The Cedar Valley Economy – Strong and Growing!
posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 in Blog
The Cedar Valley Economy – Strong and Growing!
The strong and growing Cedar Valley economy contains the right conditions for business and career success. Current economic growth and its demand for quality talent is benefiting manufacturing, business services, retail, housing, education, healthcare and other enterprises that contribute to the vitality of the region.
Strong Cedar Valley job market is creating opportunity and raising income.
According to Smart Solutions Group, employment in the Cedar Valley Region Labor Market grew by 7.4% from 2003 to 2013, slightly above the State of Iowa during the same period. As of November 1st, Iowajobs.org, the web-based job board of Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), shows 1,504 positions currently available in the Cedar Valley. Many of these jobs are in the advanced manufacturing sector. Welders and CNC operators are among the many positions available in advanced manufacturing operations in the Cedar Valley.
The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber recently surveyed Cedar Valley employers regarding their immediate employment needs. “We've identified businesses in the Cedar Valley region with immediate openings,” reports Danny Laudick, Talent Solutions Coordinator with the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber. “We are coordinating efforts to match available talent with these companies or with training in the fields where there is greatest demand.”
Connecting to training
The Alliance & Chamber collaborates with Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) and Hawkeye Community College (HCC) and other agencies to connect talent with employment and training opportunities through career and resource fairs, data collection and sharing. There is ongoing collaboration between employers and agencies to design programs to stay ahead of shifts in demand and provide rapid response to immediate workforce needs. The Alliance & Chamber identifies the specific employment needs in the Cedar Valley business community and acts as the voice of business. The Alliance & Chamber develops innovative solutions to solve talent issues. They use their network of partners and affiliate to bring others into the process.
In response to local demand, Hawkeye Community College now offers short term certifications for industrial maintenance and CNC machining programs. The CNC Machining Program prepares students for high demand, entry-level positions as a CNC machine operator or general machinist, one of the most demanded skills by area employers in the Cedar Valley. Both programs are designed to create a pipeline of available talent with new skills to fill these high demand jobs in a short amount of time.
The Department of Industrial Technology at the University of Northern Iowa also offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the areas of: Construction Management; Electrical Engineering, Manufacturing Technology, Technology Education, and Technology Management. The UNI Metal Casting Center, offers students practical hands-on experience in concepts in additive manufacturing with modern well-equipped facilities and cutting edge technology. At the Additive Manufacturing Center, located at the Cedar Valley TechWorks, students operate a variety of 3D printers, including the ExOne, the largest of its kind in North America. Students are producing products and part prototypes for manufacturing clients across state. UNI students are 'floor ready' upon graduation having had real world experience working with private sector businesses on actual projects. The Center also provides manufacturers affordable access to research and development and rapid prototyping. The Department of Industrial Technology currently enrolls over 500 students annually.
K-12 Career Training
Cedar Valley school districts are making sure their students are prepare for success beyond graduation through a variety of initiatives and partnerships with the business community.
In the Waterloo Community School District, Career Academies give students the opportunity to choose an area of interest, such as construction, business and finance, marketing, engineering, healthcare, etc. Students then take a sequence of classes to prepare for the real world of work in that field. Waterloo also has an International Baccalaureate Program which is an intensive, two year academic program in the high schools that prepares students for success in higher education and for effective participation in global society. The program includes writing an extended essay (similar to a doctorate thesis, but at high school level), a focus on critical thinking as well as creativity, action, and service activities. Waterloo's West High and East High are two of only three schools in Iowa to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.
Both the Waterloo and Cedar Falls school districts have embraced the Leader in Me initiative championed by the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber. The Leader in Me is based on Stephen Covey's book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The initiative teaches students 21st Century soft skills for success in college, career, and citizenship. Through authentic leadership opportunities and daily practice of the habits, participating schools are transforming their school cultures into proactive, leadership focused communities of learning and development.
