The Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Workforce Development have announced a plan where they will team up for a survey of the labor market in all 99 counties.
Workforce Development’s Ryan Murphy oversees the labor market information division, and says it will be a study of what’s called the laborshed area. “I often compare it to a watershed area where you have lakes and streams that flow into a large bodies of water. People are more familiar with that,” Murphy says. “A laborshed area is more like a commuting pattern where we have people traveling in on two-lane highways, and walking to work and the interstate to a central employment area.”
He says it gives counties and idea of the source of workers. “Your employees come from much further away than your county right — it could be the next county over or two counties depending on if you are on an interstate or four-lane highway,” Murphy explains. “And it really shows the quantity, the size of your labor market area, your labor pool. So it better describes the area where your employer or perspective employers could be drawing their employees from.”
While it’s obvious in some counties where the workers are coming from — others aren’t as easy to figure out. “It’s very important for those border communities. We know we are not just getting people in Decorah for work from Winneshiek County. We know that there are people from Minnesota and Wisconsin that are also coming to that area for work. This helps employers identify where there could be pockets of available labor,” Murphy says.
The second phase of the laborshed study involves a phone survey of the potential labor pool. “Asking people about whether they are employed or not employed. Their wages, their benefits currently being offered, their occupations, their industry, their desired ages, their benefits, how far they are commuting,” Murphy explains. “One of the really unique data points that we have with the laborshed survey is where are people looking for jobs if they are looking. If they are likely to change employment or accept new employment — what resources are they using to do that?”
Iowa’s unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country. Murphy says the survey will hopefully help better match up employers with employees. “The laborshed study doesn’t create new people, so what we’re trying to do is really hone in on where there are pockets of available labor within the existing pool that we have,” according to Murphy. With all the telemarketing and phone scams going on, it can be hard to get people to participate in the survey.
Murphy says they try to let people know that this is a legitimate process. He says they send out news releases in the areas they are working in so people know if they are asked questions about their employment, they can know that it is a legitimate survey from Iowa Workforce Development.
They will begin the laborshed study in July and plan to complete 44 counties in the first year and the remaining 45 in the second year. Murphy says they are using state and federal funds for the survey and it will cost around 950-thousand dollars each year. The data from the surveys will be provided to local economic development organizations and partners for free.