The governor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, created to help the state recover from the coronavirus pandemic, held its first meeting Thursday in what was largely an organizational meeting to chart the course forward as it develops recommendations that Gov. Kim Reynolds said would be used to build the foundation for the 2021 legislative session.

Reynolds said the work of the 13-member board is the third phase of the state’s three-step plan to slow the spread of the virus, recover, and grow following the pandemic. 

“As we move into the third phase … there’s a couple of ways we can do this. We can return to where we were, which can be a fairly ambitious and realistic goal, or we can take what we’ve learned and the innovation that’s been applied over the past four months and really start to reimagine how we do business and how we reimagine our economic recovery,” Reynolds said. 

She said the state can “modernize and really restructure our economy, our education and health care systems, our workforce and quality of life.”

“So the charge is to take the inertia for change that COVID-19 has created and develop the ideas and plans and metrics that will drive innovation in all corners of Iowa and in all sectors of our economy,” Reynolds said.

The governor also asked the board to “take a very deliberate approach to ensuring diversity and inclusion are part of everything you do.”

‘This last month has been a tipping point in our country for a greater understanding and empathy on issues of racial justice and equity, and it’s unacceptable to hear younger African Amerians talk about how they don’t think that they’ll have the same opportunities as other Iowans,” Reynolds said to the board, of which three members are people of color. “I believe we can and must do better, and that the time for talking is over. It’s time for results, so this an opportunity to really step up and really make some significant changes from that perspective.”

Following Reynolds’ opening statements, the chair of the advisory board, Ben McLean, the CEO of Ruan Transportation, echoed the goals she had laid out for the state, saying, “We can lay the foundation for the next generation of Iowa innovation, ingenuity, equality, growth and prosperity.”

McLean said the board should look at the lessons learned over the past three months and use them to guide its work moving forward.

“So what can we do on the other side of this pandemic that maybe we didn’t believe we could do before, we weren’t willing to try before, maybe out of a fear of failure to try some of these things that could change what the future could be like in Iowa,’ McLean said. “So I think we should be bold, and I ask that we be bold and aspirational in addressing these and other issues … and what can we do to solve them.”

Each member of the board will lead a working group that will address topics, such as agriculture, connectivity, economic growth, education, health care, government and expanding the state’s workforce.

The meeting also gave board members a chance to introduce themselves and identify areas on which they said the board should focus. Those areas included expanding broadband access statewide, expanding access to capital in rural areas, liability reform to better protect businesses, improve issues within the supply chain and create incentives for products to be made closer to the source, and expand opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math education in K-12 schools, as well as upskilling and retraining adult workers.

Members of the advisory board are:

  • Ben McLean, CEO of Ruan Transportation Management Systems.
  • Nick Bowdesh, president and CEO of Elite Octane.
  • Mary Andringa, chair of the board of Vermeer.
  • Randy Edeker, CEO of Hy-Vee.
  • Rosalind Fox, factory manager at John Deere.
  • Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of UHIC.
  • Dan Houston, chairman, president and CEO of Principal Financial Group.
  • Megan Mckay, president of Peace Tree Brewing Co.
  • AJ Loss, CEO of Bush Construction.
  • Emily Schmitt, general counsel of Sukup Manufacturing Co.
  • Barbara Sloniker, executive vice president at the Siouxland Chamber.
  • Adam Wright, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Co.
  • Diane Young, director of technical services and owner at Foundation Analytical Lab.

McLean said the board’s goal is to be transparent throughout the process and the public will be invited to participate as the board moves forward with its work.

“We’ll have a number of avenues for public input to our process as we look to do our work here in the coming months,” he said.