Iowa's economy is showing signs of recovery according to key indicators including new residential building permits, average weekly manufacturing hours, and the agricultural futures price index.
The Iowa Leading Indicators Index – which took a 17-month nose dive that began in April of 2008 shows a gradual upswing since September according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.
And although Iowa's unemployment rate of 6.8 percent is well below the 9.9 percent national rate, nearly 115,000 Iowans are still in need of jobs.
More than half of the counties in the state, those indicated in green, reported an unemployment rate increase of 1.1 to 2.0 percent in a year's time according to Iowa Workforce Development.
But not all of Iowa suffers as high a loss of jobs. The Iowa Journal visited the town of Carroll, where for the last decade the entire county has had one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the state – even during the recent recession.
The story of Carroll is one of diversity and planning. The diversity is in the businesses that make up the working community. Big employers fill the city’s industrial park.
Window maker Pella Corporation, home warranty company American Home Shield and candy and food distributor Farner Bocken are the city’s biggest employers. Along with St. Anthony’s hospital, the 4 businesses only provide 17% of the county’s jobs.
“We’re going to help you with your breathing today.”
This may look like a patient, but “Mr. Saint” is really a mannequin used to train medical professionals from across the region. The training session was created in Carroll to bring medical professionals to town and to keep St. Anthony’s on the cutting edge of regional hospitals. That makes it attractive to both potential patients and employees.
Gary Riedmann/President and CEO, St. Anthony’s Regional Hospital and Nursing Home: “Our education and training is ongoing. As we move into a more specialized set of services, we’re getting ready for the future, and we’re making a difference that way.”
Gary Riedmann is the President and CEO of the hospital. He’s also the chair of the Carroll Area Development Corporation, a non-profit community organization that helps plan Carroll’s future. Riedmann says community leaders are constantly looking for the type of industries they think will make the city and county better.
Gary Riedmann: “If it is a lesson to be learned it is the leadership in our community. We have had individuals willing to get involved keep coming back, keep coming back, and do their part of the business. Go out and ask, talk and communicate. Leadership and communication are very important to everything we do.”
One leader is former Iowa lieutenant governor, Art Neu.
Arthur Neu/Carroll: “It is hard to do. You’ve got to have good government, good people that are willing to turn over. You have to bring in new blood all the time, I think that has happened here.”
Sometimes Carroll’s success is as simple as answering the phone.
Robert Beaman/Senior Vice President of Operations, MarketLink: “As we sent out questionnaires to various communities, Carroll was one of the first to respond, and really bent over backwards to attract our business, very responsive to our needs.”
Robert Beaman is the Senior V-P of operations of MarketLink, a Des Moines based teleservices-company. 46 full-time employees were added in the last 6 months at this location in Carroll. 17 more part-timers will be added in the next couple of months.
Robert Beaman: “The work ethic is so great in Iowa, kind of a natural for us and we’re familiar with Carroll anyway, we knew what we were going into. Since they have the facility, and certainly the city fathers wanted to work with us. How can you turn that down?”
Carroll city leaders say constant communication is a secret to their success. Each week the city’s chamber members meet to talk about the area's business climate and what can be done to make it stronger. It is more than just "talk".
Gary Riedmann: “Every 2 years we go out, this year in particular, we got out to 45 businesses through out the county and sit down with the executive leadership of those businesses and say how’s your business doing, where’s your business going, what can we do to help?”
This approach is done throughout the multi-county region. Carroll sits in the middle of the 8-county Western Iowa Advantage, a group that markets the area.
Shirley Phillips/Chair, Western Iowa Advantage: “We’re able to do things as a group that we’re not able to do provide to our counties individually.”
The WIA also offers a revolving loan fund to help businesses expand or locate in the region. The goal is to not compete against each other in the region, but find the best fit in each community.
Art Neu: “We’re 90-100 miles from every metropolitan area, so Carroll is kind of a hub, in a lot of ways, people from contiguous counties come here to shop, come here to buy cars, and we a pretty vibrant retail area. That’s helped by the industries we have here which don’t tend to be all that cycler.”
The growth in jobs and employment opportunities has also given the region the incentive and financial support to improve the appearance of their communities.Shirley Phillips: “We’ve gone ahead and progressed with things like the streetscape projects, brought in more and more visitors through tourism attractions. Maybe we choose to ignore the fact we’re in the middle of a recession and decided to march ahead.”