Pay attention to communities of all sizes: The right development solutions for Coralville or for Iowa City may not fit Tipton, West Branch, Durant or Wilton. Big tax breaks for large corporations should not be part of Iowa’s toolkit unless they meet a certain threshold of jobs and specific asks that they bring to a community over a prescribed number of years.
Public-private partnerships with educational institutions: Much more viable are the kinds of partnerships that Kirkwood Community College and community colleges across the state promote, training people for trades and skilled jobs so they can go straight into the workplace; supporting businesses that want to expand. Our community colleges are a huge asset. They know their communities, and we cannot underfund them or centralize programs that know and serve distinct regions. Together with our universities, they are the links between K-12, the job market, and robust communities. They also reach many who might not otherwise obtain a certificate or complete post-secondary education, increasing their lifetime earning potential and helping short-handed local industries find skilled employees.
Incentives: TIF – tax increment financing – can be used to the advantage of a town or city to help reclaim and repurpose blighted property otherwise unlikely to be developed. Used even in modest ways – to acquire a right of way and hook up a water and sewer line, for example, to a building that has been empty for five years – it can encourage local development. Cities and towns can also consider judicious tax breaks in exchange for jobs, tailored to their circumstances and needs.
Online clearing house: We could also benefit from an online clearing house – an app or website where a prospective investor or business person answers a series of questions, and in response, all possible city, county, state and local options pop up, as well as potential private partners for grants, depending on the business. This would be an excellent start-up opportunity for an entrepreneur who cares about locally based economic development in Iowa.
Improved marketing: We must also market ourselves better. One argument for lowering the state corporate tax rate is that Iowa’s current rate – while not the effective rate paid by corporations – turns off potential investors before they even lay eyes on the state. I see at least two possible solutions: (1) lower the corporate rate to the current effective rate, while simultaneously cleaning the books of all credits and loopholes that allow them to reach the current effective rate; or (2) make clear what the effective rate is, then improve outreach and advertising, utilizing the resources of local Chambers of Commerce, among others. We must also market what our education system offers – excellence in public schools, some of the best community colleges in the country that prepare young people to go directly into the workplace; world class universities that offer the same.