Rural jobs of the future

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

Become a software developer. That’s what we draw from a report last week issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showing that of the 10 fastest-growing job segments over the next decade, seven pay less than $33,000 per year (with six of them paying less than $27,000 per year). They are, with the growth rates: personal care aides (36.4% projected growth) at $24,000 per year, food prep and serving (17.3%, $21,250), home health aides (30%, $24,200), cooks (22%, $26,530), waiters and waitresses (6.5%, $21,780), janitors (6.6%, $26,110) and medical assistants (22.6%, $33,610).

The jobs that are growing and pay well are registered nurses (12.1%, $71,730), general managers (6.9%, $100,000) and, yes, software developers (25.6%, $103,620).

Obvious conclusions include that to make a decent living you need a post-secondary education; and, some of the most important and literally vital jobs (home health aides) don’t pay a living wage. Teacher aides do much of the heavy lifting in schools but are paid a fraction of teachers, and have no union representation. Social workers who help disabled adults find meaning through work are paid barely more than the minimum wage.

The jobs that pay the least dominate rural economies. That’s why we lose our young to cities, where software developers cluster.

Enter Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California’s Silicon Valley.

“People’s shouldn’t have to move. People shouldn’t have their only choice be to get out of the community that they love,” Khanna told hundreds gathered Sunday for the dedication of the Forge at Jefferson — an effort led by Pillar Technologies to create computer coding jobs in rural places.

Iowa Central Community College, the City of Jefferson and Khanna are working with tech companies to have local students stream into jobs paying more than $60,000 per year right in their hometown. Khanna says Iowa is the right place to pilot such a program because of its education system with community colleges dispersed throughout the state.

People as opposed as Gov. Kim Reynolds and JD Scholten were there to celebrate working together on a new path forward for rural Iowa. It should succeed. Silicon Valley is begging for qualified help. Iowa community colleges can provide them. It’s good to see people from across the spectrum working together on solutions for great places that are losing their reasons to exist.

Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running for President, says such initiatives can be extended to all sorts of areas and revive battered places like his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and beyond. John Delaney believes that we can redirect capital back from the coasts to the Midwest through these types of initiatives. Elizabeth Warren is a graduate of an Oklahoma community college. The program has wide support.

We can do so much more, and that is what Buena Vista University is exploring. Its new centers for agriculture and rural entrepreneurship are dovetailing with what is going on in Jefferson. Gov. Reynolds was happy to announce a $2.9 million gift from Don and Charlene Lamberti to support those efforts at creating vitality in places like Booneville, where Lamberti launched Casey’s General Stores.

It would be exciting to see Buena Vista and Iowa Central working together on similar initiatives for Storm Lake. Here, too, the family and community bonds are strong. As Don Lamberti notes, immigrants are often the greatest entrepreneurs. We can rebuild rural Iowa with brains and ambition in great abundance here. Now, the political establishment is embracing the possibilities in these under-utilized and often forgotten places. The most important building block is education. Iowa is rediscovering its importance.

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