Iowa Workforce Innovation Network.

EDA University Center at Iowa State University

Iowa has a low unemployment rate, due largely to the state’s slow growth and pronounced young-adult outmigration. Rural Iowa is particularly distressed. Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 71 have lost population since the 2010 census. Non-traditional workforce solutions are needed in order for businesses to better compete in a global market.

The Iowa Workforce Innovation Network (iWIN)

The Iowa Workforce Innovation Network (iWIN) is a new approach to community workforce planning. The goal is to pivot off of a 100-year-old workforce-training model, toward a holistic, community-focused approach to workforce management. With iWIN, ‘workforce’ is examined from four strategic viewpoints: 1) the regional STEM pipeline; 2) non-traditional attraction/retention efforts, including engineering talent; 3) employee output through incorporation of sustainable productivity initiatives; and 4) building a ‘virtual’ workforce with automation systems.

Partial funding for CIRAS assistance to targeted communities is provided by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) through the University Center program.

Targeted Communities

A key gap in the Iowa economic development landscape is a formal method to tie rural communities to more vibrant metropolitan areas. In 2019, CIRAS will begin providing targeted assistance to select clusters, each comprised of a rural community closely connected to a metropolitan area. The targeted communities will have populations between 5,000 and 25,000 and fall within a reasonable commute of a metropolitan area. At least one of the top-five community employers must be a manufacturer.


The iWIN team will work with regional economic developers and business leaders to develop innovative, community-specific, multi-faceted solutions to Iowa’s systemic workforce issue. The program will include five key elements: 1) applied research on workforce trends and opportunities; 2) leadership survey of current practices and goals; 3) workforce strategic plan; 4) prioritized operational plan; and 5) business and community technical assistance.


CIRAS staff and partners will work closely with each selected community to implement their unique iWIN plan. The plan will include a number of strategies from the list below.

Regional STEM pipeline

  • FIRST LEGO League teams
  • Summer STEM camps
  • Engineering student internships
  • National Manufacturing Day community plan
  • STEM grants

Non-traditional attraction/retention activities

  • Demographic-based workforce attraction strategies
  • Community inclusion
  • Internship programs
  • Capstone projects
  • Workforce retention
  • Economic development counseling

Sustainable productivity initiatives

  • Lean strategy development
  • LeanWise
  • Lean Coffees
  • Training Within Industry
  • Plant layout
  • B-2-B Networking
  • Culture
  • New product/process development

Automation Systems

  • Problem scoping
  • Automation implementation
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Automation 101

If you are interested in understanding more about the iWIN program and whether your community is eligible, contact Brenda Martin.