Iowa South aims to boost region's employment, quality of life
12 Mar 2021
CHAD DRURY • COURIER STAFF WRITER
Ashley Moyer calls Iowa South a "regional talent attraction initiative."
It is that. And more.
Moyer, the executive director for continuing education at Indian Hills Community College, said during a virtual roundtable Wednesday that bringing individuals to fill jobs in a 10-county region is a main priority.
So is establishing roots. This week, organizers are raising awareness for the program to point out the benefits of the region to stakeholders.
"We want people to know this is a great place to work and live," Moyer said. "We're not really southeast Iowa, because our region stretches to Wayne and Lucas counties, which are more in the (south) central part of the state. It made more sense to go with 'Iowa South.' The project has been two years in the making and early funding came in the way of grants. It has weathered the peaks and valleys of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is spearheaded by the economic development partnerships IHCC has established with many of the communities in its 10-county area ? Appanoose, Davis, Jefferson, Keokuk,Lucas, Mahaska, Monroe, Van Buren, Wapello and Wayne counties.
"Throughout the pandemic, we've had businesses continue to say they need people," Moyer said. "And as we're starting to hopefully be coming out of the other side that, it will only amplify it more than it was at the beginning.' Iowa South is driven
by an advertising and marketing plan that starts with its website, www.iowasouth.com, and is a place where employers can post jobs and residents can share stories of their experiences living in the region. Each county in the region has its own page that contains statistics, its biggest employers, and contact information for chamber of commerce officials.
The region is diverse because of ethnicity, but its also features more populated cities and many rural areas, both of which have their perks.
"In some of our sparsely populated areas, this is really the only way they can get exposure," said Fairfield Chamber of Commerce CEO Darien Sloat, whose city has developed into a cultural hub because of its venues, ethnic restaurants and festivities throughout the year. "But really, it depends on what folks are looking for. If they want to be close to lakes or timber, Van Buren County is a great spot."
When the college met with several of its partners throughout the region, Moyer noted several employers are hiring in the manufacturing and health care sectors.
"Even a lot of the smaller employers are hiring," she said. "One of the things we've really tried to talk about is affordability. The thing about our counties is that they all offer something different. The area is different levels of rural, but I think people may look at that more. All of them have great job openings."
One of those employers seeking a way to reach out to potential employees was Agri-Industrial Plastics Company of Fairfield. Human resources manager Stacia Deutsch said the company never stops hiring.
"We're always looking for new employees," she said. "We get a lot of people in Fairfield, but we want to know how we can get into Ottumwa more, or Davis County. We want to be able to reach those. This is good because it's a broader look."
June Lowenberg, a broker at Miller Realty in Fairfield, said she's seen an uptick of people moving into the state.
"We do have a housing shortage," she said. "But I just moved someone in from Rhode Island who had no connection to Fairfield. Same with Des Moines. They didn't know about the area, saw a house they liked on Zillow. Had another couple from Arizona and California. We're seeing people come in from all over for no singular reason other than they visited, liked it and were done with the city."
The pandemic has presented challenges for Iowa South, but Moyer said big plans are in store once it subsides. There has been an aggressive messaging campaign on social media about the quality of life in the area with its numerous lakes and other outdoor activities, and Iowa South recently had a centerfold in "This Is Iowa" magazine, which is produced by the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
"The next steps for us are creating content for the website," said Moyer, who encourages those who live in the area to post their experiences to be shared on a wide scale. "We're going to try to push for some advertising outside the region and keep partnering with 'This is Iowa.' "But I think we want toalso make sure we're not forgetting the population that might need a little more training and make them ready for those opportunities, what we call 'upscaling,'" she said.
Sloat said a lot of the success of Iowa South depends on people talking to each other, either directly, or through shared stories on the website.
"Really, a part of this is word-of-mouth," he said. "Hopefully this grows organically because of that."
"Our whole goal is to do this well, but not duplicate what the state economic development is doing," Moyer said. "We want to be a partner with the state, and we're always open to suggestions. If people see patterns, we want to know about them."
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury