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Iowa Gov. Tries To Lure Natives Home

June 10, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) _ Iowa natives: Is Chicago REALLY your kind of town? Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack hopes the answer is a resounding ``No!″

Chicago was the latest stop on Vilsack’s nationwide crusade to lure native Iowans and alumni of the state’s colleges and universities back to the Hawkeye State. A jazz quartet entertained alumni and former Iowa residents as they milled about Wednesday night during a reception sponsored by Vilsack and the Iowa Human Resource Recruitment Consortium.

Representatives from businesses were on hand, ready to make a pitch for the state. Vilsack said the Iowa’s low unemployment rate has forced it to more aggressively sell the state to potential employees elsewhere. At previous receptions, state representatives have touted Iowa’s low crime rate, quality schools and its growing job opportunities.

``We want folks to know that we are investing in cultural and recreational opportunities that may be different than the Iowa they left,″ Vilsack said, pointing to a $200 million partnership with local governments to develop such opportunities

People in their late 20s and early 30s have been most receptive to the pitch, he said, especially if they’re starting families. That age-group is particularly interested in raising children in a safe, secure environment, he said.

The governor and the consortium have also hosted receptions in New York City, San Diego and Los Angeles. They’ve planned one for Minneapolis in the fall. Consortium members said the receptions have been helpful not only in luring people back, but in changing the overall perception of the state.

``At times I’ve found that I must break through the perception of Iowa. It helps to have others that can help sell the state,″ said Christine Headington-Hall, a human resources manager at a company near Des Moines.

But for some, the question remains _ why Iowa?

Shira Peltan shook her head when asked if she’d consider moving back to Iowa, where she completed undergraduate studies at Grinnell College.

``I prefer large cities,″ the 22-year-old Northwestern University graduate student said.

Others seemed ready to make the move.

``I’d go back to Iowa in a heartbeat,″ said Rosalyn Beecham-Green, associate provost at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A native Iowan who completed all three of her degrees at the University of Iowa, Beecham-Green said she misses the way of life there.

``It’s easy, relaxed, friendly. I miss the helpfulness,″ said the married mother of two.

Brian Reardon, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, said the marketing efforts aren’t causing state officials to break a sweat.

``We have the Wisconsin governor trying to raid our companies for workers, the Iowa governor trying to convince people to leave and the Minnesota governor trying to get people to vacation there,″ Reardon said. ``In a way, it’s a compliment to Illinois. It speaks to the fact that we have a diverse state with a lot to offer.″

Vilsack said the state is also increasingly focusing on ways to retain minority graduates of Iowa colleges.

``There are tremendous opportunities for alums to have jobs and to be a part of creating a new impression of a state that has been pretty much considered Caucasian,″ Vilsack said.

James Alsup, a black graduate of Drake University, said minorities ``know what they’re getting into″ when considering a move to Iowa, especially if they went to college in the state.

``You know the state is like, 2 percent black and 98 percent white,″ he said. ``But it’s a nice place to raise a family, it’s quieter and your money goes a lot farther.″

Vilsack said he is optimistic that his campaign will strike a chord with some Iowans who have been longing to return.

``The amazing thing about Iowans is that they never stop being Iowan,″ Vilsack said. ``No matter where they move, if you ask them where they’re from, they’ll say they’re from Iowa.″

His wish now? That they’ll say it from Iowa.

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