REGIONAL—The state wants to study N’West Iowa’s workforce.

Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Economic Development Authority are partnering with economic development entities in the cities of Rock Rapids, Sheldon, Sibley and Sioux Center to complete laborshed employment studies in the region this year.

The studies will geographically define which communities contribute to each selected city’s workforce, regardless of political boundaries. The defined area is called a laborshed, which is a region from which a major employment center draws its commuting workers.

“It’s fantastic that northwest Iowa and Osceola County are going to have access to this information,” said Sibley-based Osceola County Economic Development Commission executive director Stephanie Neppl.

The purpose of the regional laborshed studies, which will start this month, is to measure the availability and characteristics of area workers in each selected community, or major employment center.

“I’d just encourage our local industries and businesses to participate,” said Sioux Center community development director Dennis Dokter. “It’s a good tool as far as analyzing our current workforce for local communities and for our region.

“It helps us to better pass on information to perspective businesses as to what the benefits of a northwest Iowa location would be,” he said. “It’s a tool we use in analyzing our workforce and how we can better prepare ourselves to meet our future workforce needs.”

Laborshed studies are useful tools for economic development teams and existing or prospective employers to understand the local labor market, make informed ex­­pansion and site selection decisions, and maintain and recruit a high-quality workforce.

“The way the state has done it — they’re financing one study for a major employment center in each county,” Neppl said. “This is something that Osceola County would never be able to afford. It’s very expensive to get these studies done, so it’s fantastic that the state of Iowa has made it a priority to get this data.”

Letters will be sent to em­­ployers in each selected city requesting that they provide Iowa Workforce Development with aggregate counts of their employees’ residential ZIP codes.

“Finding out where they’re coming from and having that hard data from employers — it’s vital to understanding your workforce,” Neppl said. “Especially being a rural county, we know people drive from all over to work in our area.

“Understanding those patterns is really important,” she said. “It’s just really important to have that part of the picture when we’re trying to attract businesses and keep businesses.”

The studies will allow Iowa Workforce Development to determine what the scope and scale of the laborshed is for each selected community and to better understand where each city’s workforce resides.

“Trying to tell a perspective company where your workforce comes from — it’s better if we can do that with hard data,” Neppl said.

Once each laborshed is determined, a confidential residential telephone survey will be conducted to collect workforce characteristic in­­formation specific to each defined area. The survey call will originate out of Cedar Rapids, therefore the incoming number will have the 319 area code. People also may receive a text message from an 888 number as well, alerting them to expect a call on their cellphone to take the survey.

“People are naturally cautious about answering numbers that they don’t know, so we’re hopeful that they get a really good response from people around the area,” Neppl said.

Survey questions will cover topics such as employment status, current and desired wages, current and desired benefits, education level and type of occupation, among other things. However, Iowa Workforce Development will not be asking survey takers identifiable information such as their name, Social Security number or date of birth.

“If you’re being asked about your wage, I understand being a little bit guarded on that, and that’s normal,” Neppl said. “I’m sure that the people making the calls are well-aware that they have to explain themselves, so we’re just doing our part to make sure people kind of have an idea that this is happening.”