CEDAR RAPIDS — At business after business on her swing Wednesday through distribution and manufacturing plants in Eastern Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she heard the same message over and over again.
“The biggest barrier to our economic growth is people,” Reynolds told The Gazette after touring Cedar Rapids-based M & W Manufacturing, which designs and manufactures manifolds used to regulate flow and pressure between pumps and other components in hydraulic systems.
“How many could you hire right now?” Reynolds asked M & W President Dan Musil after shaking hands and taking photos with dozens of his company’s workers.
“How many you got?” he asked — a message Reynolds said is beginning to echo.
“It’s 100, it’s 20, it’s 30, it’s 10 — depending on the size of the company,” she said. “I’ve been in three business visits today already, and at every stop, business is growing. They’ve seen great growth over the past five years and they project extended growth. But they need people.”
Reynolds started her day at Raymon HVAC in Albion before heading to Martin Bros. Distributing in Cedar Falls and then M & W. She met with The Gazette’s Editorial Board before visiting Cummins Manufacturing in Tipton.
Iowa has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.4 percent, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data in December. That is well below the national average of 3.9 percent.
During her business visits Wednesday, Reynolds stressed a need to not just train and educate Iowans for available jobs, but to keep them here after they receive that training. That, she said, hinges on relationship-building.
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“Sometimes they’re just not aware of the opportunities that are right in their backyard,” she said. “So we need to do a better job of that. And we need to do a better job of letting parents know that these are great careers. They pay well. These are great companies.”
Reynolds, while shaking hands with many M & W workers, asked where they came from, how they got here and why they stayed. After meeting the company’s newest Iowa State University engineering hire, who had been on board just a month, Reynolds learned he was from the Cedar Rapids area and had a connection with someone at the company.
“I’m always trying to figure out how you grab these engineers, because they are a hot commodity,” she said. “Thank you for staying in Iowa.”
In her budget recommendation earlier this month, Reynolds proposed $20 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $12 million the following year for Future Ready Iowa, the workforce program that aims to ensure 70 percent of Iowa workers have post-high school education or job training.
During the meeting with The Gazette Editorial Board, Reynolds spoke on her priorities for the ongoing legislative session and emphasized her dedication to addressing Iowa’s workforce challenges and revitalizing rural communities. She said workforce is the biggest barrier to economic growth in Iowa, and hopes to push for more programs throughout the state — such as registered apprenticeships for high school students looking for careers in welding, nursing, accounting and more.
Reynolds said another priority is integrated health models. Over the next couple of years, she said she is set is to work with legislators on creating a children’s mental health system, an initiative that a board of advisers released recommendations last year for implementation.
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Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.