WATERLOO — Iowa’s economic development is growing faster than its population.
Iowa is ranked 45th in the nation in ethnic diversity, while it’s one of the top 10 states for marketing value and labor force participation.
Georgia Van Gundy, Iowa Business Council executive director, presented information Tuesday morning to local leaders on how competitive Iowa is in 2019 and recommendations on what Iowa can do better.
“We need to do a better job telling our story,” Van Gundy said. “We really need to be thinking about how do we attract more people and keep them here and make our population more diverse.”
From 1900 to 2010, Iowa was the only state in the nation that hasn’t seen its population grow by 50 percent, Van Gundy said.
Quentin Hart, Waterloo mayor, and Jim Brown, Cedar Falls mayor, were both at the meeting and feel their cities have brought diversity to their towns.
The University of Northern Iowa and Hawkeye Community College have brought a lot of diversity to the Cedar Valley, and Hart has pushed to meet with Waterloo’s young network of professionals.
“Last week I hosted an after hours for young professionals in our community,” Hart said. “We’re really trying to push the envelope on trying to create that engagement and those opportunities.”
Hart and Brown want to create a quality of life and job-focused environment to bring people and development.
“I think that allows for the market to help to fill roles that need to be filled,” Brown said.
Despite its population, Iowa’s economy is growing.
“You want to be in a state where the economy is growing,” Van Gundy said. “It means there are a lot of opportunities for people to have jobs.”
Iowa has a lot of jobs in agriculture, but it also has jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“We have a lot of careers in different areas that people don’t recognize that we have in Iowa,” Van Gundy said. “People don’t understand the careers that are here.”
Business and community leaders have worked hard to be attractive to families and young adults.
“I think communities in Iowa are really moving toward and doing a good job of putting in more quality-of-life amenities for their communities,” Van Gundy.
Communities around Iowa have put in more parks, trails and recreation centers to welcome more citizens.
“We don’t have mountains, we don’t have beaches and some of the things people want, and so we need to be talking about why what we have is equally as good as that,” Van Gundy said.
The data also showed the state has struggled to retain its college educated population.
“One of our challenges in the state is filling our middle-skills jobs,” Van Grundy said. “I think people are most surprised by that statistic.”