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‘Force companies to expand into rural communities’

Congressman advocates for tech jobs in Iowa

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., speaks about rural technology jobs during an open forum at the Greater Fort Dodge Area Growth Alliance building Saturday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna believes the federal government ought to incentivize technology companies to locate in rural communities like Fort Dodge.

“One of the things I think we need is a requirement for federal software contracts to have some percent of their workforce be rural,” the California Democrat said on Saturday to a group of about 30 people gathered in the community room at the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, 24 N. Ninth St. “It could be 10 percent or 15 percent — force companies to expand into rural communities.”

Khanna, who represents California’s 17th Congressional District, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, said rural communities have been ignored for too long in terms of tech job creation.

“Fort Dodge is doing its part,” he said. “What we need is the federal government to help incentivize companies to hire here or pay attention to recruiting here. We could incentivize with federal contracts — tax hiring credits for companies hiring in rural America for tech jobs. Provide funding for apprenticeships in technology for places like Iowa Central, so you can get greater scholarship programs.”

He continued, “Federal funding for housing development to revitalize some of the downtowns. Fort Dodge has shown incredible resilience in forward-looking ability. Our federal government has ignored rural America’s economic opportunities for nearly 40 years. We haven’t done enough. We have to recommit ourselves to helping communities.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Audience members listen as U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, talks about bringing technology jobs to rural areas during an public meeting at the Greater Fort Dodge Area Growth Alliance building Saturday afternoon.

Khanna, who has worked to help bring tech companies to places like Jefferson, said he also favors asking companies to disclose where their hires are coming from.

“Where they are hiring and how many are being hired in the United States,” he said. “Our country didn’t have enough foresight and planning to say look at the talent in these communities and build there. We need to incentivize companies to look to places like Fort Dodge for hiring people. Those are legislative solutions I’ve been working on in congress to incentivize people to hire locally.”

But Khanna said the need for jobs is only part of the battle for rural communities.

“Communities need jobs, but they need the housing and the entertainment,” Khanna said. “They need the full set of way of life to attract people to communities.”

Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich said Fort Dodge is trending in the right direction.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich listens as U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, speaks about rural technology jobs during an open forum at the Greater Fort Dodge Area Growth Alliance builiding.

“We have had job growth here,” he said. “We have added a couple thousand jobs in the last few years.”

But he welcomes the idea of creating technology jobs that could not only attract people to the area, but keep people in the area.

“What are those long-term sustainable jobs in not only manufacturing, but technology jobs?” Bemrich said. “We have buildings downtown. We are talking about bringing high-speed (internet) access here.”

Fort Dodge officials have been considering ways to increase access to broadband communication. And one of the possible solutions is having the local government set up a new utility to provide that service.

“We want jobs and technology,” Bemrich said. “We want young people to take those jobs and live here in Fort Dodge. We have invested in so many things in last few years, but investing in the future for our kids and keeping our kids here is the next step.”

Khanna said more tech companies collaborating with colleges like Iowa Central are making an easier path for students to land jobs right out of school.

“The idea is young people are going to get trained in computer science, technology, software development, in a 10 to 14 month course and then get jobs,” he said. “The idea is very simple. The technology revolution has made it possible that now you can stay in your community and work anywhere in the world. That’s the simple insight of what technology allows. You don’t have to give up your families or your communities to have extraordinary economic opportunity.”

Khanna said the collaboration in Fort Dodge was most impressive during his visit.

“The collaboration,” he said. “The sense that the Growth Alliance is working with Iowa Central is working with the mayor is working county supervisors. Everyone is on the same page. But the second thing is the willingness to embrace the future. To have a vision for the future.”

He added, “The first thing is the community has to want change and embrace change. Sometimes communities can say, ‘no we don’t want the new things.’ Fort Dodge is saying, ‘no, we are hungry for the future.’ And I think that’s an incredible forward-looking vision.”