Cedar Valley West's School to Work program brings together students from four Cedar Valley school districts (Aplington-Parkersburg, Dike-New Hartford, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and Grundy Center) to provide valuable career information and connections to area businesses. Businesses are asked to provide speakers, offer internship and job shadowing opportunities, give worksite tours and contribute financial support.
Through the School to Work program, students throughout the Cedar Valley are becoming more prepared for the local job market. Businesses are molding potential employees by creating hands-on ways for students to explore careers while still in high school. Business – education partnerships like these are helping to bridge the talent gap and produce individuals prepared for employers across sectors in the Cedar Valley.
Diverse Economic Base
The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber and the Cedar Valley Regional Partners have placed diversifying the economic base as a top priority of business attraction . . . and it has paid off. The diversified economic base has created jobs and helped the region weather the last recession far better than most parts of the country earning the Cedar Valley the title “Recession Busting” by Area Development Magazine, a leading executive magazine covering corporate site selection. The Cedar Valley is not reliant on one sector to maintain the health of the economy.
Since 1996, 76% of new jobs created in the Cedar Valley have not been tied to a single industry, specifically agricultural manufacturing. Likewise, 81% of the new capital investments in the Cedar Valley were equally diversified during the same time. This diverse industrial base provides increased opportunities for wealth creation and employment in the event of a downturn in one sector.
“Most new capital investment has come from companies who have expanded existing operations here or established new locations in a broad spectrum of industry sector. This is consistent with new construction and new jobs created,” notes Lisa Skubal, Vice President of Economic Development with the Alliance & Chamber.
Adding to the industry mix is the growing Information Technology (IT) sector. In the Cedar Valley, IT consists of local start-up web product and software companies, and is among the fastest growing sector in percentage of current workforce in the Cedar Valley market area. Enterprises also see internal IT operations increasing and contributing to the growing demand for highly skilled programmers, engineers, coders, and designers in the Cedar Valley.
Conversations with technology leaders in the Cedar Valley suggest that IT employers are increasing their employment by up to 50% or more over the next few years. This makes availability of trained/educated individuals critical. The Alliance & Chamber, Kate Washut of Far Reach Inc., and Linda Allen of Hawkeye Community College (HCC) convened a discussion between Alliance & Chamber investors in the IT sector and HCC academic and career education teams. The group discussed courses, training, and programs available through Hawkeye, and the expectations of the employers. Dialogs like this, between business and education, are vital to better understand of specific skill demand in order to offer training programs that are most relevant to industry needs.
“The strong job market is creating opportunities for individuals to take advantage of an increase in training opportunities and raising personal income,” says Steve Dust, CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber. “We see growing demand across industry sectors. IT related fields, advanced manufacturing, higher education, healthcare, logistics, and business service markets make up the employment landscape of the Cedar Valley. The competitive wage scales being offered go much further here than in most areas of the country thanks to our low cost of living.”
The cost of living in the Cedar Valley is 8.1% lower than the national average according to third quarter 2014 Cost of Living Index prepared by The Council for Community and Economic Research. Utility costs are an even greater value, at 10.4% below the national average – a key factor for companies looking to locate or expand their operations.
While the cost of living is low, prosperity is on the rise in Cedar Valley. According to the new US Cluster Mapping website launched by Harvard Business School and the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Cedar Valley Region is one of a handful of regions with growth in prosperity from 1998 -2012. Our economic region ranks 7th among 170 economic regions in the country for prosperity growth. The scorecard is based on three categories of data: performance (the economic activities of the region), business environment, and demographics & geography. The Cedar Valley is also in the top 20 regions for growth in annual personal wages at 3.49%. This outpaces the national average of 3.16% during the same period.
Low cost of living and strong personal wages may contribute to an increase in spending. In September of 2014, the latest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers were released showing considerable growth in the Cedar Valley. The Waterloo/Cedar Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area (GDP) grew to $8.7 billion from 2012-2013. This is up 5.6% from the previous year, according to data released in September from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Collectively, real GDP for U.S. metropolitan areas increased 1.7% during the same period. The Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area had the second highest percentage increase in GDP compared to other Iowa metros.
