WAVERLY — A simple question at the beginning of a tour of Waverly’s United Equipment Accessories set up perfectly one of the biggest concerns of its president and chief executive.
Gov. Kim Reynolds asked CEO Mark Hanawalt many employees the Waverly business has and then whether any of the 100-plus positions are open.
“We have positions open right now. That’s something I want to talk to you about,” Hanawalt said as the tour began.
And in between talking about what United Equipment Accessories has done in its 65 year history, Hanawalt spent most of his time talking about the workforce shortage he and many Iowa businesses face.
“We need more people in this state,” he said. “I think we can change that, and I’m going to give you a couple ideas.”
Hanawalt specifically suggested targeting Iowa natives who have left the state, reminding them of the benefits the state has to offer, as well as paying special attention to the students at Iowa’s small private colleges who are more likely to be rural Iowans who stay here.
He noted that Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg is the embodiment of the latter — a graduate of Central College in Pella.
“The message I want to send young people is that in Iowa you can really, truly have it all,” Gregg said, pointing to opportunities for work, homes with yards, reasonable commutes, safe neighborhoods, good schools and involvement in the community. “I feel like that has been my experience and it doesn’t have to be unique.”
Iowa’s worker shortage is well-documented, particularly in businesses like Hanawalt’s — manufacturing that requires training beyond high school.
State Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, who has been on workforce and economic development committees, often stresses a telling statistic from the Iowa Business Council: The state will need to replace 610,000 workers by 2025, but has grown its population only by about 200,000 in the last 20 years. It’s an area of bipartisan concern.
“Business and industry, they’re willing and ready because the need is there,” Reynolds said. “And so whether it’s STEM, or whether it’s pre-K education, or whether it’s apprenticeships, internships, any of those, they’re willing to be helpful in any way that they can.”
She also noted Iowa has made progress.
“We have turned the corner when it comes to our young people staying in Iowa. We were educating and exporting them out, but we do see more young people staying in the state,” Reynolds said. “We’ve turned the corner; we’re heading in the right direction, but we have a long ways to go and need to look for opportunities to, of course, bring them back home.”
Reynolds and Gregg were also scheduled later to tour Frontier Natural Products in Norway.
Reynolds said Iowa is taking a multifaceted approach to tackling the need for workers, but both she and Gregg also stressed they appreciate any time businesses and people come forward with suggestions.
“That’s how we develop our programs and our policies that we move forward is the ideas that we get when we’re out on the road,” Reynolds said.