MUSCATINE — Gov. Kim Reynolds made a stop Thursday at Carver Pump Company in Muscatine on her Condition of the State tour.
Workforce development strategy was the focus of discussion as Reynolds toured the facility that engineers and manufactures pumps for industry and the U.S. government. The family-owned company started by Roy J. Carver Sr. is headed by CEO Andrew Carver, third generation. He said the company is part of a billion dollar industry and is trying to keep up with overseas manufacturing.
"This is a company that's been in place for a long time," Reynolds said. "They continue to grow. They continue to be successful. It's the same thing that I hear as I'm visiting businesses across the state."
Reynolds asked about staffing and if the company was seeking employees. Human Resources manager Megan Randoll said there are 107 employees in Muscatine with openings for five machinists. The company has an 80,000 square-foot plant with machine shop and assembly. She said the company started facilitating a program for machining classes targeted to Muscatine eighth-grade students.
"Math is so important for us," Randoll said, but they found getting students to pass a math test "is a struggle."
The Iowa Business Council, a nonpartisan nonprofit, released its Competitive Dashboard Monday which measures how the state is performing on a national level in areas including demographics and diversity, education and workforce, governance, health and wellness, and economic growth.
The report found Iowa's 2018 eighth-grade reading and math proficiencies were average at 37 percent each, ranking 18th in the nation. Along with a poor score in education attainment of a bachelor degree or more, the report stated, "These metrics indicate that the state is not keeping up with the talent demands of today, nor properly preparing for the workforce needs of the future."
In response, Reynolds cited her Future Ready Iowa initiative, of which she said the IBC has been "very supportive."
She said businesses in Iowa are "screaming for workforce. "I don't care if it's small, medium or large, companies are successful, they're growing and they just need workers," she said.
The Future Ready Iowa Act to create a "talent pipeline of skilled workers" was signed by Reynolds last year with the goal of have 70 percent of Iowa workers educated or trained beyond high school by 2025. Now that it's passed, Reynolds said it needs the funding behind it to provide certification and apprenticeship programs, and the Last Dollar Scholarship program, which provides credentialing or a two-year degree in a high demand job.
"I called for $20 million in my budget — $17.2 million of that will go to the Last Dollar scholars," she said. "That's where we can ramp up quickly and could really help with welding and CNC and all of that."
The report also showed Iowa scored poor overall in the demographics and diversity category due to poor scores in total population, ethnic diversity of population, and net overall migration. Iowa “consistently ranks in the bottom six states for the ethnic diversity of our population,” it read. Within the last five years the state has diversified along with the national average growth rate of 1.6 percent, but to improve, diversification needs to happen more quickly.
Jeff Lorenger, president and CEO of HNI and an IBC member, said the report is "a nice way to consistently measure where Iowa sits from a competitiveness standpoint" compared to other states.
The issues the state faces regarding workforce development starts with a shortage of skilled workers, he said.
"We need to continue to remove barriers," he said, "and get more Iowans entering the workforce or 'upskilling,' so to speak, which is what I believe the Governor's initiative Future Ready Iowa was and is about."
The "bottom line," Lorenger said, is Iowa's population growth. Encouraging people to move to the state and encouraging young people to get into manufacturing, computer science and health care by providing internships, externships or workplace training, financial rewards, and apprenticeships are the way to improve the state's workforce.
The report read growth in rural, suburban and urban areas is crucial and the IBC will develop a public-private partnership to create initiatives to "attract and retain a diverse population across Iowa" including talent from other countries. It recommended the state "advocate for and advance policies that modernize the US immigration system and deliver certainty for businesses, workers, and their families."
Lorenger said HNI participates in the "pipeline" by providing funding and programming to Project Lead the Way, PLTW, and academies offered through Muscatine High School. He said the company will at times hire interns from the PLTW program and have invested in Muscatine Community College technology labs.
Providing these programs to young people "creates awareness earlier in the process to at least know there are other alternatives or other paths to go," Lorenger said. "If you don't know, you don't even have the opportunity."
However, these opportunities take time and money to develop.
"None of this happens overnight," Lorenger said.
Randoll said starting the program for middle school students helps to address the unemployment and skills gap in the state. She said the program would suit any student, but may help those who are struggling with academics by encouraging them to seek trade skills as a way into the workforce.
"We're really trying to educate our community," she said.
COO of the company Mark Post said the company working to provide the education helps bring in successful employees.
"We decided a long time ago that if we didn't grow our own," he said, "we wouldn't have competent operators (in the plant)."
Randoll said a teacher the company had worked with closely left the district due to some funding cuts and that impacted the program. Reynolds said she would plan to get the Iowa Department of Education involved in looking into ways of possibly incorporating machining, CNC operating and welding trade skill programs into the curriculum at the high school.
"Next year, when I give the Condition of the State address," Reynolds said, "my goal is I can say at least 20-25 schools are providing these opportunities to kids."
Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Greg Jenkins attended the tour along with Reynolds.
"I thought it was really good that the Governor came to see this unique company and visit with the people about what they do and what their needs are when it comes to the workforce," he said, "and the struggles that they have like many of the other businesses in our community."
He said, "she's in touch with many of the businesses and recognizes the issues and how to address them."
Reynolds said she's "very optimistic" about the state's economic growth and acknowledged the need for a workforce to keep up.
"I'm looking for every opportunity that I can, whether that's middle school, high school, retraining adults to get them a pipeline of talent that they need to keep growing and being successful," she said, "and that's just the piece that we need to really focus on right now."