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Iowa City’s Business Climate: Recipe for Economic Success

Dynamic economy, livability lure talent, growing businesses

By Bill Lewis on September 13, 2018

City Hall in Iowa City, IA
Iowa City / Photo by Flickr user Alan Light

The key to the Iowa City region’s success can be seen in the classrooms and labs at the University of Iowa, in its renowned medical facilities and in offices and shops everywhere.

“Take a very educated workforce in a university town, mix with the hardworking Midwestern attitude and you have a good recipe for success,†says Tim Carty, director of talent attraction for ICR Iowa.

Add great public schools, museums and other cultural attractions, outdoor recreation, Big Ten sports, a reasonable cost of living and career opportunities created by a dynamic economy, and you have an unmatched quality of life that makes Iowa City a destination of choice for employers and skilled workers.

Iowa City: Home Base for Lovers of Books, Bikes, Brews and Block Parties

A list of the region’s top employers includes names familiar to most, including Rockwell Collins, Transamerica, Whirlpool-Amana, Hy-Vee supermarkets, Nordstrom Direct, ACT Inc., Quaker Foods and Snacks, and General Mills. There are 600,000 people living in the region’s labor shed, and more are arriving seeing opportunity.

The presence of employers of all sizes, from major corporations to entrepreneurial start-ups, fuels vigorous economic growth that significantly outpaces the nation as a whole. Median household income, for example, is $57,928, well above the national level of $53,889.

Unparalleled Quality of Life

“When you take our average salaries and combine them with our lower cost of living, you have an amazing lifestyle. It’s not like California, where you’d pay $2 million for a two bedroom home,†says Carty.

Iowa City proved irresistible for Ryan and Colleen Bell, who own the city’s franchise of LocalsLoveUs, which polls residents to find the most loved places in a community.

Education Network Ensures Future is Bright in Iowa City

“We chose to open a business in Iowa City for personal reasons. My wife Colleen and I really wanted to live here. With three early school age kids, we knew the education opportunities of the area were top-notch. Proximity to Colleen’s place of work was key, as well. Of course, knowing there was a strong and vibrant business community was the deciding factor,†says Bell.

“After a couple meetings, including a key sit down with members of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, I decided Iowa City was a viable market for LocalsLoveUs. It’s been two years and things are going really well. There’s a togetherness and community pride that lends to rallying around a concept like this,†he says.

Growing Economy

STEM professionals, who work in science, technology, engineering and math, are particularly in demand.

“We are craving engineers, any kind of engineer. We need them,†says Carty.

Iowa City Hospitals Care for the Community

Health care is another fast-growing sector of the economy, including the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, which frequently ranks on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top children’s hospitals..

Health care technology is also growing, thanks to innovators like IDx. It developed IDx-DR, the first autonomous artificial intelligence system cleared by the FDA. The system detects diabetic retinopathy and makes assessments without requiring a physician to interpret the result. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness.

Education and education technology employment is also growing. The region is home to ACT Inc., the developer of the college preparedness test of the same name as well as products that offer individuals personalized insights throughout their lifetime. 

Iowa City Breeds Innovative Entrepreneurs

The outstanding quality of life is one of the region’s greatest assets. It’s something the University of Iowa emphasizes when recruiting talent.

The university’s Build a Career | Build a Life website connects prospective employees with real estate agents, child care, elder care and other resources. Other resources demonstrate the benefits of living and working in the region.

“The University of Iowa is committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse and talented workforce, which often involves competing nationally and demonstrating the quality of life available in the area. Recruiters are encouraged to emphasize the competitive benefits offered by the university as well as the lower cost of living relative to larger cities,†says Keith Becker, interim director of employment services in human resources for the University of Iowa.

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