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Iowa 'brain drain' topic of Courier forum

Iowa 'brain drain' topic of Courier forum

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WATERLOO | Iowans need to do a better job promoting opportunities to recruit and retain talent, panelists discussing Iowa's so-called "brain drain" said Tuesday.

Business leaders, recruiters and a college student discussed ways to entice people to stay in Iowa after graduating college, or at least return later.

Part of the problem is people might not see the opportunities around them, some panelists said.

"There's a lot of great high-end engineering, tech-oriented opportunities out there," said Danny Laudick, talent solutions director at the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber. “It’s not just about educating students, it’s about educating those who educate the students.”

Lyle Muller, executive director of Iowa Watch, an Iowa City-based public affairs reporting organization, and Courier Editor Nancy Newhoff led the discussion. Panel members included Laudick; Sherman Wise of Waterloo, marketing manager for Premier Staffing; Rachel Evans, career services coordinator for Hawkeye Community College; and Nicholas Fisher, a University of Northern Iowa student who just concluded his sophomore year.

“Some people live here for decades, and they’re still not sure what’s going on,” Wise said.

Evans said at her job she sees people seeking training for local opportunities.

Fisher and Wise noted a desire for diversity is a big reason driving people to leave the state.

“One thing I’d like to see here is more diversity,” Wise said.

Fisher said finding more diverse experiences spurred him to leave his hometown of Mechanicsville to attend UNI. His experience at UNI so far has been positive, he said, adding it might enable him to seek further opportunities -- possibly out state.

“I want more of that,” Fisher said.

Building a sense of belonging to Iowa might help keep people in the state, panelists said.

Laudick noted people want a social connection, to be in a place that is welcoming that has appealing aesthetics.

“How do you help them build that sense of place?” he asked.

Muller offered no hard statistics backing the brain drain assertion, but cited studies by UNI, University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

The report shows about half of UI and ISU respondents reported no longer living in Iowa, six months after leaving school,  while 85 percent of UNI respondents still lived in Iowa. UNI has a higher percentage of in-state enrollment than the other state schools.

In terms of recruiting students, Iowa benefits from a brain "gain," attracting more out-of-state college students than it sends to other states, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

Experiencing a temporary “brain drain” may not be all bad, Laudick said. Some people acquire skills and bring innovative elements of other communities back to Iowa.

The key is making Iowa a place they consider returning to, he added.

Marieda Freese, an entrepreneur from Cedar Rapids who attended the forum, said she has seen companies have trouble retaining talent. She said leaders need to create areas that instill a sense of community. She pointed to downtown neighborhoods like Little Bohemia in Cedar Rapids as examples.

“Let’s create that kind of space where people can get together,” she said.

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