Why is Immigration Important to Iowa?

I was asked this question recently on a visit to DC by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS).  Senator Moran is an outspoken supporter of skilled immigration and the author of the Startup Act 2.0 and I met him at the Kauffman Foundation’s State of Entrepreneurship launch event.  Sharing the presence of immigrants at many critical junctures of our State’s launch, and our continued presence and inflow into the State’s economic drivers – our businesses – made the case to him and he shared a few anecdotes from Kansas.  Returning from DC, I had the opportunity to submit an editorial to the Des Moines Register with two leaders of our community – Lori Chesser of Davis Brown Law Firm and Jay Byers of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.  The editorial lays out many of the important items for our cities and State and is duplicated below.
Seize the day. That is our recommendation to Iowans — including our congressional delegation — regarding immigration reform.
Our outdated system has long hobbled economic growth nationwide, but nowhere more than in Iowa. Immigration reform is a critical element in building a strong economy and a vibrant culture both now and in the future.
Iowa’s economic success depends largely on our ability to enhance international connectivity to compete in the global marketplace. This includes increasing exports, facilitating foreign direct investment, and attracting top talent.
But the current system impedes growth on all fronts.
Potential trading partners cannot visit the U.S. — or establish branch offices — because of restrictive visa policies. Potential investors are stymied by lack of visas or overly restrictive interpretations of the few visas categories available. Talented students educated at Iowa’s universities — including coveted “STEM” graduates — leave because of a random H-1B visa “cap” and painfully long waiting lines for legal residence.
Entrepreneurship is another key element of a healthy economy, and immigrants have proved to be highly entrepreneurial. A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that almost half of the top 50 venture-backed U.S. companies had at least one immigrant founder. An immigrant-founded venture-backed company creates, on average, 150 jobs.
Again, our current immigration system has few options for company founders, leaving this resource largely untapped. Meanwhile, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Chile have all created programs to attract immigrant entrepreneurs.
Iowa is also an agricultural leader, responsible for the safe production of food both in the U.S. and around the globe. Reliable estimates indicate that 75 percent of the agricultural workers in the United States are immigrants — most of which are not authorized to work. The main reason is that the current system does not allow for non-seasonal temporary labor.
This restriction also hampers processing and service industries, which often cannot find reliable workers because of the preference for — and accessibility of — post-secondary education.
But a robust economy is only one measure of success. Surveys of students and young professionals show that quality of life, including diverse cultural, food and entertainment options, are important to their decisions about where to live and raise a family.
Immigrants — including German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Mexican and Laotian — are Iowa’s cultural heritage. Immigrants — including Burmese, Iraqi, Sudanese, Bosnian, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, Liberian and many others — are our cultural future.
Recent announcements by both President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators, along with the bipartisan introduction of the Immigration Innovation (Isquared) Act, and a day of thoughtful hearings on immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives last month encourage the hope that real change could happen.
To secure a bright future for Iowa, we must make it happen. The right immigration reform will spur economic growth, create jobs and foster a cultural richness that has made America what it is today. Iowans particularly will benefit from these changes. Let’s seize the day.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill In Senate

I guess I was wrong in guessing it would take Congress forever to get anywhere with Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  Senator Harry Reid has introduced S.1 in the Senate, where it was read and sent to the Judiciary Committee for review.  The official bill isn’t visible on Thomas.gov yet, but the text per The Oh Law Firm states – 
S. 1
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.: This Act may be cited as the “Immigration Reform that Works for America’s Future Act”.
SEC. 2. SENSE OF THE SENATE: It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should–
(1) create a roadmap for immigrants who are here without legal status to earn citizenship, provided they pay taxes, complete a background check, learn English, and show a commitment to America;
(2) allow students who came to America as children to earn citizenship by attending college or joining the Armed Forces;
(3) protect the sustainability of the American agricultural industry, including the dairy industry, with a stable and legal agricultural workforce;
(4) encourage those who seek to invest in the United States and create American jobs;
(5) permit and encourage individuals who earn an advanced degree from one of our world-class universities to remain in the United States, rather than using that education to work for our international competitors;
(6) fulfill and strengthen our Nation’s commitments regarding security along our borders and at our ports of entry;
(7) strengthen our Nation’s historic humanitarian tradition of welcoming asylum seekers and refugees and improve existing policies that support immigrant victims of crime and domestic violence;
(8) create an effective electronic verification system and strengthen enforcement to prevent employers from hiring people here illegally;
(9) implement a rational legal immigration system that promotes job creation by converting the current flow of illegal immigrants into the United States into a more manageable, controlled, and legal process for admitting immigrants while, at the same time, safeguarding the jobs, rights, and wages of American workers; and
(10) adopt practical and fair immigration reforms to help ensure that all families are able to be together.

