Following another tumultuous year for businesses both in the Dubuque area and nationally, here’s a look ahead at what we anticipate will be some of the biggest local business stories of 2022.
WORKFORCE ISSUES PERSIST
Throughout the past couple of years, “Help wanted” signs have been abundant throughout the tri-state area.
Area officials expect that to improve slightly in 2022, but it could be a while before the issue goes away entirely.
“Workforce is a national problem, and we are looking at local solutions to address it,” said Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of Greater Dubuque Development Corp.
He believes workforce issues need to be addressed with a long-term focus in mind. He said GDDC is spearheading a multi-faceted effort to close workforce gaps, with an emphasis on recruiting new talent and retaining existing workers. Partnerships with local educational institutions, which will allow workers to upskill and move into new positions, is one way the organization seeks such improvements.
Loren Rice, associate professor of accounting and business at Clarke University, expects to see a turn for the better in 2022, but he acknowledged that businesses have struggled to adapt and address changes in the labor market.
“It will become easier, but to what magnitude, I am not sure,” Rice said.
He noted that many workers have changed their view of the workforce, with some opting to live a simpler life.
Employers have adapted, too, realizing that change was necessary.
“Companies were reluctant to make changes, like paying higher wages or offering better benefits,” Rice said. “Now, they are realizing that is something they have to do.”
FUTURE DEVELOPMENT PLANS
A recent property purchase provided a glimpse into how — and where — economic development might take shape in the years ahead.
The City of Dubuque in late 2020 purchased 156 acres of agricultural property located northwest of the Southwest Arterial-U.S. 61/151 intersection. It marks the city’s first land development along the Southwest Arterial corridor.
City of Dubuque Economic Development Director Jill Connors thinks such areas are appealing for many reasons.
“One very important thing that companies look at is access to transportation,” she said. “And for those building out near the Southwest Arterial, there is really good access to multiple four-lane highways.”
Connors said officials already are designing ways to get water and sanitary sewer out to the newly purchased city land. She expects that work on that infrastructure could commence in 2022.
Meanwhile, a full-service truck dealership recently announced plans to build a new location near the crossing of U.S. 20 and the Southwest Arterial.
Thompson Truck & Trailer, currently located at 1190 Roosevelt St. Extension, plans to build a new location at 6800 Boulder Brook Court in 2022. The company hopes to open the new facility in 2023.
The long tradition of greyhound racing in Dubuque — and Iowa — will come to an end in 2022.
The final season at Iowa Greyhound Park in Dubuque won’t feel like a regular one to longtime fans. Instead, it will last for only a month, beginning April 16 and concluding on May 15. There will be a total of 18 race days, each with 10 races on the schedule.
“We’re hoping to have a big crowd come to check it out one last time,” said Iowa Greyhound Park Racing Director and General Manager Brian Carpenter. “We hope our fans come out to celebrate.”
For the greyhound park, the approach of the end has been evident for years. The expiration of subsidies from Iowa casinos, as well as the end of racing in other states, ultimately meant Dubuque’s park simply wouldn’t have the financing — or the dogs — to continue racing.
The end of that era could shape the future of a new one on Chaplain Schmitt Island.
Q Casino President and CEO Alex Dixon said the Iowa Greyhound Park grandstand, and the track itself, will be incorporated into long-term plans for improvements to the island. The Dubuque Racing Association, the nonprofit license holder for Q Casino, recently inked a long-term lease with the City of Dubuque for the casino property. The track and grandstand will be incorporated into that lease once racing ends.
“We have no specific plans as to what will be in that physical place where the track is or the grandstands are,” Dixon said. “We will use the (Chaplain Schmitt Island) master plan as our guiding document moving forward.”
The plan calls for enhanced outdoor and recreational opportunities, expanded amenities at Q Casino and the introduction of retail and housing on the island. Leaders at Q frequently have expressed the desire to establish the island as a destination, similar to the way the Port of Dubuque helps draw customers to Diamond Jo Casino.
Rising prices had a noticeable impact on consumers in 2021, with the cost of everything from food to housing shooting upward.
Toward the end of the year, federal policymakers shifted their focus to slowing inflation. But local economic experts don’t think it will be enough to pump the brakes on the phenomenon.
“I think we will see more inflation in ’22 than we did in ’21,” said Rice, of Clarke University. “Inflation is very much like a snowball rolling downhill.”
Inflation doesn’t affect all items or people equally.
“Many middle-class individuals are actually helped by inflation,” he said. “For many of these families, their home is their biggest asset. It is actually going up in value as their monthly mortgage, as a percentage of their overall income, is going down.”
Federal policymakers have indicated they could hike interest rates on three occasions in 2022 in hopes of curbing inflation. However, Rice said, it probably will take at least two more years to get inflation under control.
Over the course of the past couple years, myriad factors have made it more difficult to obtain certain consumer items.
Supply-chain issues have influenced the time it takes to secure building materials as well as the cost of such items, leading to long delays in construction. And heading into the holiday season, multiple retailers warned that gifts could be harder, or impossible, to obtain as Christmas drew nearer. An immediate resolution isn’t expected in 2022, although many businesses are adjusting to the new normal.
“I think we have a lot more knowledge about these issues than we did even six months ago,” said Mark Jones, store manager at Slumberland Furniture in Dubuque. “We know how to advise customers, how to navigate some of these supply-chain issues better.”
The furniture industry has been among the hardest hit, with many consumers waiting longer than a year to obtain sofas, chairs or other items they have purchased.
“Custom orders are the biggest victims here,” Jones said. “If you want to order something outside the norm, that is what is really continuing to take a long time.”
He said COVID-19, and the way it restricted the pace of production, was the initial culprit.
Today, the biggest issue is continued high demand, as the industry struggles to keep pace with high-order volumes.
“I don’t see that slowing down any time soon,” Jones said.