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Iowa’s new priorities: How could they impact the tech community?

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It’s hard to come by a person who doesn’t believe technology has some pretty major potential when it comes to creating efficiencies. What’s difficult to find is a leader in office who has power to influence policy at the highest level in the state to implement changes that create said efficiencies.

So when Terry Branstad was officially confirmed to be the U.S Ambassador to China it meant Kim Reynolds would become governor of Iowa. A new Governor brings new priorities and with Reynolds supporting the tech community as Lieutenant Governor, one can hope she remains supportive. During Governor Reynold’s first speech immediately following the transfer of power she outlined four priorities that she will be working on:

  • Reforming Iowa’s tax structure
  • Innovating our energy policy
  • Educating our kids
  • Training for adults.

There’s a blank slate with opportunities to get voices in the tech community heard.

Educating Our Kids

This is the most exciting area of the new Governor. She has consistently been on board with technology in (or out) of the classroom. She is a supporter of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives and has been a proponent of new learning models, even giving a shout-out to Iowa BIG in her first speech:

“We’ve already see innovative classrooms and schools spreading across the state – from Iowa Big North to the Pella Career Academy to the elementary coding school in Sioux City. – Let’s take these pockets of innovation statewide.”

She literally used my favorite phrase in her speech- there is a real opportunity under her leadership to put Iowa on the map for what the future of education looks like. (Note: the author is medium obsessed with transforming education and creating a next generation workforce that is prepared for the jobs that don’t even exist yet).

Training our adults

This priority is a strong piggy-back on the educating our students. Students becoming the workforce and has huge implications for economic development and the success of a city or state. The Governor wants to connect education efforts in Iowa to workforce training.

During her speech she set a goal that by 2025, 70 percent of the workforce will have an education or training beyond high school.

“We’re going to build an Iowa where hard-working, middle-class families can live anywhere in our state and have the skills they need to find successful careers,” Reynolds said. “This is about opportunity for more Iowans.”

Building a better Iowa also means connecting Iowa to the world by expanding high-speed internet access, regardless of the size and location of the town. A connected community means better jobs, safer communities, better education and better quality of life. And, it’s the expectation of our young people.

This again has implications for our technology community. At first glance, it’s easy to think that the Governor is announcing a goal that 70 percent of the workforce should have a degree from a college or university. There are students (specifically in schools that have implemented learning models that work to solve real-world problems) who are offered high paying jobs directly out of high school. The amazing part of these new learning models, is that students are getting specialized training, and even completing years of post-secondary work during their time in high school. The technology community has an opportunity to teach students skills, and at the same time add an additional resource to their teams without any cost to them. It’s a win-win for both students and businesses.

Finally, the Governor mentions the importance of expanding high-speed internet access. Clay & Milk recently wrote about the importance of investing in access, and there again should be multiple ways to partner on these initiatives- especially as subject-matter experts.

Tax Structure

Reynolds believes Iowa can have a better tax rate.

“Our tax rates are some of the highest in the nation and our code books are filled with a patchwork of exemptions, deductions and credits,” Reynolds explained. “That’s not how it should be. Our tax code should be simple. It should be fair. And it should inspire – not inhibit – growth. Because the bottom line is this: a simple, more competitive tax code makes it easier for businesses to grow and expand and creates lasting careers for middle-class Iowans.”

She continued by addressing the low unemployment rate in Iowa.

“While we are blessed to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, there are still more than 50,000 people looking for work today,” Reynolds said. “These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, looking for a better life.”

Taxes always have been a dividing line between the parties. Do lower taxes mean more out-of-pocket discretionary spending that boosts the economy, or do higher taxes provide more funding for services for those in poverty?

One thing that bonds parties on this issue is the agreement that understanding taxes and the tax code should be simpler. There will be opportunities for input during the next session- and as a community that is bonded over new businesses and ideas- the tech community has an opportunity to be heard, and should be treated as valuable stakeholders in the discussion.

Energy Policy

Regarding energy policy, Governor Reynolds said, “We must view our rich, renewable resources in ways never thought possible. For years, our fields have fed the world. Now, they energize it. They produce products that fuel cars and they host wind turbines that power our communities and businesses.”

Here is another great area for the technology community to lend their voice and ideas. There are so many innovative businesses across the state of Iowa that are working to solve these issues. Now is the time for our community to partner with the public sector to create new opportunities and establish efficiencies for both public and private sector dollars.

Bonus Priority Not Mentioned in First Speech

Recently, the now Governor also specifically mentioned a study of the Iowa Public Employee Retirement System (IPERS). There are many states combatting the issue of how to ensure that the funds promised to employees will be there when they retire- there are issues of insolvency across the nation. While Iowa is not the worst off (ranked 10th best-positioned in the country), there is a real need to discuss what we can do as a state to keep the promises made for retirement security before it is too late to come up with a solid solution.

This issue is important to the tech community because it means there will be a meaningful conversation about reform of retirement benefits. While most in the Des Moines entrepreneurial community are not state employees, a study such as this will gather all stakeholders around the community- and as we discussed previously, retirement benefits for a changing workforce need to be examined. If this study moves forward, our community must make sure to be included in the conversation.

We will Only Move Forward if We Work Together

Regardless of political affiliations, the four priorities listed should get the technology community excited. There are real opportunities under new leadership to be included in these important policy discussions. During her tenure as Lt. Governor, she placed a much higher emphasis on technology than even the Governor she worked with. We must take advantage as a community of a Governor who is excited about technology..and oh, by the way, she’s also Iowa’s first female Governor.

Iowa's new priorities: How could they impact the tech community? | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at mpatane@clayandmilk.com.
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