BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
KEOKUK – A local economic development official will be a speaker at an upcoming Future Ready Iowa summit in Burlington.
The Future Ready program is a statewide workforce initiative created by Gov. Kim Reynolds that aims to close Iowa’s skilled workforce gap by encouraging 70 percent of working Iowans to achieve education or training beyond high school by 2025.
The summit is an effort to gather area educators, business leaders, human resource professionals, economic developers, community organizers, and other interested citizens with a focus on collaborative options to improve the region’s workforce, according to a release Thursday from the Governor’s office.
The event is set for Sept. 25 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Comfort Suites in Burlington. Registration is required and can be done at www.eventbrite.com by clicking on the Future Ready Iowa Summit link.
Lee County Economic Development Group COO Dennis Fraise said he was honored and humbled to be asked to speak at the event.
“There’s no more important issue for the region than this,” Fraise said.
Fraise said the invitation to speak came through, Iowa Works and Lee County was asked in part due to the success of the Grow Lee initiatives.
“Grow Lee has a great reputation around the state and nationally,” he said “We’ve brought education and manufacturing stakeholders together and that resonates with people. Workforce is a difficult topic but we’ve had success bringing divergent groups together.”
He said he will be the wrap up speaker and there will be a lot of experts presenting data on workforce and how important those numbers are to the area.
“My job is to tie it all together from a practical standpoint and try to show what that future can look like for our region.”
The Future Ready Iowa initiative is aimed at having 70% of Iowans have some kind of post secondary certificate or degree by 2025. Fraise said Lee County, according to that barometer, ranks 88th out of 99 counties.
“We are in a deficit in Lee County, but 70%…. we can get there from here.”
He said one in four Lee County jobs are associated with manufacturing. He pointed to the recent expansion at Scotts, where the company closed a line in Mississippi and expanded in Fort Madison.
“We’d like to think it shows they believe in our workforce and they were confident that this is a place to maintain and grow their business. If manufacturers can’t hire the quality workers they need, we’re going to have problems.”
Reynolds attended several of the last Grow Lee presentations and LCEDG programs as Lieutenant Governor under former Governor Terry Branstad. Fraise said those visits showed that the state was watching what was happening in Lee County.
Fraise also said the collaboration of education and manufacturing officials in the county is producing some innovative programs. Several area high schools have reached an agreement with Silgan Containers facility in Fort Madison on an industrial maintenance program that could result in students being offered jobs after completion of structured coursework and internships, in coordination with Southeastern Community College’s Industrial Tech Training facility in Keokuk.
“The exciting thing is everyone wants the same thing. Educators want to turn out students that meet criteria to succeed. And there’s a lot of ways for that success to happen.”
Reynolds is set to attend the summit.
“One of the biggest barriers to economic growth right now is lack of a skilled workforce,” she said. “Future Ready Iowa connects Iowans to the great jobs and opportunities that exist in our state through education and training. I’m optimistic about the capacity that exists in Iowa and the opportunity to get Iowans trained for these high-demand jobs.”