Understanding current assets and areas for growth is essential when establishing economic development plans. Cities are encouraged to continually evaluate the various infrastructure, labor, workforce, housing and commercial assets in the community to help shape economic development goals.
Iowa’s private, investor-owned utilities and the Iowa Economic Development Authority use a program called Synchronist to collect specific data on industrial and commercial companies. The program consists of a series of questions and checklists that lay the groundwork for establishing a business retention program. Regardless of your participation in the Synchronist program, similar questionnaires and checklists are available online.
Knowing employers’ current and future workforce needs is important in determining the availability of workers. Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) offers a flexible tool for understanding the workforce characteristics of a local labor market—and that tool is a laborshed study.
A laborshed is defined as the area or region from which an employment center draws its commuting workers. It shows the distribution of these workers regardless of political boundaries. Laborshed studies also address underemployment, availability of labor and likeliness of the employed or not employed to change or accept employment. Other topics covered within a laborshed analysis include: current and desired occupations, wages, hours worked, job search resources and distance willing to commute to work.
The laborshed study process takes approximately 90 days to complete. Most regional and county areas of the state are covered by an IWD laborshed study, which is usually contracted by regional economic development groups.
Housing and workforce go hand-in-hand. In order to encourage industry expansions and attract new residents a community must have an ample supply of housing stock as well as a variety of housing options: from new, single-family construction to multi-family units to retirement housing. A housing needs assessment or a housing study will help determine both the immediate and future demands on the community’s housing stock. These will have indicators showing housing needs, surplus as related to population growth, housing unit supply and housing value.
Many private companies provide housing studies. In addition, the University of Iowa, the Iowa Association of Regional Councils and Iowa State University offer housing studies to Iowa communities.
Retail and commercial assessments
Retail and commercial assessments determine a community’s capacity to sustain a healthy mix of commercial/retail businesses. Data has been developed down to the city level on retail trade levels. Several entities, like the Iowa Community Indicators Program and Iowa Retail Initiative Resources, can provide assistance in the state.
A working knowledge of available properties—from vacant buildings to vacant lots to greenfields—will help you respond quickly when a company expresses an interest in expanding or locating in your community. In Iowa, one of the services used for sites and vacant buildings is Location One Information Services (LOIS).
An assessment of your community’s economic development assets is essential to building a healthy community that’s attractive to both businesses and residents. Today people are choosing where to live based on quality-of-life factors and the amenities a community has to offer, so determining this information has never been more critical.
Information provided by Mark Reinig, the economic development program manager for Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations at Iowa State University.