Dubuque chamber promotes workforce supports, tax cuts ahead of Iowa legislative session

Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce priorities for the 2022 Iowa legislative session include workforce development programming and individual and corporate tax cuts.

During the chamber’s annual legislative kickoff event on Thursday, President and CEO Molly Grover detailed how workforce in Dubuque and surrounding communities continues to limp out of the COVID-19 pandemic and how the chamber hopes the Legislature will aid it. The event featuring area state lawmakers was held ahead of the Iowa Legislature’s 2022 session, which starts Monday, Jan. 10.

“We’re at 2,500 workers less than pre-pandemic levels,” Grover said. “As you can imagine, that puts a tremendous strain on a community that already identified workforce development as a priority.”

She said the chamber’s workforce development priorities include investments in K-12 education, funding for Future Ready Iowa, funding for workforce training and economic development at community colleges and grant programs to upskill for existing employees.

Both Iowa Sens. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, and Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, expressed support for Future Ready Iowa — an effort to bolster post-secondary education and technical training to strengthen the state’s talent pipeline.

However, Koelker — whose party has the majority in both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office — said lawmakers have a lot of work to do in the upcoming session before specific workforce strategies come into view.

She said lawmakers will have to look at rules and regulations that Iowa could reform in each sector. Koelker said child care investment will play a role, but the private sector will have to figure out some issues itself.

Koelker said Republican plans to cut income taxes could aid workforce development. That is something the chamber also supports, but cuts to corporate taxes are higher on its priority list.

“We’re certainly encouraged by the conversations we’re hearing at the state level in talking about taxes,” Grover said. “From a chamber standpoint, we want to make sure corporate taxes are part of that discussion. … Only four other states have worse corporate tax rates than we do.”

Democrats on the panel urged caution from Republicans in cutting income taxes. Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, cited research that showed quality of life, not taxes, was higher on the list of why people come to or leave Iowa.

Quality of life issues also are among the chamber’s priorities. Member Tara Duggan, of McDermott Excavating, referred to those efforts as “place making.”

“Projects like the Bee Branch (Creek restoration) … give Dubuque an edge over other areas that haven’t taken on such innovative projects,” she said. “The chamber calls on the state to re-invest in place making that reinforces the idea that Iowa and Dubuque are cool, vibrant places to live, work and play.”