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Collaboration Wins: Community Leaders Unify in Washington D.C.

July 1, 2024 | Economic Development & Workforce, Public Policy

A guest editorial originally published in The Gazette.

Each day we lead efforts to champion and promote the projects, products and people in our communities and throughout the region to support economic resiliency and growth. We are a region rich with stories like our aviation history that began with the Wright Brothers living here, to world-renowned education institutes producing great authors and athletes, to welcoming immigrants who’ve been at the foundation of many of our communities. There is no shortage of stories that allow us to champion and promote the region. Our stories came in handy earlier this month when we brought a regional delegation of business and community leaders to Washington, D.C. to advocate and promote our region and the communities within.

Regional leaders from Cedar Rapids Metro area meet with Senator Chuck Grassley on Capitol Hill

Some ask, ‘Why do you do this together?’ or ‘Why stand behind another’s priorities that don’t directly impact your particular business or community?’ The simple fact is that the business community faces many common challenges, and more importantly, the same goals. We all want to see our communities thrive, our businesses grow, and our workers and future workers succeed. In public policy advocacy, there is power in numbers. Together we are represented by four federally elected officials, who combined are members of eleven different powerful Congressional committees, including Finance, Small Business, Appropriations and Energy & Commerce. Together, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Greater Iowa City, Inc. organizations represent over 4,000 business members that collectively employ over 100,000 workers. We went to Washington with one unified bipartisan voice and message, championing each other’s projects and priorities to uplift our entire region.

As a group, we advocated for policies that will allow our region to attract and retain a skilled workforce and our businesses to remain competitive, including pushing to increase Pell Grant funding so more students have access to high-demand post-secondary degrees and training, including the trades. We sought support for a joint grant application between the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID), Kirkwood Community College and Coe College to further their innovative efforts to build the aviation workforce pipeline. We shared stories of how Collins Aerospace, as well as their local small business suppliers, will benefit from visa reform that will increase the number of high-skilled workers coming to our region.

Our region has proven that strong public-private partnerships have contributed to the growth of our communities, including new investments to plan for increasing our populations. We urged continued support for crucial Eastern Iowa infrastructure projects that spur economic development and further our ability to remain competitive, including Forevergreen Road expansion, the Burlington Street Bridge replacement and completing Tower Terrace Road.

The return on investment of this trip goes beyond financial or monetary outcomes to the rich relationships we continue to build. We spent considerable time talking with our diligent and dedicated federal staff, hosted a reception promoting our region to 75 DC-based professionals with a connection to Eastern Iowa, and built stronger connections with each other. Time is your friend when you travel as a group. Normally you don’t have the chance to spend so much “off-time” with the mayor of a neighboring town or see a small business person share a conversation with a University official at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity or meet a recently retired Marine who attended our celebratory reception and is interested in returning home to Iowa. Two quick days in our nation’s capitol brought all that and more. We welcome all who wish to join our efforts. By showcasing our region as cohesive and collaborative, we will continue to achieve great things and have even more stories to tell.

Nancy Bird is President & CEO of Greater Iowa City, Inc. and Doug Neumann is Executive Director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.