Planning for growth

Business leaders and professionals from the Fort Dodge area met Thursday morning to discuss the local work force issues, and what has been working for them, or not.

The discussions were part of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance and Mid Iowa Growth’s Workforce Summit, which was held at Iowa Central Community College’s East Campus.

Kelly Halsted, economic development director for the Growth Alliance, said the purpose of the meeting was to put area work force leaders together to share their best practices.

“We want to identify the challenges and glean from our successes in recruiting and retention,” Halsted said. “We want to know what’s working.”

Mark Reinig, economic development program manager at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, who served as the summit’s moderator, said they wanted to hear firsthand from the business leaders.

“Basically, we want to know the work force issues facing the Growth Alliance area of Fort Dodge,” Reinig said. “What are the issues?”

Reinig said suggestions from the previous workforce summit, which was held 16 months ago, led to new ideas being adopted by the Growth Alliance.

“Things change, so we’ve got these roundtables going where business professionals from retail to manufacturing can come together and talk about their work force,” he said.

In the roundtable groups, facilitators asked six questions and opened discussion up to those who were present.

One group, led by Kyle Bangert, student services coordinator for Iowa Central, discussed topics including retention, recruitment and social media.

Bangert said he believes more Fort Dodge businesses should take advantage of social media.

“It’s underutilized, especially in our area,” he said. “If you want to attract and recruit millennials, that’s what you need to do.”

Tim O’Tool, vice president for operations at C&S Products, said a concern he has about bringing in people in their 20s is a lack of social activities for that generation.

“We offer internships, but when it comes to positions they’ll say they’re not sure if they want to live in town,” O’Tool said. “The younger generation is looking at what we’ve got in town, and there’s not a lot for people between 20 to 25.”

He added that in the past, some employees at his company have actually lived in Ames and commuted to Fort Dodge.

Cathy Nelson-Schoon, work force advisor for IowaWorks North Central Iowa, said one way that employers retain their employees is by how workers are treated and their work environment.

“They were treated like they were important, like they were family,” Nelson-Schoon said. “They liked the environment.”

Other concerns expressed are the lack of 24-hour day care service and available housing.

Reinig told those in attendance that the Growth Alliance would look into all the suggestions and work on addressing them.

“The key to the whole summit is what area workforces and economic developments are doing,” he said. “We want to be able to meet those demands.”