WAVERLY -- A simple question at the beginning of a tour at United Equipment Accessories in Waverly offered an ideal opening for President and CEO Mark Hanawalt.
Gov. Kim Reynolds asked Hanawalt how many employees the Waverly business has, and whether any of those 100-plus positions are open.
“We have positions open right now," Hanawalt said, just as the tour got underway. "That’s something I want to talk to you about."
In between describing the work the company has done in its 65 year history, Hanawalt talked about the workforce shortage he and many Iowa businesses face.
“We need more people in this state,” Hanawalt said. “I think we can change that, and I’m going to give you a couple of ideas.”
Hanawalt suggested targeting Iowa natives who have left the state and reminding them of the benefits the state has to offer, as well as paying special attention to the students at Iowa’s small private colleges who are more likely to be rural Iowans who stay in Iowa.
He noted acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg is the embodiment of that latter idea — he's a graduate of Central College in Pella.
“The message I want to send young people is that in Iowa you can really, truly have it all,” Gregg said, pointing to opportunities for work, homes with yards, reasonable commutes, safe neighborhoods, good schools and involvement in the community. “I feel like that has been my experience, and it doesn’t have to be unique.”
Iowa’s worker shortage is well documented, particularly at places like United Equipment Accessories, that is, manufacturing businesses that require training beyond high school.
Iowa Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, who has been on workforce and economic development committees often stresses a particular statistic from the Iowa Business Council about the extent of the shortage. He says the state will need to replace 610,000 workers by 2025 but it has only grown its population by about 200,000 in the last 20 years.
It’s an area of bipartisan concern.
“Business and industry, they’re willing and ready, because the need is there, and so whether it’s (science, technology, engineering or math education), or whether it’s pre-K education, or whether it’s apprenticeships, internships, any of those, they’re willing to be helpful in any way that they can,” Reynolds said.
She also noted Iowa has made progress in the past few years.
“We have turned the corner when it comes to our young people staying in Iowa. We were educating and exporting them out, but we do see more young people staying in the state,” Reynolds said. “We’ve turned the corner. We’re heading in the right direction, but we have a long way to go and need to look for opportunities to, of course, bring them back home.”
Reynolds said Iowa is taking a multi-faceted approach, but she and Gregg also stressed they appreciate business people coming forward with suggestions as Hanawalt did.
“That’s how we develop our programs and our policies that we move forward —the ideas that we get when we’re out on the road,” Reynolds said.