Staff Columnist

Connecting talented Iowans and their ideas, again

Iowa Ideas returns to downtown Cedar Rapids this week

A Regionalism/Workforce sesssion on
A Regionalism/Workforce sesssion on "Incentives and the Future of Economic Development" is underway during the 2017 Iowa Ideas Conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, September 21, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Year Two has arrived. Are you ready?

The Gazette is proud to host the return of the Iowa Ideas Conference this Thursday and Friday in downtown Cedar Rapids. The conference will bring together hundreds of people from around Iowa looking at some of the challenges and opportunities the state faces.

Launch of the conference last year was intended to bring a more robust and participatory discussion — and a way to highlight ideas that are showing promise.

We’ve added new areas of focus — adding a track of sessions aimed at social services — and worked to enrich the mix of participants by bringing Next Gen Summit as part of Iowa Ideas. The Next Gen track has encouraged young professionals to grow their skills and careers in Iowa. We think connecting them to some of Iowa’s most talented thinkers should help that growth.

One of the greatest take-aways last year was that the conference provided a great way to connect with people who were on parallel tracks. We’ve built more opportunities to connect with those within and outside your area of interest through a variety of networking and social experiences.

Discussions inside the newly added policy track will look at some of the current issues facing Iowa — from collaborating in times of polarization to how Iowa moves forward to change the culture of sexual harassment and violence.

We’ve added new topical tracks — Policy and Social Service — and blended other events — Next Gen Summit and Diversity Forum — to bring together the widest and most inclusive audience possible.

Thanks to support from title sponsor UFG, Diversity Forum Keynote Gloria Cotton will help start the day with a practical exercise meant to help find ways to listen to people who hold opinions different from your own. We’ll also welcome New Yorker-turned-Iowan and Des Moines Social Club founder Zachary Mannheimer to talk about the potential Iowa’s smaller communities hold in helping young professionals thrive.


Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven will take part in a panel looking at how to better protect Iowa kids from child abuse and other adverse childhood experiences, while another panel will focus on what happens next to improve water quality in Iowa. We’ll be looking at the effects of tariffs and trade agreements on the state’s economy, and children’s mental health in Iowa as the more than 60 panels unfold.

Thursday’s lunch keynote will bring together Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham with Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise and Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend to talk about the Future Ready Iowa Initiative. This initiative is integral to all three departments and is the blueprint for building the state’s talent pipeline — or job force — and growing the number of people who pursue postsecondary education and career certifications.

Thursday closes with several social gatherings — including another installment of Pints & Politics at Theatre Cedar Rapids, a happy hour hosted by the Next Gen Summit, and a Fuse dance and fitness session.

Who should go? You. The Iowa Ideas puzzle we’ve been working on has lots of pieces and opportunities. Ideas are being pursued at all levels — from volunteer to CEO — and in both the private sector and in communities of all sizes. It’s not a zero-sum game, and what sessions will show is that even small actions can yield encouraging results.

The Gazette started Iowa Ideas as a way to bring people together and explore solutions. This is live, participatory journalism. You have an opportunity to be a part of the discussions that will serve as checkpoints to the many storylines we cover over the next few months. Whether you’re a policy wonk or new to the state, the conference serves as a crash course in Iowa current events. If it’s important to Iowa, it’s part of Iowa Ideas.

You still can purchase a full-conference or day-pass ticket at the DoubleTree on Thursday or Friday. If you can’t make it to the conference, watch for coverage in Thursday’s through Saturday’s Gazette. You also can find updates on Twitter through the #IowaIdeas18 hashtag or check out the website for additional coverage. The next edition of Iowa Ideas magazine will be published in the Oct. 29 edition and will feature write-ups from the conference.

• Zack Kucharski is executive editor of The Gazette

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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