Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Choose Iowa


The Gazette

May 14, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    Thousands of seniors at Iowa colleges will swing tassels to the other side of their mortarboards this month and hear a plea to stay in Iowa.

    ‘‘Iowa wants you, Iowa needs you, Iowa cares about you,’’ Gov. Tom Vilsack said in a commencement speech at Coe College in Cedar Rapids several years ago. Messages like that will be repeated during graduation ceremonies in the next few weeks.

    It’s true, of course. Iowa is struggling to attract top-notch workers for new high-skill jobs in the state, and the ‘‘brain drain’’ each spring is painful to watch, knowing those students leaving for other places are exactly the people who are needed to drive the economy here.

    But some of those pleas to graduates do a disservice to Iowa. They’re defensive. They make it sound as though young people have to give up something to stay in Iowa.

    At the heart of any message to a bright, young, idealistic person at the genesis of his or her post-graduate life should be this: It’s not a sacrifice to stay in Iowa. This is a tremendous state, and no one should apologize for what it has to offer.

    Iowa is the sixth ‘‘most livable’’ state in the nation, according to the much-watched rankings of Morgan Quitno Press. That organization also put Iowa as the sixth healthiest state and the eighth safest state. Housing is affordable, transportation isn’t much of a hassle, people are smart, socially conscious and relatively wealthy.

    Maybe those things don’t impress all 22-year-olds. But the message also should stress that you don’t sacrifice many benefits of Chicago, Minneapolis or St. Louis by living in Iowa. Those metropolitan areas are within an easy drive. If you enjoy the arts, culture, history, entertainment, sports or nightlife of those cities, there’s no excuse not to visit often. As just one example, many folks from Eastern Iowa catch as many Cubs or Cardinals games each summer as the fans living in those cities.

    On the next page in today’s newspaper, you’ll find a guest column from Grinnell College junior Jason Cook. He points out what a burden student debt can be. He says he’ll probably leave Iowa to find a goodpaying job because of that debt.

    Cook is right about the burden of student debt but wrong about a dearth of good-paying jobs in Iowa. Fields such as nursing and engineering need new graduates and are paying competitively to get them, and Iowa has good-paying jobs in many professions college graduates are looking to enter.

    Some of the world’s most influential companies have headquarters or branches in Iowa, so a college graduate wanting to change the world doesn’t have to leave Iowa to do it.

    Iowans enduring the ‘‘brain drain’’ often console themselves by saying this state has a more compelling case to make to people in their late 20s or 30s looking for a place to raise a family and seeking a quality of life that large urban areas mostly fail to provide.

    But Iowans shouldn’t let go of its college graduates so easily. Don’t believe that there’s not a powerful story to sell to them right now.

    Iowa has things to improve. The state needs more jobs, higher-paying jobs, more affordable housing, better schools and roads, more arts, culture and entertainment options. But it shouldn’t be shy or embarrassed about what’s already here.

    Iowa is a great state, and no one has to make sacrifices to stay here.