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Iowa Views: How can Iowa become a telework destination? Make it a place people want to live

Iowa Views: How can Iowa become a telework destination? Make it a place people want to live

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The following editorial was published by the Des Moines Register on April 1:

Gov. Kim Reynolds said recently she hopes Iowa can attract more teleworkers.

That is a good goal.

The proportion of Americans who worked from home increased from 20% before the COVID-19 pandemic to 71% in October, according to a Pew Research survey.

A larger share of remote work may be here to stay, and Iowa should try to get in on the action.

“You can work from anywhere,” Reynolds said during a new state-facilitated “Mission Employable” podcast. “We have a great story to tell in the state of Iowa.”

She touted the state’s low cost of living, low crime rates and its record of keeping businesses and schools open during the pandemic.

We differ on the wisdom of that last point. But if what people are looking for in the shadow of a pandemic is space to spread out, Iowa has that, even in its cities. New York City has 28,211 people per square mile. Chicago has 11,883. Omaha has 3,517. Those cities offer good options for theater, arts, dining and recreation. So does Des Moines, with only 2,664 people per square mile.

(Cedar Rapids has 1,852; Ankeny has 1,999; and Council Bluffs has 1,526).

If you want to see a Broadway show, you can park your car two blocks from the Civic Center. You can ride your bike on trails or walk in downtown and not share air with others. Even the most densely populated neighborhoods in Iowa have plenty of space.

Reynolds could also try to capitalize on the latest back-to-the-land movement. Current and prospective Iowans should know they can enjoy an urban job through teleworking but actually live in the country, in tune with nature, close to the earth. (This could be a boon for small communities desperate for new residents to pay property taxes and shop on main street.)

Or live in the city, where many yards are big enough for gardening, a hobby that has drawn new fans during the pandemic. Iowa helps feed the world. You can feed your family with a garden.

In many states, people must build raised beds and haul in decent soil to make plants happy. Iowa boasts some of the world’s richest soil. Here, you can just grab a pitchfork or tiller.

Of course, if we want to sell people on our outdoor opportunities, we need to preserve and protect the outdoors. We need to clean up our filthy waterways.

That means demanding the Iowa Legislature finally raise the sales tax a fraction of a penny to fund a trust dedicated to conservation and recreation. Voters amended the state constitution more than a decade ago to create this trust. Thanks to anti-tax lawmakers, not a single penny has been deposited.

Making it possible for people to successfully work from home also requires a more robust infrastructure of in-person workers, particularly in rural areas.

These include law enforcement officers, emergency room nurses, roofers, food production workers, delivery drivers, internet repair people, child care staff and many others who show up in the flesh to keep our economy and daily lives humming along.

The bottom line: Like many other states, we need more working-age people. But it’s not as if a bunch of younger and middle-aged adults are going to fall from the sky.

Given the state’s low birth rate, Iowa will need to attract immigrants and refugees, which offers another reminder that Iowa’s Republican elected leaders should halt anti-immigrant messaging and measures. While they’re at it, they can stop targeting racial and ethnic minorities, transgender persons and women’s reproductive rights, too.

Because, whether people work in an office, at a factory or at home, the key to attracting new workers is making Iowa a welcoming place where people want to live.

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