Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama were the big story last week in Iowa.
However, the big story from the last five years in Iowa has been its resilient economy. In fact, no state in the upper Midwest is adding jobs as fast as Iowa. That's right, Iowa. While the Midwest as a whole grew its overall employment 0.2% in the first half of 2007, Iowa's employment grew 1.2%. True, Iowa is no Utah when it comes to job growth but their rate of growth is impressive next to Wisconsin's meager 0.2% advance.
According to a recent Mid-year jobs report released by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank...
Iowa reported above a 1% growth in total employment partly due to its strong professional and financial industries. For the first half of the year, Iowa also experienced greater than 1% growth in its construction, information, education and health, and leisure and hospitality industries. Similar to Indiana, Iowa recorded a significant increase in construction jobs, even as home building slowed.Additionally, Iowa's high-paying FIRE industry (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) comprises 6.7% of total employment as compared to more modest 5.9% slice for the Midwest. In fact, Iowa's "insurance advantage" is attracting investment from Wisconsin's very own CUNA Mutual - CUNA Mutual recently completed a significant corporate merger in Iowa.
In short, not only is Iowa adding jobs, but it's adding the right kind of jobs - the high paying kind.
How did Iowa turn its economic ship around? At the risk of sounding like a broken record here at the Forum, let me suggest to you that it started with a plan. That plan - Iowa 2010, The New Face of Iowa - was released in 2000 and set eight goals to grow Iowa's economy. The goals focused state support on the life sciences, information technology, advanced manufacturing and their emerging insurance cluster - all high-wage and high-tech industries. Each of the eight goals had a list of specific action items, identified leadership roles and measurable indicators to monitor goal progress.
Wisconsin has no such detailed economic development plan (not unlike the vast majority of municipalities and counties in the Badger State). Previous plans from the state, like Grow Wisconsin are really "plans" in name only as they lack a timetable, measurable progress indicators, responsible parties or even a unified budget. Without these critical elements the typical Grow Wisconsin "plan" tends to read more like a political position paper or wish-list than an actual plan. Perhaps Gov. Doyle's upcoming third installment of Grow Wisconsin will be more detailed.
To be sure, governments don't grow economies, businesses do. In Iowa, state government pointed the way with an actionable and accountable 10-year plan and business growth followed. At the start of the new year, this may be as good a model as any to implement in Wisconsin.
Update: Gov. Doyle released a new package of economic development initiatives today.