Guest Columnist

Cedar Rapids needs bold goals for economic recovery

While 2020 has been a challenging year 2021 could be even harder

Damage from the derecho storm on August 10th is seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Damage from the derecho storm on August 10th is seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

Through two decades of steady economic growth, this region’s economic and community development efforts have largely supported business expansion plans and helped to keep and attract workers needed for a healthy economy. Even the 2008-09 recession for the rest of the country looked much different here, as flood recovery spending buoyed overall economic statistics despite major headwinds for some industries.

Suddenly, we’re not just managing through the first recession in a long time, but trying to help businesses and the region’s economy through a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime crisis brought on by a global pandemic, unfathomable storm damage and a host of other business challenges.

And while 2020 has been a challenging year to say the least, 2021 could be even harder. So many of our local businesses and organizations are suffering in a way we have never seen. Recovery will take time, understanding and for all of our area communities to come together. There has never been a more important time for the work of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

The following may seem to some like audacious goals, but I don’t believe it’s enough to just try to stave off the losses and get back to where we were. For a bright economic future:

• We need to create 4,000 new jobs to address the unemployment rates we are now suffering.

• We need to attract 15 new businesses to continue to diversify our economy and make it resilient through strong and weak economic times.

• We need capital investment of another $2 billion to continue to grow the tax base.

• We need to attract 10,000 workers by 2025 to address the baby boomer retirement wave.

• We need to become a major Midwestern logistics hub serving a global market.

To accomplish that, we need to double down on economic development work. The Economic Alliance is uniquely positioned with a historical responsibility and commitment to grow the economy and the vision to assist our business community with recovery. As the local organization that focuses solely on economic development, the Economic Alliance is critical to our business community. Valued partners of ours touch pieces of economic development; however, the Economic Alliance handles the whole spectrum from existing business support to business attraction, workforce retention and attraction, public policy, and community development. These core functions of our mission have been in place since our inception in 2012, and before that they were the focuses of our three legacy organizations.

While we do this work every day, it may not always be visible to the citizens. Especially since the pandemic, the Economic Alliance has shifted to a recovery focus that’s largely delivered through one-on-one assistance to businesses and not through more visible events and programs. Our outreach and engagement numbers have been at record highs throughout this year as we support and provide resources to businesses, especially to small business.

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We’re here for the business community, but we also need businesses to be here for us. If we are to lead the region to the kind of economic goals mentioned here, we’ll need the continued strong support of our valued members.

Ron Corbett is the business retention and expansion strategist for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and a former Mayor of Cedar Rapids.

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