Where do Ames' workers live, and how far do they commute? A new study will offer answers.

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Geographic Reach of Ames Area Laborshed: A 2020 Laborshed Study showed Ames businesses had workers commuting from a 115-mile by 120-mile area. The map goes north to south from Belmond to Indianola and west to east from Carroll to Toledo.

Many people live outside Story and Boone counties but work for companies located in the area. The Ames Economic Development Commission is teaming up with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Workforce Development to determine where workers live — while maintaining workers' anonymity.

The data will be compiled to create a laborshed study that will geographically define which communities contribute to the local workforce. The study will reveal commuting patterns, which are especially important to potential businesses and growing businesses.

“Our state has been doing a study like this for years,” Dan Culhane, the president and CEO of the Ames Economic Development Commission, told the Ames Tribune. “It's a valuable tool because it really digs into the workforce and helps people like ourselves — as well as business prospects or those contemplating an expansion in the market — get a snapshot of the workforce to see what the aptitude is for changing positions.”

The most recent laborshed study available online, released in 2020, showed that 49.6% of Ames' workforce lived and worked in Ames, and 50.4% lived outside of Ames and commuted. Most of those workers — 81% — lived within 24 miles of the city.

Culhane and his staff are sending letters to employers in Boone and Story counties, asking businesses to provide aggregate counts of their employees’ residential ZIP codes. The survey retains employees' anonymity as it doesn’t request names or specific addresses.

“What it really will articulate is commuting patterns,” Culhane said. “You can go into a place like Danfoss or Barilla or 3M and think most of those people are from Story County. You might be surprised as we pull the ZIP code data — it’s sometimes shocking the distance that our companies have in terms of reach for people. We’ll see people from far-north Iowa working in industries here in Story County and Boone County.”

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The data compiled in 2020 showed a large laborshed area for Ames. It creates a map 115 miles from north to south, reaching from Belmond to Indianola, and 120 miles from west to east, from Carroll to Toledo. In 2020, 10 Ames employees lived in Waterloo, the farthest distance noted in the laborshed, at 106 miles away.

“This substantiates the distance people are willing to drive for the right employment opportunity. It lays it out — here's Ames or here’s Boone, and here’s how far people are willing to drive to work in this community,” Culhane said.

It provides businesses with important knowledge and it provides Culhane and his staff legitimacy, he said.

“If we’re talking to a business on one of the coasts and tell them people here are willing to drive an hour each way to get to work, it puts it in perspective. They might be driving that long, too, but only make it 15 miles in traffic,” Culhane said. “In Iowa, you can drive for an hour and be quite a ways from your original location.”

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Ames' 2020 laborshed covered an area of Iowa with a population of nearly 700,000 people in the 18-64 age range and an estimated labor force of nearly 600,000.

The new study will likely be ready in the third quarter of this year. The Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Workforce Development drive the process, which gives communities access to timely data, Culhane said.

Iowa Workforce Development conducts laborshed studies across the state every year. The results of each analysis are publicly available online at iowalmi.gov/LaborShed.