Courier Staff Writer
A U.S. Congressman says his constituents have an advocate in Washington when it comes to creating jobs.
Rep. Dave Loebsack was in Ottumwa on Monday, joined by local leaders in education, labor and business.
The goal, he said, is to gain insight on how employees get can effectively compete in “the 21st century global economy.”
Part of that means having strong support of education and job training. The meeting Monday was at Indian Hills Community College.
“When I hear these companies saying they’re hiring,” said Tom Rubel, an Indian Hills dean, “and [this region] can’t fill those positions, that’s a sad state of affairs.”
Workers need training, he and Loebsack agreed.
“We don’t talk people out of four-year schools,” Rubel said, “but you don’t have to go to a four-year school. We have to work to educate the public, to talk more about mid-level jobs.”
Loebsack said he would continue to help with that effort, promoting the idea of vocational training wherever he goes.
So what about job-training programs that have proven themselves successful?
Mark Douglas, center director for Ottumwa Job Corps, expressed disappointment over cuts proposed — or already implemented — to the job training program that he called a pathway to the middle class.
“It took 10 years to get this center here,” Douglas said. “A lot of people put a [great deal of] energy into this center. It was a plan to start to grow [the region’s] own workforce, to start to keep some of these people and jobs here.”
And it’s meant to be a model showing what Job Corps and a partner like Indian Hills Community College can do with 300 students. So where are the 300 students?
“Because of the enrollment suspensions we’re in currently (this is the third one since the Ottumwa center opened), this center is like a failure to launch kind of scenario. Every time we build momentum and start heading toward full enrollment, there’s another one of these enrollment suspensions,” Douglas said.
In Ottumwa, he’s already had to lay off five employees. The thinking in government seems to be across-the-board cuts, he added. But why cut a viable program that’s putting people to work?
“Which is totally unacceptable to my way of thinking,” said Loebsack. “There has to be a provision in there for those programs that work, that actually pay dividends [like] Job Corps, because it works.”
Programs that are ineffective shouldn’t be treated the same as those that work, he added.
“One of the biggest frustrations about being in Congress is witnessing all the things that make no sense. Not every budget item is the same. So cutting everything the same doesn’t make sense,” Loebsack said.
When cutting the budget to fit, he said, there can be a tightened focus on certain programs. But in Loebsack’s opinion, he said, the focus should be on infrastructure, jobs and education.
“That’s how we help the economy and keep the little bit of a recovery going.”
Though Loebsack and the local leaders discussed high-tech subjects like creating jobs for laser optics students to stay in Iowa, or how broadband will be so important, culture also received a mention.
Bob Untiedt, the Main Street Ottumwa director, said at a previous job, the part the arts hold in economic development really stood out for him.
At a meeting with city leaders, the head of a company looking to relocate said he only had two questions: What will my children be learning in school, and what is there for my employees to do outside of work?
That’s why Untiedt pushes STEAM instead of just STEM. STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Gov. Branstad’s administration has touted education in these areas as vital to growth and development in the state.
In an email to the Courier, the governor’s office wrote that “in today’s complex world teachers, students, parents and communities need to understand how the STEM fields are the basis for innovative problem-solving and discovery.”
STEAM, surmised Loebsack, adds the creative arts into the mix.
“The arts help with economic development,” Untiedt told Loebsack.