Durham talks opportunities

State economic leader outlines programs, priorities; Durham: Iowa can weather any recession

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Addria Groff, owner of Yummy Crumb Bakery, center, gives a tour of the bakery's kitchen to Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, on Thursday afternoon. Groff's mother, Deb Breon, left, helps in the bakery's kitchen.

If the American economy does slip into a recession, Iowa is well-prepared to survive it, according to the state’s top economic development official.

“I believe we’re in a good position to weather what’s coming,” Debi Durham said Thursday morning during a visit to Fort Dodge.

Durham is the director of both the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Finance Authority. She came to Fort Dodge to address a meeting of the Mid Iowa Growth Partnership, an economic development group which includes representatives of Calhoun, Hardin, Hamilton, Humboldt, Kossuth, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Webster and Wright counties.

She also visited some local businesses, including Yummy Crumb Bakery and Green Dragon Book Store in downtown Fort Dodge.

Much of her presentation to the Mid Iowa Growth Partnership summarized Iowa’s economy and the programs of the Economic Development Authority.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, left, visits with CoriAnn Theroux, owner of the Green Dragon Bookshop during a visit to Fort Dodge on Thursday.

“We’re actually about creating wealth,” she said of the agency.

Iowa is obviously known for agriculture, but it also has significant advanced manufacturing, bioscience, and finance and insurance sectors. Durham said those are supported by and connected with the information technology and education technology sectors.

With companies like AML Riverside, Cargill, CJ Bio America, Elanco and Valero Renewables, Webster County is part of both the advanced manufacturing and bioscience sectors.

According to Durham, 17.2 percent of Iowa’s gross state product is generated by manufacturing.

She added that manufacturing employs 14.5 percent of Iowa’s total workforce.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Addria Groff, owner of Yummy Crumb Bakery, shows Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham a box of sweet treats at her shop on Thursday.

Iowa’s biggest economic problem, she said, is a population problem.

“We have more job opportunities than we have people to fill them,” Durham said.

She added that the percentage of working age people who are in the workforce has slipped from 70.4 percent in November 2019 to 67.8 percent in June of this year. She described that as “extremely concerning..’

To help draw more people to the state, her agency has launched the This Is Iowa promotional campaign. Durham said surveys have revealed that people in other states really don’t know anything about Iowa. She said that since This Is Iowa started, surveys show positive impressions of the state have risen by 20 percent while negative impressions have dropped by 50 percent.

She said numerous economic analyses show “Iowa is in a very enviable position.”

That, she said, will make it easier to withstand any recession.

“I think there are recessionary forces that are already here,” Durham said.

Her advice to businesses in this uncertain time: “Keep making strategic investments that are there for the long term.”

She added that business leaders ought to examine their supply chains with the goal of getting as much of their needs as possible from domestic suppliers.


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