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Iowa Isn’t Ready for Economic Disruption

Despite enormous progress, we have more work to do to face the challenges of tomorrow’s economy.

Predicting the future is tough.

Here are some of the realities we’re facing:

Iowa Isn’t Building Enough Scaling Companies

High-growth companies are essential to weathering these future economic changes, because without them, we can’t employ the people who are going to lose their jobs when the world switches to automation. Iowa currently has an incredibly low unemployment rate, but we can’t let that lull us into a false sense of security. We have to grow our own jobs in order to become nationally competitive.

The rate of startup growth in Iowa, which measures how much startups have grown by their fifth year, has been flat since the mid 1990s.

The last time we had a big rise in the rate of startup growth was when Johnny Carson still hosted The Tonight Show.

Our share of scale-ups — that’s companies that hit fifty employees by their tenth year — has been declining since the late eighties.

A sad, gradual decline.

High-growth company density — that’s the number of private businesses with $2 million or more in revenue and 20% or more in annual revenue growth — has been flat for ten years.

This has been flat for the entire era of the modern smartphone.

How are we doing in the Creative Corridor?

A year after we launched the Iowa Startup Accelerator, J&P Cycles moved operations out of the Corridor. Our region lost 125 warehouse, technical, and office jobs — more jobs than have been created by all of the companies that have gone through the Iowa Startup Accelerator in the past four years (so far).

Ten Inc 5000 companies is not good enough. Source: NewBoCo analysis of data.

Another big problem? Our core regional industries are facing major disruption.

As we mentioned before, being a truck driver is the most common job in Iowa. But did you know that it’s the most common job in 29 states? Across the entire country, there are 3.5 million truck drivers, and another 5.2 million jobs supporting those drivers. Morgan Stanley thinks that autonomous, driverless trucks will be common by 2026. If true, 8.7 million jobs could disappear in the next nine years. In a single industry.

We need to build an economy that works for people now — and ten years from now.

We not only need to grow more scaling companies, we also need to educate people to be able to work at and create them.

Rising to new challenges

The problems outlined above need to be addressed on a systemic level. Building a community that can support and create high growth companies takes significant investments in education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

  • Our current companies need to learn how to become more innovative and resilient in order to adapt to our shifting economy.
  • We need to help our local companies become places whose innovation and culture attract talent nationwide.
  • In order for Iowa to lead the way in tech — or at least not fall behind — we need to have world-class technical education, starting as young as possible.
  • We need to invest in and support our entrepreneurial community to help our startups become the high growth companies that will change our region.



NewBoCo accelerates world-changing ideas, from Iowa.

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Eric Engelmann

I build technology companies, invest in and mentor startups, and grow teams that can solve important problems in the world.