So, Items 1, 2, 3, and 8 address illegal immigration, #6 is a hattip to southern border states, 4, 5, 9 and 10 address legal, highly skilled immigrants and #7 is humanitarian.
The bill’s sponsor and co-sponsors are all democrats, so I am both frustrated at the likelihood of bickering (hoping I’m wrong again) and the likely death of the STEM Jobs Act.

Importance of the STEM Jobs Act

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Jobs act, H.R. 6429 was introduced in the House by Rep. Lamar Smith on September 28, 2012 and passed on 11/30 in the house 245 to 139.  Iowa Representatives Braley and Loebsack voted No while King, Latham and Boswell voted in favor.  The bill was referred to the Senate and was read on 12/3 and 12/4/2012.  I spoke with Jens Krogstad of the Des Moines Register on this topic recently, and read the article and accompanying citizen commentary today.  I am disappointed in the direction the article took, as it focused on an individual’s plight instead of the larger problem surrounding the STEM worker shortage.
As the Governor and Lt. Governor of Iowa have outlined via their multi-year, statewide STEM initiative, there is a need for this state to grow the population able to fill open STEM jobs.  A University of Iowa survey in 2012 documented that 61% of Iowans agree that there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill STEM jobs in Iowa (slide 14 of the UNI Study). The Iowa Workforce development projects the need for STEM qualified workforce to grow from 57,830 in 2008 to 67,330 jobs by 2018, especially in the priority economic sectors of bio-science,  information technology, and advanced manufacturing.  These industries are prominently represented by employers large and small – names like DuPont/Pioneer, Monsanto, Rockwell Collins, Vermeer, Pella, and others in all corners of the state.
Our pipeline of homegrown talent, however, is leaking.  Our 8th graders, at the top in 1992 nationally, have fallen to 25th in Math and 13th in Science.  Only 51% of Iowa ACT test takers in 2010 were college math-ready, and only 11% of them were actually interested in a STEM major.   To top off the data, 93% of Iowa’s population growth comes from Latino/Asian/African-american populations who are half as likely to pursue a career in STEM fields than their white counterparts.
So couple the increasing need for workers in our STEM industries (from ~58000 to ~67000) with a decreasing population of potential homegrown STEM workers (STEM-interested high school graduates now at about 4000) , and we have a deficit.  Since it takes at least 22 years to take a newborn through college, and our STEM agenda is working hard to grow the number from K-16 within the 22 year constraint), our deficit will naturally grow over time until we fix our production problem.  The choice is to export the jobs or import the people.
Importing individuals may sound petty and trite, but economically it is a choice.  Without the oceans, mountains, temperate climate, and activities, we know that our government officials’ desire to import new Iowa citizens from the coasts will be minimally fruitful.  So, why not figure out a way to keep talented, STEM-ready, young people here?  BTW, this problem isn’t localized to Iowa – Brad Feld has shared his frustrations via his posts, Vivek Wadhwa through his book, the Immigrant Exodus, and numerous others, our industry titans are hurting for qualified individuals and unable to find them.
That’s what the STEM Jobs Act is designed to do.  The democrat representatives and President I voted for killed that movement to protect a silly diversity lottery.  A lottery that brings people with no eye for what they bring to the country.  More partisan politics that bears little benefit for the country’s citizens.  There is a chance I might get to discuss this with the President himself in a few weeks.  Hopefully I can deliver the message more concisely for political consumption by then.
Please hit your employees in DC to tell them we need the STEM Jobs act.  Here are the links –
Bruce – http://braley.house.gov/contact
Dave – https://loebsack.house.gov/contactform/default.aspx
Barack –  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments