforce and addressing them firsthand.

“The people that left that are no longer working, usually there’s something keeping them out of the workforce and our message to companies is you got to target. Every kind of person whether you’re disabled or a veteran or whatever, there’s something keeping you out of the workforce, and communities and companies have to first decide who they’re going to target and then solve that person’s problems so that they are able to work,” Dr, Cox said.

The current focus areas for North Iowa’s economy include affordable housing, job recruiting and promoting local businesses.

“How do we do a better job at being who we are? We know that we’re not gonna be a large metro and that’s okay. For a lot of us, that’s why we’re here. We like this smaller sense of community,” Schreck said.

According to a 2021 survey, more than 67 percent of Cerro Gordo county’s employees work for private companies while 11 percent are self-employed.

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