State Sen. Waylon Brown has introduced a piece of legislation aiming to fill vacant “high-demand” jobs in rural counties, a pressure point for many businesses and industries in Iowa. 

Brown talked about his efforts during a legislative forum last week, stressing the need to address the shortage of workers.

“My focus has been on economic development,” Brown said. “We need to come up with creative ways to attract people to our state, so we can fill the jobs that we need.”

Brown said he has met with several business owners across his district and elsewhere in north Iowa, and each one he has met with says they need more workforce. 

The bill, if passed, would exempt workers in these “high demand” jobs from paying income tax. 

Essentially, the state would define a list of what constitutes a high-demand job through a workforce development board.

According to the proposed legislation, a “high-demand job” could be anything where work opportunities are available and qualified applicants are lacking.

In addition to the list created by the workforce development board, each community college, in consultation with regional career and technical education planning partnerships, and with the approval of the board of directors of the community college, may identify and maintain a list of not more than five regional high-demand jobs in the community college region, and would have to share the lists with the workforce development board.

Iowa and Mitchell County have been grappling with low unemployment lately. 

Mitchell County has consistently been below 2 percent unemployment, while Iowa was recently ranked with the lowest unemployment in the nation. 

It seems illogical to say that low unemployment can be a bad thing, but it presents area businesses with a problem that no one has really been able to solve yet: 

If you have a position you need to fill, but virtually everyone living here already has a job, who do you hire? 

If you’re that business owner looking to hire, that really only leaves three solutions.

First, you could hire someone from the unemployed pool. 

But based on Mitchell County’s population and unemployment rate, there’s only about 100 or more unemployed people in the county at a given time. 

This limited supply of people means a limited supply of skill sets — for example, how many carpenters, electricians, or other people trained in the skilled trades can you draw from such a small group? 

Second, you could hire someone away from another business. This might help the short-term situation for an individual company, but doesn’t address the root of the problem. 

“If you’re going to add a full time employee, you’ve got to steal them from another local company and that’s not good either,” Brown said. “Then it turns into viscious cycle, because they have to turn around and steal employees from someone else.”

This leaves the third option— increase the population by relocating workers to Mitchell County. 

And that’s what Brown’s bill is hoping to achieve, by offering tax credits to individuals that relocate to Iowa. 

The way it’s worded, individuals would be given the exemptions for no more than five years if they live in a small county or city (under 10,000 population), and only three years if they live elsewhere in Iowa. 

The bill is currently set to go through the ways and means subcommittee, and if it makes it into law, would retro-actively start on January 1, 2019. 

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