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Three ways Iowa can keep young workers

Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo mayors discuss workforce challenges

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump tours a Carrier factory with Vice President-elect Mike Pence in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. Eastern Iowa mayors say their communities are suffering from too little unemployment.

Three mayors gathered in Iowa City last week, and each mentioned the need to grow their local workforce. To do that, state leaders want to attract and retain more young people.

Iowa has the eighth lowest unemployment rate in the nation at just 3 percent in October, according to federal labor statistics. Seven metro areas in Iowa have unemployment rates among the lowest 100 nationally.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said new employers might struggle to find workers to fill their positions.

“With our unemployment rate really too low, our business community is now struggling to find workers and we are starting to see the churn with employees moving from company to company,” Corbett said.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said even though his town has many young degree-holders, they don’t necessarily match up with available jobs.

“In the Iowa City area, there’s a shortfall but it’s a shortfall of particular kinds of skilled workers,” Throgmorton said.

And Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said his own family history is closely linked to this issue.

“[My parents] came to Waterloo because they heard about work in the city. They heard about John Deere’s and all those other opportunities,” Hart said.

This is a personal issue for me as a young Iowan, and I have a few ideas for leaders who are serious about keeping young people in our state.

First, let us work how we want.

Politicians are right to focus on jobs as a key factor in retaining young people, but I think they’re doing it wrong.

Modern economic development usually includes giving corporations financial incentives to expand or relocate. For example, Iowa’s infamous $200 million Apple data center deal is expected to create just 50 jobs. It’s difficult to see how that’s a wise investment.

Instead, politicians should look for ways to deregulate entrepreneurship, and eliminate the tax and health care barriers which force young people to stay in full-time jobs they don’t want.

Second, let us live how we want.

In my experience, rent is the single biggest deterrent for young people hoping to live in my hometown of Iowa City.

The estimated fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Johnson County is nearly $1,000, among the highest in the Midwest. That reflects a shortage of rental units, which drives up prices.

Yet the local government is making life harder for renters, through imposing superfluous requirements on developers and restricting rental properties.

And finally, stop putting us in jail.

Iowa authorities make thousands of arrests each year for pretend offenses like drunkenness and drug possession. Linn County alone listed more than 1,600 arrests for “crimes against society” in the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s 2016 crime report.

Throwing people in cages is a bad way to invite people to build their lives in our state.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com.