Forum

At the podium, Georgia Van Gundy, executive director of the Iowa Business Council, moderates the panel at the third Vision for Vitality forum Tuesday at Iowa Western Community College. Panelists from left are Chris Laferela, executive director of the Council Bluffs School Foundation; Sheryl Garst, CEO of the 712 Initiative; Bianca Harley, manager for community diversity and inclusion for the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership; and Paula Hazlewood, executive director of Advance Southwest Iowa.

The third Vision for Vitality forum at Iowa Western Community College on Tuesday focused on “Growing the workforce Numbers — Southwest Iowa Regionalism, Recruitment and Diversity Efforts.”

Georgia Van Gundy, executive director for the Iowa Business Council, moderated the panel of four speakers.

Speakers included Chris LaFerla, executive director of the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation; Sheryl Garst, CEO of the 712 Initiative; Bianca Harley, manager of community diversity and inclusion for the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership; and Paula Hazlewood, executive director of Advance Southwest Iowa.

“I thought we had an excellent panel that had momentum on things that are taking place, and brought up comments on things that need to be worked on,” Van Gundy said.

Topics ranged from inclusivity regarding race, gender and other barriers as well as what could be done to strengthen the community and make Council Bluffs more appealing for people to stay and live.

“Is it a sexy place to live, is it fun, is it exciting — is that thing?” Garst said.

She said factors to consider in a community include adequate housing, adventure, adequate childcare, does it attract millennials and other questions dealing with the quality of life.

LaFerla spoke on multiple plans the Council Bluffs School Foundation has been focusing on preparing students for the workforce.

This included taking courses at the college level in high school, navigating trade schools or colleges if desired and accessing apprenticeships.

Like that aid with navigation, Hazlewood emphasized the need for working together, which fit with the main idea of the night: inclusivity.

“The region as a whole recognizes that lack of diversity is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Van Gundy said.

She noted forums like this serve as a catalyst for legislation and can charge conversations in the community.

Harley in particular works with diversity and inclusivity. She said she used data, survey results and comprehensive plans to help create inclusivity and try to find out what could be causing issues.

The last Vision to Vitality forum was held in Mason City.

Based on IBC’s 2019 Competitive Dashboard, members determined a critical part of strengthening the workforce must mean growing Iowa’s population and retaining residents, as well as, focusing on initiatives to create welcoming businesses and communities for more diverse residents, according to a release by the Council.

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