As Iowa legislators this week start work on a course to a more robust and diversified economy, discussion already has focused on a new privately funded report, Iowa’s Re-Envisioned Economic Development Roadmap.
Produced by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and commissioned by the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress, the $400,000 report makes some important points and deserves a careful look.
It focuses heavily on the importance of business to promote economic activity, but its core message acknowledges the significant role of public investments in providing the foundations for Iowa’s economy. This includes the education system needed to develop the skills, talents and capacity of the current and future workforce, including those who will become the future entrepreneurs and leaders for the 21st century.
While the report acknowledges the centrality of an educated and skilled workforce and a high quality of life to making Iowa an environment for business to flourish, it places very little focus upon how government can deliver on that role. It falls to government to educate that future workforce — at the early childhood, primary and secondary, and higher education levels.
The report does not adequately address the challenges Iowa faces in creating that higher skill level among its emerging workforce — in particular, the need to address lagging and stagnant educational achievement. To do so takes resources, and the report’s emphasis is to leave in place a business subsidy structure that has increasingly reduced the state’s ability to meet those needs.
The report itself was overseen largely by business leaders and economic development agency staff. However, these are not the only stakeholders in Iowa’s economic future; many others need to engage in the dialogue about Iowa government’s role in economic development.
The Battelle Report raises one perspective on economic development. Lawmakers, the media and the public need to insist that other perspectives and expertise also are fully considered and vetted.
More Iowans need an invitation to the table.
Note: This piece also ran as an “Iowa View” in The Des Moines Register, Jan. 14, 2015.