Iowa: Moving To The Top Of The Class

Iowa is aiming to add 120,000 residents with post­secondary degrees to its workforce by 2025.

By the BF Staff
From the September/October 2017 Issue

Iowa’s leaders have an ambitious target for the state’s workforce education goals. Governor Kim Reynolds is calling on educators, employers and legislators to collaborate to add 120,000 Iowans with postsecondary degrees or credentials to the state’s workforce by 2025.

Iowa consistently earns high marks for its education climate. For many years, Iowa’s public high schools have had the nation’s highest graduation rate. Iowa ranks fifth in the nation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees conferred per 1,000 residents. The state’s residents also have the second highest average ACT score in the country (among states where a majority of students take the ACT). In addition, Iowa is second in the U.S. in the percentage of residents with an associate’s degree. This high achievement level is one reason a 2017 Chief Executive survey of CEOs placed Iowa second in the nation in worker quality.

However, like most states, Iowa faces challenges in a modern economy that demands skilled labor. In response, the newly enacted, public-private Future Ready Iowa initiative is aiming to ensure at least 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce has postsecondary education. This challenge will require a significant number of adults to enroll in educational programs, but it is a goal that has the full support of Iowa’s business community, educational system and governor’s office. For more information on Iowa’s workforce goals, including in-depth third-party reports, visit

Sustainable electricity is another example of Iowa’s forward-looking approach to meeting the needs of tomorrow. Today, Iowa generates more of its electricity from wind than any other state—more than 36 percent. This leadership in sustainable energy will continue, as Iowa utilities have pledged to spend billions to add more wind capacity in the coming years. At the same time, industrial electricity rates in Iowa are nearly 20 percent below the national average, and U.S. News & World Report said Iowa has the most reliable electrical grid in the country.

Iowa’s widespread availability of affordable, renewable electricity has attracted companies that have a commitment to sustainable energy usage like Google, Facebook and Microsoft. In fact, a 2017 joint report from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), found Iowa to be the easiest state for companies to directly purchase renewable energy. With ever-increasing wind energy capacity, Iowa will continue to be an affordable and sustainable location for companies with energy-intensive operations. For more information on Iowa’s wind energy, visit

Iowa also has the ingredients to transform the chemical industry, Already among the nation’s leaders in ethanol and biodiesel production, Iowa’s bioscience industry is continually seeking new uses for its internationally famous agricultural bounty. The latest innovation emerging from Iowa is transforming the chemical business from one based on oil to one based upon bioproducts.

For companies seeking to develop chemicals and compounds from biorenewable sources, Iowa offers a first-of-its-kind in the United States Renewable Chemical Production Tax Credit. This refundable tax credit offers up to $500,000 for established companies and $1 million for startups to incentivize production of high-value building block chemicals from agricultural co-products and biomass. It was named “the strongest existing incentive package for the global biobased chemical industry” in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. To read more about Iowa’s advantages for industrial bioprocessing, visit


For consultants and executives intrigued by Iowa’s ambitious plans for its future, here’s more good news: finding a suitable piece of land for business relocation can be a fast, painless undertaking in Iowa. Industrial sites in 17 communities are third-party certified as ready for development.

Each of the certified sites, which range from 150 to almost 600 acres, were inspected by an independent site selection consultant to assure it meets national site selection standards. All have ready access to major transportation infrastructure, energy, water and zoning that meets the industry needs of advanced manufacturing, information technology and bioscience companies. Certified site locations include Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport, Dexter, Forest City, Fort Dodge, Grinnell, Iowa Falls, Marion, Mason City, Middletown, Norwalk, Osage, Perry, Van Meter, Waterloo and Sergeant Bluff. As many as seven additional sites are undergoing inspection this year. To see each site in Iowa’s Certified Sites program, visit

Iowa’s Certified Sites program, designed and implemented by the nationally recognized site selection firm McCallum Sweeney Consulting (MSC), parallels a typical site location process. A credentialed Iowa Certified Site has relevant site-related data and documentation accumulated and is designated as “development-ready.”


New investment and innovation driving the Quad Cities regional economy. Over $2.8 billion in public and private sector investment is happening right now in the Quad Cities, a six-county region straddling the southeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois state lines and connected by the two banks of the Mississippi River. The urban core consists of five principal cities: Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline in Illinois. The Quad Cities Combined Statistical Area has a population of more than 475,000, making it the 90th largest CSA in the U.S.

