DES MOINES — A so-called Talent Poll that was done by a coalition of the state’s 15 largest chambers of commerce aims to find out what people who live in Iowa love about the state, and equally as crucial, what might make them want to move away.
Iowa Chamber Alliance executive director Dustin Miller says Iowa has one of the slowest-growing populations in the country, and most employers statewide are desperate for new blood. “We have to grow our population,” Miller says. “The reason we did this Talent Poll was to really kind of put a marker out there to say, how do Iowans feel about the state? Can we learn things from a policy standpoint that we can take to policymakers and say, childcare is important, recreational opportunities is important.”
Iowa’s slow population growth is creating a serious problem for economic growth, Miller says, as labor shortages can strangle expansion opportunities. He says most of the things survey respondents said were the positives that keep them here were of little surprise. “When we look at why do people like the state they live in, we get: small town feel, affordability, the people. We find that ‘Iowa nice’ is a real thing,” Miller says. “One of the things that I don’t think we talk about as Iowans enough is safety. That’s a big priority for people and it’s something that if you’ve lived in other places, maybe as Iowans, we take for granted.”
In the poll, 45% of respondents said Iowa’s entertainment opportunities are inferior to other states. While outdoor recreation continues to be a major selling point, respondents aged 18-to-29 said the lack of recreation was a major consideration for leaving Iowa. Miller says those responses are being taken very seriously. “Cities like Davenport are reinvigorating their access to the Mississippi. The same with water trails in the Des Moines area,” Miller says. “Every single community that’s a member has something like that. We know that it’s not as simple as Boomers and Gen X like myself where you’re just happy to have a job. You have to build these places around the state to attract new talent.”
Iowans’ biggest concerns, according to the poll, are with stopping inflation and the rising cost of living. Those were the top priorities with 36% of respondents. The 15 chambers of commerce that are members of the alliance represent 17,000 Iowa members including those served by the Mason City Chamber of Commerce and the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation.