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A lot of young professionals dream of leaving their hometowns after graduating high school or college in search of broader career opportunities or new lifestyles. It seems like an inevitable thing. However, it’s also a problem for states like Iowa that are losing valuable tech talent to other ecosystems.

But what if Iowa could identify the tech talent that has left the state and recruit them back? That question led a group of Iowa organizations headed by the Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) to launch a new talent development initiative called “The Iowan Project.”

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The Iowan Project is a web application featuring a map of Iowa expats around the world. Expats drop a pin on their current location and list past associations with the state of Iowa including hometown, educational institutions, and past workplaces. TAI then uses that data in a workforce attraction campaign that identifies tech-skilled Iowa expats and recruits them back to the state.

“We have so much cool stuff going on in the technology space that we feel we have a compelling argument for these individuals,” said Brian Waller, TAI president. “TAI is excited to connect with tech-skilled Iowa expats and reacquaint them with the great tech companies, communities, and job opportunities awaiting them back home.”

Waller said that Iowa expats already know the Iowa story, but they just may not realize the scope of opportunities that the state’s tech industry has to offer.

“If you’re a technologist, you want to create technology solutions, and I think you can do that in Iowa in various industries,” said Waller. “There are tons of opportunities to work on different technologies in manufacturing, agriculture, higher education, and health care.”

The Iowan Project has already been collecting information in their database for three years. TAI hired social media firm ChatterKick out of Sioux City to help them identify and recruit over 1,500 expats using very precise social media tactics.

By adding themselves to the map, users can find and connect with fellow Iowans in their area. They also give over 300 TAI member companies, including startups, large corporations, and organizations, the chance to recruit them back into Iowa’s tech talent pipeline.

“The Iowan Project is a great opportunity to keep talented Iowans around the world connected to each other and their home state,” said Mary Bontrager, executive vice president of talent development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “We are proud to have so many people with Iowa connections making a difference in the world, and want them to share their Iowa pride with others wherever they are. We want to ensure they know they are welcome back anytime.”

In addition to the website, TAI, Iowa Economic Development Authority, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and the City of West Des Moines will be hosting dinners in Denver and Chicago this year to spread the word about the project.

Waller said that TAI also wants to show that Iowa is an inclusive state that welcomes women, minorities, and rural Iowans not only to have a seat at the table when it comes to their tech community but also encourages them to assume leadership roles.

The Iowan Project is just one piece of TIA’s efforts to build Iowa’s community of tech talent. The organization also hosts the annual IT Olympics and the HyperStream program in schools with robotics, game design, and cybersecurity programs, and it supports legislative work to get money for teacher training and computer sciences.

“There is a global war right now for talented, skilled workers,” said Waller. “We understand this problem is universal … but with shoulders to the wheel, we’re fighting for that talent, and we believe we have a compelling story to tell.”

This story first appeared on Silicon Prairie News

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