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Waterloo-Cedar Falls laborshed analysis

WATERLOO — About one-fourth of the employed working-age adults in the Cedar Valley would be likely to change employment if a new or expanding employer offered the right medical insurance, pension, and retirement benefits, according to a new state survey.

Those were the results of a recent state “laborshed” survey of the Cedar Valley and the surrounding area, the results of which were provided to Grow Cedar Valley, the regional economic development organization.

The Iowa Workforce Development study confirms what economic developers already were seeing and hearing from employers and employees, Grow Cedar Valley executive director Cary Darrah said. “They want a career, but it isn’t just the job. They want benefits,” including health care and retirement benefits, among others.

It’s important for employers to offer those benefits to stay competitive with an increasingly mobile present-day workforce. “Millennials are supposed to change jobs more than nine times in the first 10 to 15 years of their employment,” she said.

The workforce is not only mobile in employment, it’s geographically mobile, Darrah said. The laborshed survey shows the Cedar Valley drawing workers from an 80-mile radius — for the right pay and benefits.

Employees are willing to drive some distance to work but still enjoy small-town living.

“If an employee is driving 40 to 50 miles, it’s important to have the transportation facilities” so small towns can keep residents in their communities and stay vital. Those small communities are counting on those residents to continue to live there even if they find employment out of town.

The survey, which demonstrates the available workforce, will be used recruit and encourage new and expanding businesses in the region. While unemployment rates are relatively low, economic developers note a number of currently employed individuals are actively seeking other employment and would move for the correct pay and benefits, even commuting some distance within that geographic area for those jobs. Periodic “laborshed” surveys demonstrate a labor pool from which employers can draw workers. Such a survey was used to attract the massive Target Distribution Center to Cedar Falls. It was built in 2001-03, and a grocery addition was built in 2007-09, bringing a total of more than 900 jobs to the area between the two projects and becoming Cedar Falls’ largest private employer.

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The current laborshed survey also showed the largest employment sectors include manufacturing; health care and social services; wholesale and retail trade and education.

“Manufacturing is at the top, with health care and education not far behind,” Darrah said. “That should be no surprise, since Black Hawk County has more manufacturing per capita than any other county in the state,” about 17% of the labor force.

The survey was based on the results of some 1,400 returned surveys of adults age 18 to 64 in northeast and eastern Iowa.

Among the survey findings: 26.8% of more than 438,000 employed individuals within about an 80-mile radius of Waterloo-Cedar Falls are “likely to change their current employment situation for a new opportunity,” and are actively seeking employment, the report said. Those employees make between $15 and $20 an hour.

Employees indicated their top-priority benefits are medical insurance; retirement benefits, including pension and 401K retirement plans; dental coverage; paid holidays and vacations.

More than 60% of unemployed individuals are likely to accept an employment opportunity in the $12 to $15 an hour range. In that vein, Darrah said, “We also have to identify the barriers that keep people from coming here (to work) or encouraging them to leave.” Among those are the availability of child care and transportation. Grow Cedar Valley works with many public and private organizations and businesses to address those needs.

Another challenge is offering the right quality of life “amenities” to encourage former residents to return to the area to make a living and raise their families, Darrah said.

More information on the laborshed studies locally and around the state is available online at https://www.iowalmi.gov/laborshed-studies.

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