Dengler Domain: Growing Iowa


On the May 12 episode of Iowa Press, Governor Kim Reynolds while talking about tax policy said, “People are making different decisions because they don’t have to leave the state and go to Florida or Arizona where the tax burden is lower. They can now stay here and go down there for maybe two months during January and February and enjoy some warm weather. But they’re going to stay Iowa residents and that is good because they have discretionary funds that they spent in our Main Streets and our communities, they volunteer and they’re just a really valuable asset that we want to keep here in Iowa. So, those are really good things.”

I agree. It makes sense to entice Iowans to stay put as long as possible and not leave the great Hawkeye state. The biggest issue is the people this statement does not apply to are recent college graduates or those without the means to leave the state for two months. While I love a winter getaway, two months is a long time without spending money in Iowa.

While keeping people around for longer is better, it should be more important to retain people for the full year without having to reduce the tax burden to do it. Iowa should have more policies in place to encourage those to stay and come to Iowa. Reducing the tax burden is only a short-term fix for the long-term population issue Iowa suffers from which affects our rural communities and our workforce.

Most everyone can agree they know family and/or friends who have left the state for new jobs, better lifestyles, or other distinct reasons. From my experience, a lot of my university classmates left immediately after graduation and never looked back because Iowa did not have the opportunities for them to succeed.

This is also evident from a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research which states Iowa is below average at retaining college graduates with 34% choosing to leave the state after graduating. Only eight more states in the nation lose more of their college graduates than Iowa according to KCRG.

Throughout Iowa’s history, it has struggled to grow its population compared to the rest of the nation for over 100 years. Between the 1900 election and the 2020 election, Iowa lost more than half of its electoral votes. Less population means less vibrant communities, fewer opportunities, and fewer young people sticking around the state.

The manufacturing and agriculture industries can only do so much to keep workers in this state. For manufacturing, promoting American made and using an Iowan workforce to help build products will support the communities which have struggled to retain manufacturing companies. As with agriculture, farms either need to diversify to keep more people on the land and support the local rural economies or consolidation will continue to eat up farms, farmland, rural schools, and everything else in between.

Another option is diversifying the Iowa economy to attract more people whether it be actual humans who come and stay or tourism. Iowans love their views as made known by the recent wind turbine and solar fights in Tama County and other counties, and maybe this is worth promoting and sharing with the rest of the country. People love Colorado for its mountains so why not show off Iowa’s endless skyline?

The manufacturing and agriculture industry probably will not be enough to retain what Iowa needs to sustainably grow. Iowa needs to look at different policies besides lowering taxes to grow this great state. Relying on former Iowans to move back home after time away is not a reliable strategy. Reducing the tax burden is a band-aid on a broken arm situation. Iowa needs vast medical attention to turn around our population problem.

The double edge sword of reducing taxes is it reduces government services for all Iowans and especially those who cannot commute down to Arizona or Florida a few times a year. Making it harder for those at the bottom to achieve the ability to commute down to Arizona or Florida or potentially encouraging those to stay in a state with lesser government services than states with better opportunities.

The fix for the 21st century for Iowa is retaining our college graduates while helping immigrants build up our urban and rural populations back to sustainable and growing levels through new industries and reducing the barrier to entry in proven industries like manufacturing and agriculture. For Iowa to succeed, Iowa needs people.

Sean Dengler is a writer, comedian, farmer, and host of the Pandaring Talk podcast who grew up on a farm between Traer and Dysart. You can reach him at sean.h.dengler@gmail.