CEDAR RAPIDS — Corporations need to improve opportunities for women — particularly advancement to leadership jobs, Diane Ramsey, chief executive officer of Iowa Women Lead Change, said Tuesday at a symposium on workforce and regionalism hosted by The Gazette.
Baby boomers will retire at a rate of 35,000 people a day for the next 15 years, she said, and women and minorities will make up 85 percent of new recruits in the next few years. Not only is encouraging female employees needed from a numbers perspective, but female leaders often translates into better performing companies, she said.
“Organizations with at least three women on their boards have a greater return on equity, better return on sales, they’re viewed as more equitable organizations and outperform peers on average,” she said.
Ramsey urged a commitment to the EPIC Corporate Challenge — a statewide public-private partnership to formally commit to growing and retaining women in company leadership.
Ramsey was one of four presenters in the workforce and regionalism track of The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas symposium at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center.
The interactive conference, which will be held in similar fashion around Iowa this year, is designed to spur conversations that generate and refine solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the state.
Robin Bostrom, of Main Street Iowa, and Sarah Grunewaldt, of Main Street Washington, explained Main Street Iowa, a program to provide money and expertise to select communities for downtown revitalization.
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Washington underwent transformed from a town of deteriorating properties, including two collapsed buildings, Grunewaldt said. A cumbersome downtown streetscape project changed the look and feel of the downtown. A remodeled State Theater added a landmark for the community, and incentive programs encouraged businesses to improve facades. A new library is a draw on the town square.
“We used carrots and not sticks,” Grunewaldt said. “We started with a grant program with no money. ... We worked with our local banks. They invested and said we are going to offer construction loans 1.5 percent below prime.”
The effort paid off in creating a sense of community — a place people want to be, she said.
Jeff Schott, director of the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Iowa, spoke of his experience working with cities around the state as a consultant and mediator. One of the biggest obstacles to collaboration is the fear of losing ones’ identity, he said.
For example, could communities combine fire departments and share expensive resources, such as ladder trucks? The local fire department often is a point of pride and communities are reluctant to give that up, he said.
But examples of community collaboration exist, such as on regional waste authorities or in northwest Iowa where a local city government has played a vital role partnering with the private sector to address housing shortfalls.
Mark Nolte, president of Iowa City Area Development Group, and Doug Neumann, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance interim president and chief executive, discussed challenges of attracting talent to the Corridor. Neumann noted many companies have started focusing on skills gaps and retention, rather than simply workforce availability.
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