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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

High Steaks

A man walks into a bar. The bartender says, “How’d you like to drink for free?” The man, obviously interested, replies, “Of course! What do I gotta do?” The bartender says, “See those pieces of meat hangin’ from the ceiling over there? If you can reach up and give ’em a good slap without goin’ up on yer toes, or jumpin’, or nuthin’, the drinks are on the house.” The man quietly refuses. Shaking his head, he orders a beer and reaches for his wallet. The bartender, stumped, asks the man why he won’t even try. The man curtly replies, “Sorry, but the steaks are too high.”

The stakes (not steaks) are very high also in the education system in America. One of the most fundamental obligations of any civilization is to groom its youth to lead productive lives as adults. I was startled by a quote from Rick Stephens, SR. VP of HR at The Boeing Company—  “Today’s educators are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies not yet invented to solve problems not yet identified.” It is hard enough to hit a moving target, how do you think hitting a moving target that has not even been invented yet is going to be?

You might be saying “Our country’s educational challenges seem so far away from us here in Tama County”. Take the time and read what is happening right here in Tama County from the real-life tale of Jill (not her real name).

“When I graduated from a prestigious college with a liberal arts degree (mistake number one), I couldn’t get a job making more than minimum wage. And it took me three months to get a retail job, after sending out over 800 resumes- from those, I received three call-backs. Two for entry level positions in offices. (P.S. I had worked part-time throughout all of college, in an office, doing more complex work than these entry-level positions). The one offer I received was in retail. I made less than $800 per month and had to move back in with my parents, and I was working as often and as much as my store would offer, and received no benefits.

Three months later, I finally got an office job – making $10 an hour, two hours away from home. I left at 5AM and arrived home around 7PM. I saved money and moved out of my parent’s house one month later, to live in a sketchy neighborhood closer to work (it was all I could afford). Two months later, I was laid off as the company went bankrupt, back with my parents.

I am not alone- I know many, many college graduates in similar situations. And these are intelligent, hard-working, absolutely employable people.  I don’t really know how this story ends. Other than, my recommendation to the next class of graduates – go to a technical school. Get a job that teaches you hard skills that are in-demand, that isn’t going to cost you $100,000 over four years”.

Does Jill’s example speak to absolutely every graduating senior? Of course not, but I do think way too many students today blindly go off to college because of the “that’s what we do” mindset.

What’s the answer? I do not profess to have all the answers, but I do believe we must put aside our short-term thinking and political viewpoints and support the Governor’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Initiative.  Go to www.iowastem.gov to learn more.

The STEM program focuses on actions that can put Iowa back on the path to creating a well-trained workforce essential to our economic vitality and competitiveness. Remember the stakes (not steaks) are high.


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