Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds joined the governors of South Dakota and Nebraska to discuss their states’ economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The three governors, all Republicans, touted their handling of the pandemic as a primary reason their economies have rebounded quickly.
“We entered into the pandemic in a really strong position because of conservative budgeting practices (and) a diverse economy. Our fiscal health was really strong,” Reynolds said. “The fact we kept our economies open and our workers working and our businesses open, I think that really has provided us the strong recovery that we’re experiencing.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the decision to keep schools and businesses open also attracted new people to the Midwest. She said the three states didn’t “jerk the rug out from underneath (people) overnight” by ordering the widespread school and business closures that many states issued to try to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We draw people to us by our optimism and our hope,” Noem said.
Now, as COVID-19 infections wane in the Midwest, the governors said they are looking to keep that momentum by bringing people back to the workforce and retaining skilled professionals.
Governors say private market will entice workers
Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota cut off additional, federal unemployment benefits before the September deadline in the hope of bringing people back to the workforce. As businesses struggle with workforce shortages, the governors said the private market was responsible for attracting people back with higher wages.
“I think employers should pay what the market is demanding to be able to employ people,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said. “But I also don’t believe that the government should be competing with employers on that.”
Reynolds said she believes the government should focus on retraining Iowans and matching them with better jobs, rather than paying additional unemployment.
In early July, Iowa economists awaited state-specific unemployment numbers to determine whether cutting off the additional payments brought more Iowans to work. But Iowa State University economist Peter Orazem noted that a June surge in employment growth could correspond to Republican governors cutting off the federal benefits.
Iowa’s unemployment rate in May, before the federal benefits ended, was 3.9%.
Governors tout education, promise of community
When asked how the state would encourage a skilled workforce to stay in the state, Reynolds said Iowa’s K-12 “career pipeline,” especially the dual-enrollment and professional training opportunities for high schoolers, will help young Iowans discover careers in the state.
“It connects them to the tremendous opportunities that exist right in their communities,” she said. “And that’s so important, because I think a lot of times they think they have to leave the state to find that great, cutting-edge career, and that’s just not the case anymore.”
She also pointed to Future Ready Iowa, a statewide initiative to train 70% of Iowans beyond a high school education.
Ricketts and Noem also emphasized the importance of career-focused education, but noted people in other states were starting to see the appeal of moving to the Midwest. Ricketts shared an anecdote of a mother who moved from Los Angeles to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, during the pandemic so her kids could go back to school in person and so she could find a job.
Noem said she hopes to capitalize on that momentum, drawing people to the area even after COVID-19 ends.
“It seems as though we’ve had this change nationwide where people want quality of life and they know that it’s in Nebraska, they know it’s in Iowa, they know it’s in South Dakota,” Noem said. “And they are willing to move to pick up their families and move there, because they want to live somewhere where they can be a part of a community again.”
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