Iowa recovery panel sees need for quality workers, rural broadband

Labor leader faults makeup of governor's advisory board

Ruan Transportation CEO Ben McLean speaks at a June 18 news conference in Des Moines. McLean is chairing the Economic Re
Ruan Transportation CEO Ben McLean speaks at a June 18 news conference in Des Moines. McLean is chairing the Economic Recovery Advisory Board appointed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to advise her administration on the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The board met Thursday for the first time and is due to offer its recommendations in early October. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

The focus was clear Thursday as Gov. Kim Reynolds held her first Economic Recovery Advisory Board meeting.

“We can take what we learned and the innovation that’s been applied over the last four months and really start to re-imagine how we do business,” Reynolds told the 13-member board she appointed June 18.

It’s the first of many meetings to come up with ideas on “modernizing Iowa’s economy as well as education, health care, workforce and quality of life.”

The board — consisting of business leaders from companies such as Hy-Vee, Principal and John Deere and state department directors — plans to make recommendations to Reynolds in early October.

The challenge of finding enough quality workers emerged across disciplines, including the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

“Iowa continues to be dangerously close to not having enough doctors, period,” said Suresh Gunasekaran, UIHC’s CEO and the only health care representative on the board. “This is about what can we do as a business climate to incentivize physicians to want to practice in this state.”

“We need to keep our best and brightest in the state,” said Diane Young, owner of Cherokee-based Foundation Analytical Laboratory. “My son was a perfect example, where he could go to out-of-state college, and they wanted him more than Iowa State or Iowa.”

“Getting adults upskilled or re-skilled in this space is important as well,” added Rosalind Fox, a factory manager at John Deere. “Technology will be leading our company.”

Rural broadband internet connectivity also took a spotlight, especially given the number of people working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every Iowan, every neighborhood, every community, every county needs the kind of access that our times demand in terms of technology access,” said Ben McLean, chairman of the advisory board and CEO of Des Moines-based Ruan Transportation Management Systems.

Mary Andringa, board chairwoman of Pella-based Vermeer, called for “future-proof broadband, not something that’s going to be outdated right away.”

“For education, for business, for entrepreneurs, we just need to get connection to children and to companies and to individuals,” she said.


Danny Homan, president of the AFSCME Iowa Council 61, criticized the advisory board’s makeup Thursday, saying it lacks representatives from union and labor.

“The Economic Recovery Advisory Committee is nothing but a group of her supporters and the 1 percent who are only worried about how they open up Iowa’s economy, COVID-19 be damned,” Homan told The Gazette, referring to Reynolds. “It’s not working men and women.”

Eight of the board’s 13 members donated almost $75,000 to the Kim Reynolds for Iowa political campaign, with four donating at least $5,000, including McLean. Andringa, from Vermeer, donated $49,500; Randy Edeker, CEO of Hy-Vee, donated $10,000; and Young, from Foundation Analytical Laboratory, donated $6,150.

“The CEO of Hy-Vee is not going to be worried about whether he can make his mortgage payment,” Homan said.

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