Come to Iowa

Monday, February 10, 2014

By: Mark Newman   |   Courier Staff Writer


OTTUMWA — When you think of high-tech laser design, think of Wapello County in Iowa.

That's what business owners in California are being told this week by economic development professionals and educators from Indian Hills Community College.

"Historically, too many of our graduates have left our area," said Tom Rubel, executive dean of regional economic advancement. "We're here creating a network for the laser photonics industry to expand into southeast Iowa."

"Here" was a San Francisco-area laser show; California, where Rubel was making his cell phone call from, is a hotbed of laser business.

"This is one of the largest laser photonics conventions in the world," said Greg Kepner, department chair for Indian Hills advanced manufacturing.

"Because of our [advanced manufacturing] programming at Indian Hills," said Rubel, "we are talking to a wide range of laser photonics businesses that can benefit from our program. We're attempting to create a niche in southeast Iowa in the industry of lasers. There's not as much job opportunity [in southeast Iowa] as there is in some of the more heavily populated areas. Yet this is a rapid-growth industry. A simple solution would be for them to have more opportunity locally."

It's not as tough a fight as some might think: For one thing, Rubel said the college isn't asking manufacturers to close up shop and move to Ottumwa. In addition to the strengths Iowa has to begin with, this part of Iowa has something that should appeal to high-tech businesses.

"We learn all the time," said Rubel, "that most companies have a big challenge: finding a qualified workforce. We can show companies we are able to provide that workforce. Then, when it comes time for expansion, maybe their expansion would include the Indian Hills region."

The Indian Hills officials are supported on this trip by the experts. Economic development people from Ottumwa, Davis County and Chariton are along, as well as a state employee from the Iowa Division of Economic Development.

"We have a really nice cross section of people who can connect with the businesses here," said Rubel.

The college contingent also brought several students to support the cause. They're at the trade show and occasionally visiting laser companies.

"They've been walking through the exhibit area learning," said Kepner of his students. "But more so, they're out being good ambassadors for Indian Hills."

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Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation 217 East Main Street Ottumwa, Iowa  52501
Phone 641-682-3465 Fax 641-682-3466