Greater Dubuque economic leaders stress need to increase workforce

Local economic development leaders on Thursday night emphasized the need to recruit workers to Dubuque County after the number of people in the workforce did not climb due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At their annual meeting on Thursday night at Steeple Square, Greater Dubuque Development Corp. officials reflected on the past year, as well as highlighted goals for the next five.

GDDC launched its 2027 capital campaign in March, aiming to raise $11 million in that time and outlining goals that include increasing population and workforce.

Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of GDDC, said at Thursday’s meeting that the five-year fundraising goal already had been exceeded, with $11.7 million raised so far.

“We set that goal in December 2021, when we were at the height of omicron (variant of COVID-19) and no one knew what to expect in 2022,” Dickinson said. “Eleven million dollars was a lowball goal when we were fearful of the year to come. Now, we know, despite challenges, we need to push further. We actually need $13 million.”

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Dickinson stressed the need to recruit workforce to Dubuque County. Currently, he said, about 59,200 people make up the workforce, and the goal over the next five years is to increase that figure to 64,000.

He also noted that, as of May, 1,200 people in Dubuque County identified as unemployed, and 299 of those individuals were receiving unemployment benefits.

“The notion that the workforce challenges are caused by some unknown population that’s living large on unemployment is a fallacy,” Dickinson said. “It’s never been true, but the fact is that we have people who have fallen out of the workforce. We think inflation, among other things, will cause them to reconsider.”

To increase workforce, Dickinson noted that GDDC invested over $100,000 to revamp, a job-search website operated by GDDC and the Telegraph Herald. GDDC also has a variety of other programs to offer job training and attract potential employees to the area.

Tim Hodge, CEO of Hodge and 2021-22 GDDC Board of Directors chair, also stressed the need to increase workforce and new businesses in Dubuque County.

“What we need to do not only in the next year but in the next five will be hard, but we will do it because we care,” he said.

Dupaco Community Credit Union President and CEO Joe Hearn, who began his term as GDDC Board of Directors chair on Thursday, shared at the meeting that he initially planned to leave Dubuque after graduating from Loras College. However, he was convinced to stay and work for Dupaco.

“The moral of the story is that economic development is not all on Rick Dickinson and his talented team,” he said. “As business leaders, it is all of our responsibilities. … We need to advocate all of the tremendous opportunities we have right here before us.”