These gauges of economic health demonstrate the strength and continued growth of an already stable Cedar Valley economy and instill confidence both in consumers and business leaders. Recent announcements of business expansions reflect confidence and optimism in the region.
Business Confidence and Private InvestmentCedar Valley businesses across the region are making investments in their companies. Increasing exports, and hiring talented, productive people demonstrates their confidence in the strength of the Cedar Valley economy.
CBE Companies, with international locations, chooses to keep their corporate headquarters here in the Cedar Valley where their success started over 80 years ago. “We continue to tap into a rich talent pool in our own backyard to fill a variety of positions and levels – from contact center associates to fraud service representatives to IT, Analytics, Finance, Marketing and HR professionals,” says Mary Phillips, Chief Human Resources Officer for CBE Companies.
Based on a variety of regional data, CBE has determined that the Cedar Valley has the talent resources available to expand their staff considerably. “We use information from both the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber and Iowa Workforce Development when considering expansion. We evaluated unemployment rates, education levels, Spanish speaking population, underemployment, average wages, and average ages.” Over the last year, CBE has had two major surges in hiring making them one of the top ten major employers in the Cedar Valley.
Mark Hanawalt is the CEO of United Equipment Accessories, Inc. (UEA) in Waverly, Iowa and the current chair of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI). He often shares with peers from around the state that the Cedar Valley is a great place to do business. “They know about the Cedar Valley and never disagree,” notes Hanawalt. UEA has found that being part of a regional economy driven by advanced manufacturing has contributed to their growth. “Because of the presence of very large manufacturers in the area, we can utilize a common vendor base with tremendous capabilities without having to go outside the area.”
UEA invests in training and development opportunities that contribute to the personal and professional growth of their employees. UEA provides training for new hires, development opportunities with specifically designed skills enhancement training, job cross-training, as well as a Tuition Assistance Program for employees. Highly technical positions, such as CNC programmers, machinists, engineers and IT professionals regularly participate in training opportunities relating to technology advancements and developments, job knowledge enhancement, computer software and system developments and updates.
“United Equipment Accessories, Inc. has been a Cedar Valley manufacturer for over 60 years. Even as we have grown substantially over the years, we have never felt the need to expand outside this area,” says Hanawalt. “Our pool of labor talent is very high. Employees are well educated, trained, and motivated to be productive employees.”
While long standing businesses continue to expand, the start-up community in the Cedar Valley is picking up momentum at a rapid pace. 'Serial' entrepreneurs and young visionaries are gathering in coffee shops, bars, and meeting rooms around the Cedar Valley to share ideas and connect with resources in hopes of launching the next big thing. Start-Up Drinks, Start-Up Weekend, BarCamp, One Million Cups, Cedar Valley Opencoffee, and Cedar Valley Makers are a few of the organized efforts to support a young and energetic start-up community.
Steve Dust, CEO of the Alliance & Chamber, believes that “the prosperity of the Cedar Valley still depends on fostering, growing, and attracting entrepreneurship in all types of businesses. We want to encourage more people to build on our history of successful entrepreneurship, and the Alliance & Chamber supports efforts to enhance the strong, growing start-up scene throughout the Cedar Valley economic area.”
The Cedar Valley is thriving
With an abundance of good paying jobs and access to higher education, the Cedar Valley offers a wealth of opportunities for individuals to grow their careers. Businesses are thriving and making significant investments in the region by expanding their operations through building projects, new processes, equipment, technology, and talent. The lower cost of living, excellent school districts, and overall safety make it a desirable place to live, work, and raise a family.
The mission of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber is to increase economic vitality and wealth by leading collaborative economic and community development. Details about the many programs and initiatives of the Alliance & Chamber can be found at www.cedarvalleyalliance.com or by calling Steve Dust, CEO at (319) 232-1156.