Report: Population lag bad for Iowa economy
Iowa's lagging population growth will become a problem for the state's economy unless communities and businesses can find ways to attract new people, a group of business leaders said Monday.
"If Iowa's population is growing ... at 2 or 3 percent and our company is growing at 8 percent, I think you can figure out what the implications are," said Larry Zimpleman, outgoing chair of the Iowa Business Council, during a meeting with Register editors.
The Iowa Business Council, comprised of the state's largest companies, released its annual economic report Monday. It looks at five indicators, including economic growth, education and workforce readiness, governance and fiscal matter, health and well being, and workforce demographics and diversity.
Four of the report's five overall indicators remained unchanged from last year. The council downgraded, however, the status of workforce demographics because Iowa's population and diversity changes "are not advancing fast enough to address the needs of a growth-oriented economy."
New population estimates released in December showed Iowa's population grew 2 percent to more than 3.1 million between April 2010 and July 1, 2014. That's compared with 3.3 percent nationally for the same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The council report notes that Iowa is the only state that did not see its population grow at least 50 percent between 1900 and 2010. It also notes that 57 percent of Iowa children up to age 5 live in only 13 counties.
Zimpleman and other business council members said the population lag is related to Iowa's need for skilled workers.
"What it really means is, companies will do what they need to do to attract workforce and talent they need to be successful, but it may be that we're not able to do that in Iowa," said Zimpleman, who is also the CEO of Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group.
In particular, population loss in rural Iowa is a concern, they said.
"In these rural areas, if the population migration still moves away from rural, that's an issue for us 20 years from now ... it's something that I worry about, not next year, but if this shift continues, it's a concern," said Patrick Meyer, president and CEO of Pella Corp.
Meyer, Zimpleman and other council members used the data to call for more ways to promote Iowa's communities and bolster attempts to boost quality of life.
Slow population growth isn't the state's only trouble spot, according to the report.
Iowa ranked 31st among all 50 states in 2014 for the amount of "knowledge jobs," or positions that require higher levels of education or technology training. That rank is up from 32 in 2013 but still behind 18 in 2007.
For education, the council report shows Iowa faring well for ACT scores and the number of students under 25 who have graduated high school.
Iowa still struggles, however, with the amount of individuals over 25 who have earned at least a bachelor's degree. In 2013, about 26.4 percent of Iowans over 25 had earned a bachelor's or more, ranking the state 36th, according to the report.
The health of Iowans is also a concern business leaders raised Monday.
More than 31 percent of Iowans were considered obese in 2014, ranking the state 39th in the nation. That's the same rank Iowa had in 2000, when 21.5 percent of the population was considered obese.
Iowa's smoking habits are also keeping the state down, with 19.5 percent of Iowans over 18 smoking.
Chief executives from 21 of Iowa's largest companies, such as Rockwell Collins and Casey's General Stores, make up the Iowa Business Council. The council has released its Iowa Competitiveness Index since 2011.
Zimpleman served as the council's chair for 2014. Wells Enterprises President and CEO Michael Wells is serving as the 2015 chair. Le Mars-based Wells Enterprises is the maker of Blue Bunny ice cream.
The 25 members of the Iowa Business Council have made a good dent in their goal of hiring 2,500 military veterans by 2018, council officials said Monday.
Council members hired more than 870 veterans by the end of 2014, Executive Director Elliott Smith said during a meeting with Register editors.
The council pledged last year that its members would hire 2,500 veterans as a part of Home Base Iowa. The state initiative is a priority of Gov. Terry Branstad and an attempt to attract military members and veterans to Iowa and match them with jobs.