Thank you to the many PDI members who reached out to me since our weather event in Pella at Vermeer Corporation. Over the past month, there has been an interesting chain of events. Each of these experiences has provided me some keen understanding about how to sell the IOWA experience.
First, Governor Robert D. Ray died. He was greatly respected for his dedication and leadership. Iowans benefited greatly from his service as governor as well as his work with the Ray Foundation. He talked several years ago to my Leadership Iowa class about the importance of civility in our state. It challenged us all to be better citizens and leaders. He was a role model for doing what was right and going above and beyond to help those in need.
Second, in early July, I served as a representative from PDI on a panel of people interviewing firms to be IEDA's marketing firm. The firms were tasked with presenting to us a mock up campaign for what they would do to help Iowa promote our workforce opportunities and grow population. Some ignored the challenges we face with misperceptions while others took it head on. It seems easy to ignore the fact that people from other places either do not know where Iowa is or think it is all cornfields and farmers. I was amazed when I lived in Washington, D.C., how very few people even knew where the state was located. The challenge is that our agriculture roots are important to our state, but we have grown into so much more. Iowa has strong manufacturing and insurance sectors, which are leaders in innovation and growth. The need for workers is so great; it is hard to find a town, county or region not working on how to bring more people to their area.
Third, on Thursday July 19, Vermeer Corporation, the largest employer in Marion County, located in Pella was hit by an EF3 tornado. Two of their plants had extensive damage. Over 1,000 people were on campus when it hit, but only seven sustained minor injuries. Why? Partly because Vermeer thinks enough of their employees that drills are common and storm shelters are quality. Vermeer employs two chaplains, has a clinic on campus as well as a daycare. They are a company that does not just say they care, but puts their resources behind their words. I was so proud of the leadership team at Vermeer with their genuine concern for their team members and their continued efforts to care for their team members. Our people in the community overwhelmed me also with their care and their desire to help in so many ways.
Combining these two experiences, I realize more than ever that the "Iowa Nice" thing is not just a funny video; it gets at the core of who we are as a people. It is the Iowa traditions of kindness, civility and community service that is what truly sets us apart from other places. Iowans are innovative and resourceful…and somehow we need to work together to find other people that want to be part of our "magic (IOWA NICE) kingdom."
The challenge is that too many of us have lived in the "magic kingdom" for so long that we forget the special assets we have and dismiss them as commonplace. The truth of the matter is that not everywhere does neighbor help neighbor and corporations truly care about the people they employ. In Iowa they do. It is now our challenge as professional economic developers to work from town to county and region to state…building a system for sharing our story, promoting our opportunities and elevating Iowa to its highest potential. This is a time to stop apologizing for our cornfields and take pride in how we feed and fuel the nation. Our communities need to solve housing issues and develop downtowns that are alive. We need more people to discover the "magic" we have here in Iowa so our companies can continue to expand and our economy continue to thrive. We have to step out of our modesty and stop apologizing for who we are….we are Iowa's greatest asset, not mountains or beaches. We are Iowans and we take time to wave at children who are sick during a football game or our neighbor passing by us on a gravel road.
I invite you all to our Fall Conference…where we will challenge your thoughts, brainstorm some great ideas and learn from people who are doing amazing things. We need all the voices at the conference so Iowa can become the best state possible. We need each community, county and region working together. The theme fits our need to build amazing communities, attract people to work in our companies and heighten our skills as economic developers as we look to the future. Register for the conference right now and encourage those from your area to join us in Iowa City, September 26-28. Together, we can accomplish great things…perhaps Iowa is the genuine "magic kingdom" living each day with the spirit Walt Disney tried to re-create as his amusement parks?