Ady talks workforce, growth at reception

Shortage of skilled job seekers a universal problem, consultant says

Fort Dodge is not alone in trying to address its workforce issues, according to Janet Ady, president and CEO of Ady Advantage, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.

“You may feel here in the greater Fort Dodge area that you are really up against the world here because there’s so many great opportunities for jobs and yet there’s not enough people to fill them,” Ady said during a Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance fall membership appreciation reception.

About 30 people attended the event Thursday night at Willow Ridge Golf Course and Restaurant, 1788 Madison Ave.

“Virtually everywhere I go in this country, they have the same issue,” she said. “So it’s not the problem, it’s what you do about it.”

Ady is an economic development expert. The company she oversees is a economic development and marketing consulting firm.

One advantage Fort Dodge has in addressing that issue is the presence of Iowa Central Community College, according to Ady.

She complimented the college’s efforts in training and creating programs that “didn’t exist even a year or two ago.”

Jason Vangalis, strategic economic development project manager for Ady Advantage, said having a college like Iowa Central is rare for a city like Fort Dodge.

“You don’t see cities the size of Fort Dodge that has a college like Iowa Central that offers housing and training for its students,” he said. “The sheer breadth and size of the campus and also having the career academy is so significant.”

Iowa Central’s North Central Career Academy is located in Eagle Grove. It provides training and college credits for high school students.

Vangalis said future strategies to recruit workers include additional programs at the high school and middle school level.

“Given the size of the employers here like Cargill and CJ, and the kinds of talent they need,” he said. “There’s obviously a need to develop strategies around talent initiatives to drive recruitment, but also retention and development. Once they are here we want them to stay and want them to grow. When we think about talent, we think about talent from the demand side, the employer side. The supply side is your workforce development and your colleges.”

Vangalis talked about the need for programs tailored to the types of jobs available in the area.

“Internship programs that the high school has or programs that the middle school has to get kids interested in bioscience or STEM programs,” he said. “Those are opportunities that the k-12 schools might be engaged in. Those are longer term strategies that might be further down the road.”

Pursuit of labor was one trend Ady highlighted in terms of economic development.

Another trend mentioned by Ady is the increase in automation.

“You can imagine that if talent is at a premium all across the country and the cost of computers is going down and it’s easier to program them than it’s ever been than we are probably going to see a lot more of these robots in Webster County,” she said. “I think that’s going to continue and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. There are implications on what it means from everything to incentives to how you measure the success of your organization because what we are going to see is in my opinion is that productivity is going to become more important than just the number of jobs.”

In terms of growth, Ady said Fort Dodge is well positioned.

“If you were to ask me some of the remarkable things I saw in Fort Dodge today, I would say those industrial parks on both sides of town,” she said. “Both sides of town, rail served or not, that’s remarkable. Lots of places in this world don’t have those types of opportunities.”

Ady was most impressed by the quality of those sites.

She referenced Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation, located seven miles west of Fort Dodge, and Decker Development Park, north of Decker Truck Line Inc. on the east side of Fort Dodge.

“That impressed me the most,” she said. “There’s a high degree of readiness here. That was impressive for a city this size.”

Ady gave Fort Dodge high marks in alignment, readiness, and differentiation.

She described differentiation as standing out from other communities.

“You have to be able to tell why your community is a great place to live, work, and play,” Ady said.

She expected housing to be a weakness.

“In terms of the things you can control, the things that I thought would have been weaknesses would be housing,” she said. “But you have some projects going on there. That’s what I would have expected, but I found some action taken on those.”

Ady was also impressed with the collaboration efforts taking place in the city.

“I feel like there is good momentum here,” she said. “There is a vibrancy from everyone, not just economic developers. There seems to be good collaboration going on here.”

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