Elected officials and economic development practitioners tour the site of the new Kraft Heinz facility in the
Quad Cities. The Quad Cities is a bi-state region located on the board of Iowa and Illinois. (Photo: Quad Cities Chamber)

Construction is underway on the new $1.4 billion signature I-74 bridge, where tens of thousands of people will travel back and forth between the states every day. That’s because in this bi-state region that offers a laborshed of 588,000 people, it’s common that businesses will draw employees, clients and suppliers from throughout western Illinois and eastern Iowa.

That ability to draw from the larger region, coupled with certified, shovel-ready sites was what helped attract the new $203 million Kraft Heinz state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, as well as the $160 million, 2.5 million square foot Sterilite manufacturing facility to the region.

“In the past three years our region has been able to attract two very significant business attraction deals as a result of our strong public-private sector relationships, available workforce and strategic inventory development that has made the Quad Cities a competitive business location,” says Liz Murray Tallman, Chief Economic Development Officer, Quad Cities Chamber. “At the same time, our existing local businesses have also continued to expand.”

While the addition of new primary job investment has spurred growth in the area economy, the Quad Cities region is also experiencing a renaissance in its urban cores. There is over $600 million in downtown reinvestment that is recently completed or underway, including the development of a new urban community college campus that will energize the urban core and meet the rising demand for post-secondary attainment, an Amtrak station with direct passenger rail line to Chicago, IL, and a surge of new retail and restaurant amenities.

“As workforce continues to be a top priority in business development and site location decisions, the resurgence of our downtowns is key in attracting and retaining the young talent that communities across the country are competing for,” says Tallman. “Our downtown development initiatives help support the workforce recruitment and retention goals of area businesses.”

Manufacturing for the Future. Home to companies such as Deere & Company, Arconic, Cobham, HON and the Rock Island Arsenal, the Quad Cities region has a legacy in manufacturing. Regional manufacturers, along with the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, are now working together to embrace Industry 4.0 and the tsunami of new technologies that are vastly changing the industry.

The regional initiative, the Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub (the Hub), was chosen by the Department of Defense Industry Adjustment program to create a model in the Quad Cities that will be replicated throughout other parts of the nation. The Hub is a network of resources that helps companies, especially small and medium-sized manufacturers better understand and adopt new technologies. In addition, it is also focused on helping companies that conduct business with the department of defense diversify their business.

“The innovation happening at companies in the Quad Cities is astounding,” says Tallman. “Companies like Arconic with specialized aluminum to serve the automotive and aerospace industries and Deere & Company that was a forerunner in autonomous vehicles. The Hub is building on this culture of innovation as companies fully embrace quickly-changing technologies.”

Area businesses are top priority. Once a company makes the decision to locate in the Quad Cities, there are a myriad of resources available to support their continued growth. The Quad Cities Chamber is a regional chamber of commerce that leads a cohesive bi-state advocacy platform, provides technical assistance through a service called the Critical Talent Network, and conducts a formal outreach program called Business Connections through which they connect area businesses with resources to overcome obstacles. The results of some of these programs speak volumes to the dedication that the business community and public sector have to helping companies in the Quad Cities grow.

For example, the Chamber led the charge in 2016 to change legislation that has since enabled Exelon Quad Cities Generating Station to retain its location situated on 765 acres in the Quad Cities. Exelon is since in the midst of a $20 million expansion.

Through the Business Connection program, the Chamber interviewed 116 local businesses, and as a result helped with 179 unique assistance referrals, many of which were in the areas of workforce training, business development services and assistance with business expansion.

The Chamber also offers a unique program called the Critical Talent Network. This network is comprised of approximately 150 late-stage career, subject matter experts that are ready to help businesses in areas such as strategic planning, project management, supply management, lean manufacturing and the like. When a business locates to the Quad Cities, they have these resources and more available to support their continued growth.

Crisscrossed by four interstates and over a dozen state and federal highways, the Quad Cities region is located 2½ hours away from Chicago, and within a five-hour truck drive of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, Indianapolis and Omaha. Thirty-seven million people live within a 300 mile radius of the Quad Cities, putting businesses within ready access to customers and suppliers.

When it comes to workforce, companies in the Quad Cities can draw from the 40 colleges and universities located within a 90 mile radius. The institutions graduate 41,000 students annually. Additionally, many of the regional colleges offer robust and customizable workforce training programs.