Iowa Labor Shortage Forecast

Earlier this month, an article popped up in the Mason City Globe Gazette highlighting an anticipated labor shortage in Iowa through at least 2011.  The article discusses the usual excuses for a shrinking labor pool.  But as usual, there are major inconsistencies that lend themselves to the continual propagation of this problem of "brain drain".

  1. The article brings up the point that "Companies don’t want to hire older people because young college graduates are cheaper." In the same breath, the article mentions that young people leave immediately upon graduation because they want to "get out of the Midwest", make more money, etc. Which is it?
  2. The article talks about ways to solve these problems like raising the minimum wage and creating government programs to help this cause.  Wrong.   Minimum wage has nothing to do with keeping young talent and other professional jobs in the state.  Government business funding programs typically make it easier for bad ideas to get funding.  That doesn’t stimulate anything but higher taxes and political football passing at election time. 
  3. What this article and the leadership of Iowa isn’t getting is that they need to court those who wish to come back and bring their skills, family, and higher wage expectations to Iowa.  It’s the late 20 and early 30something crowd with 2 kids that begin to crave this lifestyle after they’ve "seen the world" out there in the big city and found that they don’t really care for it as much as they thought they would (now with their mitigating circumstances like a 120 minute commute and a 2 kids under 5). 
  4. Almost nothing is going to make people flock to Iowa.  Period.  It’s wonderful and beautiful and I love it…but for this area to boom, it will take vision.  As I’ve mentioned plenty on my Ethanol Industry blog Ethanol Alley, a place like this must take what it can get.  Right now the humble Midwest has the chance to become the scientific leader and key producer of all things bio-fuel related.  Will we seize this chance of a generation?  I still don’t believe that our leadership understands that this is Iowa’s silicon valley lite opportunity.  If our state government did its job, we’d be looking at initiatives that the people would vote YES on…that would give permission to the state to plow money into the breakthroughs leading to energy independence.  How about $1 billion to start…and watch the VC money flow like wine at a 1990’s dot com launch party to follow. 

To gain true perspective on what it takes to become the next Silicon Valley or even just a hot bed for job and tech growth, I suggest reading one of my favorite tech/biz essayist Paul Graham.  His piece called "How to be Silicon Valley" is a wonderful primer on this topic.  The opening paragraphs state that, "You only need two kind of people to create a technology hub:  rich people and nerds."  Do we have many of either here in Iowa?

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