BEST of Iowa identifies workforce challenges as major hurdle to business expansion

April 21, 2022 |

Ongoing workforce issues are challenging Iowa companies, preventing some from moving forward on expansion projects.

Those workforce limitations and other trends, including supply chain issues and economic uncertainty, were identified in the 2021 Business Expansion and Strategic Trends (BEST) of Iowa report. Based on data collected during interviews with 1,065 companies in 66 Iowa counties, the BEST report depends heavily on community groups that step forward to conduct the interviews.  Four of those groups were honored with Best of Iowa Excellence Awards for their work collecting the 2021 data. They are:

  • City of Boone
  • Iowa City Area Development
  • Mahaska Chamber & Development Group and Mahaska County
  • City of Urbandale

“These organizations show a tremendous commitment to supporting their local businesses and the BEST program,” says Drew Conrad, Director at the Institute for Decision Making, The University of Northern Iowa. “Without their help, this important report would not be possible.”

BEST of Iowa is a statewide business retention and expansion program, created and overseen by a management team made up of representative from Iowa Economic Development Authority, Alliant Energy, Black Hills Energy, Iowa Area Development Group and MidAmerican Energy with a focus on identifying business trends and growing the state’s economy. BEST is a national model for using existing business data collected through Synchronist PRIME® interviews with local employers.

In the 2021 report, 40.5% of the companies interviewed identified a difficulty finding employees as the top economic recovery barrier after the challenges of the pandemic. The workforce trend was most often reported by companies in the construction, health care and social services, wholesale trade and manufacturing industry sectors.

In the last six months, 221 companies reported a loss of high-value employees and nearly 70% of 668 companies reported an overall challenge in recruiting qualified workers.

Despite those challenges, many of the companies interviewed continue to move forward with business expansions. Nearly 48% of the companies interviewed stated that before the COVID pandemic, their company had expansion plans, with 89.6% indicating those plans were an expansion and 10.4% were a renovation. Almost 71% stated their plans are moving forward, however 15.7% stated their expansion plans are temporarily on hold and 12.3% are uncertain their expansion plans will move forward.

Among the companies still planning expansions, 75.3% reported workforce recruitment problems.
Nearly 34% of companies interviewed reported supply chain issues as a hinderance to economic recovery with the construction sector facing the most difficulty. Businesses in the professional, scientific and technical services reported economic uncertainty as creating the most barriers to their business recovery plans.

“The information gathered in the BEST report is critical to understanding the needs and challenges of the business sector in Iowa and how to best address them,” says Conrad. “By shining a light on the issues affecting them, we can better formulate programs and policies to help our businesses thrive.”

For more details about the study, visit