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One of Iowa’s top economic development officials “loves the vibe of Davenport” and loves the direction the state’s agricultural economy is headed in the post-pandemic world. Those were two of the messages shared Wednesday, March 16, by Debi Durham during a meet-and-greet VIP reception for the Gathering of the Green conference in downtown Davenport. “We knew we were going to come out of COVID strong (because) we had one of the strongest economies going into COVID,” said Ms. Durham, the director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority. Ms. Durham spoke for a few minutes before an audience of about 20 community leaders gathered in the Hotel Blackhawk’s Davenport Room. She was also scheduled to speak about the economic climate and trends in Iowa during an event Thursday, March 17, at the Figge Art Museum in downtown Davenport. The Wednesday event, which was part of the Gathering of Green opening day activities, focused on touting local economic development efforts, John Deere & Co., and the return of the John Deere enthusiasts’ conference that is bringing thousands of tourists to the Quad Cities. Ms. Durham also used the event to highlight ongoing developments in the state’s ag economy. For instance, she called the Iowa City-based precision ag tech company Rantizo a success story. The company specializes in using drones to spray crops. A few months ago, Rantizo became the first company to get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to use its DJI Agras T-30 drones for ag applications. That FAA approval was needed because the T-30 drones are relatively big and heavy, coming in at about 170 pounds when fully loaded. The success of Rantizo shows that Iowa farmers are ready and willing to use the latest technology to get the job done, said Ms. Durham. “Farmers are some of the most innovative people you will meet,” she added. After Wednesday’s brief speech, Ms. Durham told the QCBJ of some of the economic challenges facing the state. Perhaps topping that list is the worker shortage many companies are still battling. Ms. Durham said the state will need to take a series of steps to put more workers on the job. One of those steps is currently in progress in a new program through the Iowa Workforce Development office (IWD). Under the Reemployment Case Management program, unemployed Iowans meet regularly with state-appointed career advisers in efforts to get them back to work. Since January, more than 640 Iowans have found jobs through the new program, according to a recent news release issued by IWD Director Beth Townsend. Ms. Durham adds that she hopes such new programs will help reconnect with the many people who have not returned to the workforce since the pandemic. Many of those leaving jobs include workers who have retired and women who have left because of child care issues. (According to IWD data, there were 67,000 fewer Iowans in the workforce in January 2022 compared to January 2020.) But another big step in helping employers is a focus on bringing more people to the state. “We need to rebrand the state to the national market,” Ms. Durham said. She added that the state’s new “This is Iowa” multi-media advertising campaign is trying to do that by highlighting the Iowa’s features and quality of life to the rest of the nation. The campaign is particularly vital because recent surveys have shown that about 70% of Americans now are open to moving to other parts of the country. However, the same surveys show that when many people are asked about what they think of Iowa, they say: “We don’t think of you at all,” said Ms. Durham. She added that view isn’t necessarily a negative factor; it means many people are at least open to considering the state as a tourist destination or a new home. That’s why it’s important to highlight the state’s parks, hiking and biking trails, arts and culture to showcase Iowa’s high quality of life. Ms. Durham also spent much of Wednesday touting Davenport’s economic development projects. She said the community is in a “dynamic space right now” with more companies moving to or expanding in Davenport. “I just love the vibe of Davenport. … It’s really a good time to be in Iowa,” she added.