No change in Iowa Business Council competitiveness index

Gov. Terry Branstad presents education reform outline at annual meeting

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The chairman of the Iowa Business Council called for "transformation" of Iowa's educational system Monday after reporting "no significant change" in the education and workforce readiness category of his organization's annual Iowa Competitiveness Index.

"We're asking the members of the Iowa Legislature to move forward with education transformation," said Stan A. Askren, chairman, president and CEO of HNI in Muscatine, at the IBC annual meeting in Des Moines. "The time has arrived to be bold, courageous and transformative in how education is delivered in Iowa.

"The state's economic vitality and future rests on our ability to have a well educated and prepared work force. Iowa’s education system must be in the top tier of all states and globally competitive."

The overall trend indicators for economic growth, education and workforce readiness, governance and fiscal matters, health and well-being, and workforce demographics and diversity remained unchanged from the 2012 less competitive index. Askren said individual measurements within each category in the aggregate have, for the most part, maintained status quo.

On the positive side, Askren noted that Iowa has the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.9 percent. The state also does well in manufacturing as a percentage of gross state product, ranking as a top 10 state.

"Proficiency of eighth grade reading and math scores remain steady, but Iowa’s competitiveness in relation to other states has declined significantly in the last decade,"Askren said. "Iowa’s average ACT score, relative to the 28 states where at least 50 percent of the students take the exam, dipped slightly but the ranking remains unchanged and near the top."

The percentage of Iowans at least 25 years-old with a bachelor’s degree or higher indicates that only 25 percent of the state's population has earned at least a bachelors degree.

"Iowa’s ranking of 36th in the nation rests squarely in the bottom-half of the country,"Askren said.

The annual IBC competitiveness "report card" showed Iowa's state debt as a percentage of gross state product ranks well nationally and indicates progress has been made in lowering the debt obligations of state government. But local government debt as a percentage of gross state product is worsening.

In the area of health and well-being, Iowans are not becoming more physically fit. The percentage of Iowans considered to be obese continues to rank in the bottom third of the country.

The index data show Iowans also smoke too much, as the percentage of smokers 18 years and older increased by 25 percent over the last decade.

On the plus side, infant mortality per 1,000 live births showed strong improvement in the 2013 Index. Iowa moved up four ranking spots within the top 10.

Gov. Terry Branstad, in his keynote speech to the Iowa Business Council Monday, echoed Askren's call for transformation of Iowa's educational system. Branstad presented an outline of his administration's education reform, property tax reform and health and wellness proposals.

The Iowa Business Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose 25 members are the top executives of 21 of the largest businesses in the state, the three Regent university presidents, and the Iowa Bankers Association.

The intent of the annual Iowa Competitiveness Index is to present data and information relevant to trends that suggest how economic development activity can best be enhanced in Iowa. The goal is to ensure the state is focused on long-term strategies that promote growth.

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