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Over the years, I’ve interviewed more economists than you probably can shake a Laffer curve at. But the economist I most wanted to chat with for our 2021 Gazette Business Awards keynote interview was Dr. Kathryn Anne Edwards.
Edwards, a labor economist with the Rand Corporation think tank, also is a professor at the Pardee Rand Graduate School. Her public-policy research has included unemployment insurance; the STEM education pipeline; women's workforce issues; challenges in retirement facing older Americans; and the labor market for workers without college degrees.
So she was the obvious choice with whom to check in during a year when we figured we’d be post-pandemic — though not quite just yet, it now seems — and given Iowa’s continuing hiring and retention concerns.
One piece of “cold comfort” she offered during our discussion was that Iowa is not alone among states in its workforce challenges.
Edwards outlined two principal ways to gain more workers.
“Either you import more people though immigration,” she said — “if your population grew, you’d have more people” working — or you must develop ways to get more of the current population working. Both these avenues can be expensive and require “investments” on the part of employers — day care options and accommodations at the workplace, for example — as well as policy changes at the state level.
She pointed out Iowa’s labor participation rate dropped notably during the pandemic compared to the national average. So the workforce solution for us is “not a slam dunk,” Edwards said.
It’s also fitting to have Edwards take part in this year’s Gazette Business Awards in that our very first awards event — in 2015, live and in person at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids, you’ll remember — featured as its keynotes Debi Durham, Iowa Economic Development Authority director, and then-Iowa Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino.
They talked about — you guessed it — workforce issues and their effects on progress and the state’s economy.
And speaking of awards, each of this year’s recipients have been interviewed by Gazette reporters — Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne, Michaela Ramm and John Steppe — or me to talk about their achievements. Challenges they faced, decisions they made and lessons they learned and want to share.
This year’s Gazette Business Award recipients, by category, are:
- The Trailblazer: Kim Becicka, Kirkwood Community College
- The Driver: Kate Moreland, Iowa City Area Development Group
- Economic Development: BAE Systems
- Collaboration: Iowa EdTech Collaborative
- Commercial Real Estate: Xtreme Arena and GreenState Family Fieldhouse
- Community Vision: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
- Economic Support: NewBoCo
- Infrastructure: ImOn Communications
- Innovation: NewBo City Market
- Rebuilding: Trees Forever and Monarch Research Project for the ReLeaf Cedar Rapids and Planting Forward projects
- Restaurant: Vivian’s Soul Food
You can watch our recorded interviews with this year’s Gazette Business Award recipients — along with my full discussion with the Rand Corporation’s Edwards — at thegazette.com/businessawards. Beginning Thursday, Sept. 9, we will upload to our site a pair of interviews each day.
You should watch.
Presenting sponsor for the 2021 Gazette Business Awards is TrueNorth Cos.
Michael Chevy Castranova is business editor of The Gazette; (319) 398-8307; email@example.com