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Web Exclusive - Iowa 2010 - Stopping the Brain Drain

posted on May 9, 2008 at 10:42 AM

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Yeager: I'm Paul Yeager and welcome to this Web extra from The Iowa Journal.  We are continuing our conversation about where Iowa sits with Iowa 2010 and also population shifts.  With us, again, Jerry Kelley, Mayor of Indianola and also a member of the Iowa 2010 Commission and also Dr. William Withers of Wartburg College who does frequent speeches when it comes to population shifts around the country. 

Gentlemen, I want to continue a little bit further on the Iowa 2010 project.  We're just a couple of years away on that one.  Jerry, you said during the program that things seem to be moving along somewhat but it seems that there's much more room to go.  Where are we at?  Are we three in five?  Are we two in six?  Are we four in four?  How many have we hit and checked off the list?

Kelley: Going back even farther we've had, prior to Iowa 2010 we had six state strategic plans all of which went on a shelf because in the process of doing the strategic planning there was no implementation device and strategic planning without implementation, save the effort. 

A group of volunteers, most of them, I think all of them leftover from the Iowa 2010 Commission created Iowans for a Better Future in January of 2001 to continue to push on the eight topics so that someone would keep awareness.  And that is where we've been out doing speeches, we've done the Grow Iowa tour, the Think Iowa, we've done a number of things to create visibility. 

There were eight central goals.  I would say four and a half of them have been somewhat addressed or addressed to the point where you can say something is happening here. 

The ones where I think we're still far short is any form of government restructuring or efficiency, addressing the workforce and population issue as it relates to vibrancy of the rural economy and vibrancy of our cities and then also in terms of how are we going to keep our businesses going in the future. 

On education there has been much conversation about making our school systems more rigorous.  I haven't seen it yet in terms of incoming freshmen, maybe Bill has.  But underlying that we've picked up since 2000 this issue with how are we going to keep our colleges going because we don't have enough people.  It was not something that was part of 2010, it's something that has come since 2010.

Yeager: Bill, you're at a college, Wartburg College in Waverly, that's in the northeast part of the state.  There was not a young professional group that we highlighted in the Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Waverly area or to the point northeast from there but that is a primary part of student draw for that school.  How do schools like Wartburg, not just them specifically, where are they going to find students?  You talk about they're throwing out a wider net.  Is that what they're going to have to continue to do?

Withers: It's absolutely critical.  We will routinely -- colleges and universities all across Iowa are going to have to go where the populations are and they're going to have to look at some very entrepreneurial innovative partnerships in doing so, visiting high schools in regions that they would not have normally -- and I guess the thing I would say it's not budgeted for. 

We all draw down very heavily on a dwindling population, that's no big trade secret, that's just the way it is and as you looked at the map in our primary program tonight you just see that those numbers will dwindle between now and 2030, dramatically so.  So, you're going to have to get creative, you're going to have to spend money and get where these students are and places like Las Vegas.

Yeager: Are there other places that you're doing recruiting besides Vegas?  Phoenix is a growing area, plenty of Iowans are down there as well.

Kelley: One of the things that we wanted to have happen in terms of higher education is more cooperation between the Regents' schools, the community colleges and the private colleges and universities and there is more. 

There is more in terms of credits, there is more in terms of people going from one to the other and the college presidents have really understood and have stepped up in terms of what needs to happen.  As far as the recruitment part, we need to know where graduates are. 

Those things are held very closely by the institutions because that is also their donor base.  They don't want you to know where their graduates are but we need to know where those Iowans are so that we can use those people as a resource. 

There are two things I tell people in towns and they say what can we be doing?  I said, well, five year college reunions and ten year high school reunions.  Go after those people, have a brochure ready to hand them, show them the housing, show them the job opportunities because if they care enough to come back to your little town because of some good experience they had five years ago or ten years ago and now they're at the point where they're starting their families, go after them.  And that is a pool that comes every year to every one of those towns.

Yeager: And that's something that Governor Vilsack was doing around University of Iowa football bowl trips, he did it in Florida, Iowa State when they were in Arizona, those Remember Iowa campaigns and cards.  Do you think any of those have been successful?  Is there a follow up that needs to be done?

Kelley: We need 300,000 workers.  I think those efforts got us 1100, people who said they were going to come back.  That's great but we need 400 people going out and making those trips to get people to come back to Iowa. 

We need to go to every military base where those young people are coming out of the military with tremendous skill sets and tell them where they should be going in Iowa, to wherever it happens to be, to say these are jobs using your skill sets and we should be at every one of those military bases with an Iowa package.

Yeager: But not just Iowans, you can't just go after Iowans.

Withers: I can tell you, you can go to Texas, you can go to Florida, you can go to California but if you're a young person in those states, and they're doing well, let me ask you this, are you thinking Iowa?

Yeager: And if not, why?

Withers: Right.

Kelley: That puts us back on the Think Iowa -- we need to market.  This is the best place for higher education in the United States.

Withers: 15 community colleges, three great Regent's schools, all these private colleges and universities, it's amazing.

Yeager: Do you think you need to do a little reverse psychology and tell people not to move to Iowa and create a little bit of what Oregon did a few years ago?

Kelley: The thing is that people come home when they're 27, 28, 29 because they want to start their families, they want to go where there's good education, good environment, a future and that's the group that you go after.  Trying to keep someone who is 22 who wants to go climb a mountain ...

Yeager: We're not going to get the mountains, we're not going to get the ocean here.

Kelley: The state of Wisconsin which has professional athletics, great lakes, all of those things, their head of their workforce said that if they did not grow through immigration they were on a suicidal course.  If Wisconsin can recognize they're on a suicidal course ...

Yeager: That was one thing -- I want to finish on this topic.  One of the more controversial topics of 2010 when it came out was about immigrants and welcoming immigrants from other countries.  Was it that or not?

Kelley: I happen to chair the population workforce committee for that thing.  We made the front page of the New York Times saying Iowa wanted to be the Ellis Island of the Midwest.  That did not mean everybody from Mexico, it meant people from Illinois and then people from Canada, it meant people from anywhere. 

City Hall in Indianola I received 882 resumes from people around the world saying I want to come to Iowa.  And Iowa didn't know what to do with that kind of interest and could not respond.  There was a man that told me, he said, how many second language teachers do you need?  I'll send as many as you can take. 

We couldn't take them because they weren't certified in Iowa.  And this is part of the Iowa issue is you've got to be flexible, you've got to be nimble and you've got to seize your opportunity.  I don't know how many times you're going to make the front page of the New York Times saying come to us.

Yeager: Bring us your tired, bring us your poor, bring us your Bill Withers from Wartburg College, bring us your Jerry Kelley from Indianola.  Gentlemen, I appreciate you for this Web extra.  Thanks for watching on iptv.org/iowajournal.  And join us again next time on The Iowa Journal.


Tags: future Iowa politics population professionals young adults


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