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Iowa governor addresses economic development in southeast Iowa

County leaders said they’re in need of skilled workers to fill thousands of jobs in southeast Iowa.

That concern brought Iowa governor Kim Reynolds to Lee County on Thursday to discuss plans for economic development.

Governor Reynolds said it starts with improving the work force. She said the opportunities are there, but they need people that want to take advantage of them.

That’s why the county is coming together to make sure students know what’s available right in their backyard.

“The challenges our businesses and industries are going to face in the next decade are very real and they’re very daunting,” Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise said.

County leaders in Southeast Iowa said the time to act is now.

That’s why local leaders and Governor Reynolds met in Keokuk Thursday to discuss economic development in Lee County.

Reynolds said it starts with preparing the next generation for the work force.

“Most of the kids that participate in the scale up programs have said that they’re more likely to stay in the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said.

Fraise said 100 percent of the county’s high school students are enrolled in STEM programs– something they plan to continue.

“We’re really working through all the different grade levels and really working on developing a joined education center for high school students,” Fraise said. “We think that’s the future.”

Governor Reynolds is on the same page and said the lack of skilled workers results in 4,000 available jobs in Lee County right now.

“The need is here and the jobs are here, so we just need to make sure that they know about it and often times, they don’t know about the opportunities that exist right in their backyard,” Reynolds said.

She said in order to bridge the county’s unemployment gap, which is the worst in the state at four percent, local leaders have to continue these efforts.

“Just keep doing what they’re doing,” Reynolds said. “They talked about a potential career academy. I’m a big proponent of that. There’s a way to bring all of the school districts together to utilize that.”

Governor Reynolds said she’d like to see local leaders move forward with plans to add more apprenticeship opportunities for students.

Local leaders said they plan to continue meeting with local businesses to get more of those programs up and running.

Many community members attended the meeting to get a better idea on where the county stands on getting students into the workforce.

Teachers with Iowa Jobs for America’s graduates were at that meeting and said it’s nice know that local and state leaders are on the same page.

iJag teachers said they work with students to help build resumes and cover letters, while allowing them to meet with local businesses.

They said they want high school students to leave ready to seek jobs in Lee County.

“Our goal is really to blend the community with the classroom and the classroom with the community because we know that there’s opportunities out there,” iJag specialist Missy Boutwell said. “We want our kids to be real world ready when they walk out our doors because those kids are coming to the community’s doors, knocking on those doors.”

iJag teaches high school students at Keokuk High School right now, but said they would love to expand their services to other schools within the district, so they can help bridge that unemployment gap.

Kara Biernat

Kara Biernat is a MultiMedia Journalist for WGEM News.

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