Our state's chance to become 'Opportunity Iowa'

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January 25, 2012

Source: Press Citizen
Written by
: Robert D. Ray, Guest Opinion

Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray. Register photo by Justin HayworthWhen I was growing up, my parents told me this was the land of opportunity. They told me that if I worked hard, received a good education, and played by the rules, that I could be anything I wanted to be. My parents were right, and it worked for me and for many of you.

As I travel around our state — and certainly as I watch what’s going on in our nation’s capital — I’m confronted with a startling realization: this optimistic vision for a better tomorrow that my parents preached about may be vanishing.

Need proof? According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. education system ranks 26th in the world, far behind many other industrialized countries. That means students graduating today are less equipped to meet the many challenges and demands of a global job market. The U.S. census reports that nearly one in three young children in rural America live in poverty, which means they are starting their lives at a significant disadvantage. And another survey says that nearly a quarter of American workers have postponed their retirement by at least one year.

Fortunately, there are some bright spots here in Iowa. A groundbreaking new survey called the Opportunity Index measures states’ and community access to the American Dream, and our Hawkeye State scored in the top quarter of states (13 out of 51, including the District of Columbia). This shows that Iowa residents have far greater opportunity to climb the economic ladder of success than folks in other states.

Iowa’s success, along with our wealth of talented and dedicated state leaders, is being hailed as a national example by a new national movement called “Opportunity Nation.” Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College, and Barry Griswell, CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, serve on the Leadership Council of Opportunity Nation.

Both have been state leaders in implementing programs that help prepare our citizens with the skills and talents they need to meet today’s job requirements and overcome tomorrow’s challenges. They are committed to showcase our Iowa opportunities.

Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan campaign, is working to rescue and resurrect the American Dream for all of us. They’ve brought together hundreds of leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, politics, military organizations, celebrities and many others, and have focused their collective attention on re-energizing this cherished public value in America’s discourse. They believe that the zip code you’re born into shouldn’t predetermine your destiny. I could not agree more.

That’s why this week Gov. Terry Branstad will sign a proclamation declaring Feb. 2012 as “Opportunity in Iowa” month, a time to harness and promote the best and brightest ideas from our public and private organizations in advancing opportunity in our great state. The proclamation encourages all Iowans and businesses to conduct one or more activities that enhance access to the American Dream right here at home.

America has always been a country where the promise of a better life for us and our families is in reach. Iowans should take heart that we live in a state that ensures that every resident has the chance to determine their own destiny.

I will be working with our state and local leaders, as well as the Opportunity Nation campaign, to make sure that Iowa does not miss this important moment to become “Opportunity Iowa,” for everyone.

Robert D. Ray was Iowa’s 38th governor and served from 1969-1983.


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