Avance USA and Winn-Worth Betco: A different approach to community development
17 May 2022
It is predicted that by 2050, diverse populations will represent over half of the nation’s workforce.** A business must be able to adapt to an economy’s ever-changing demographics to remain current and reap benefits. By hiring diverse candidates, an enterprise can establish itself as an inclusive company that can move with the changing times and builds a lasting business in the process. With a constant need for new talent in corporate America, companies can benefit from proactively recruiting the future generation’s best candidates of Latino American or Hispanic employees. (**https://hnmagazine.com/2022/05/4-tips-help-latina-business-owners/)
Avance USA: Helping companies and candidates move forward
Jennifer Andrade, Founder & President of Avance USA, LLC, has worked with the Latino market for over 30 years. She started her career in Texas where she became fluent in Spanish. She relocated with her family to Northern Iowa in 2007 where she began working for Iowa Workforce Development. Instrumental in opening the region’s first New Iowan Center, she worked with immigrants and those relocating to the area to assist with resettlement and finding employment. “These were my early experiences with people who were moving from other states or countries to the rural Midwest. I assisted employers in a seven-county region, including Winnebago and Worth Counties, with recruitment initiatives and connecting them with state programs,” said Andrade. She transitioned into an economic development role in North Iowa in 2017. “It was a time when we were hitting record low unemployment, dropping as low as a 1.3% unemployment rate. Companies were trying to expand but couldn’t due to the lack of workforce and were sending jobs and expansion projects to other states. This was an economic hit, not only to the county but to the state.”
It was at this point that Andrade began looking at an idea for workforce attraction from the Latino market. She knew Puerto Rico was a source of talent and that there were options when it came to recruiting and relocating people to the area. “It was not just a worker issue; it was also a population issue. We were not able to replace those retiring or relocating out of the region,” she says.
Avance USA was launched in January 2019. Andrade reminisces, “My first trip to Puerto Rico was in January of that year. We had record cold temperatures in Iowa that day and it was 85 degrees and sunny in Puerto Rico. One young lady asked me, where’s Iowa? I thought to myself, 'If I can persuade people to leave the Caribbean and relocate to a cold climate to a place they’ve never heard of it will be a miracle,' and that was the beginning of it all.”
For the past three years, Avance USA has been marketing what the Midwest region, including Winnebago and Worth counties, has to offer–the quality of life, ample job opportunities, a lower cost of living, and a strong public education system, and safe communities. Andrade feels that for many families, it has been a way to tap into the American dream. “It’s a whole new way of life for many. They’ve been able to provide financial stability for their family, some have even purchased homes and their children are excelling in school,” Andrade said.
Avance USA primarily partners with employers in the manufacturing sector but has also recruited talent for the construction and healthcare industries. “We bring entry-level workers to those in the skilled trades and professionals," said Andrade. "We have been bringing in bilingual supervisors as well, which opens up opportunities for workers with more basic English.”
Avance USA: Supporting a model of strong retention
Avance USA launched in North Iowa and has now expanded operations to Illinois and North Carolina. When asked what constitutes a good model for recruitment and relocation of the workforce, Andrade replied, “We have developed a model that focuses on strong partnerships with companies and communities, supporting strong retention. If we are going to invest and spend the money to recruit and help people relocate, it’s important to have a plan for successful integration into the community. We work with our clients to ensure that the candidates have the same goals, are seeking career opportunities, and are willing to make a commitment to a permanent move. Avance USA works together with communities to ensure arriving workers and their families are welcomed and begin making connections, and feel at home.” She goes on to add, “When their families are doing well, their children are thriving and doing well, this is what will make them stay.”
Families coming to Iowa from Puerto Rico share their experiences on social media and with their friends and family back home. And the referrals keep coming in, Andrade claimed. “For one of the families that we moved to North Iowa at the start of the pandemic, it has been a life-changing experience. Their children, who did not speak English when they arrived two years ago, are excelling in school and receiving student of the month awards. They have purchased a home and taken their children on trips. That family has referred six other families to us that we have also relocated to the area. The talent pipeline continues to grow.”
The Winn-Worth Betco Region: A good quality of life
“When we market the area we focus on the quality of life, the ability for people to earn good wages and support their family. Housing costs are not too high here. People are happy with the schools. And it is very safe. People tell me that they can walk through the community and feel very safe. They love that quality of life," Andrade said.
What can the Winn-Worth Betco Region do to support Avance?
Andrade believes, “The biggest pain point right now, not only in North Iowa but all of the communities where we work, is lack of affordable workforce housing. The number of workers we can bring is limited to the available rental housing. We would like to see more quality, affordable housing being opened up so that more workers can come to these areas. This is the priority. Beyond that, we continue to build community support to ensure the successful integration of the families into the community. Our community partners in the Winn-Worth Betco region have been great so far.”
Communities that work together grow together
For Andrade, these last three years have been very satisfying. “People from Puerto Rico are coming in, bringing diversity to the area, sharing their success with family and friends. They are growing personally and professionally; some are being promoted by their employers. This gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. We’re looking forward to continuing that on a bigger scale. As we grow our Avance USA team and expand our marketing to other regions beyond Puerto Rico, we’re excited to continue working with economic developers and communities that have a vision for growth and a track record of successful partnerships. I continue to believe it takes a community to grow a community. It takes everyone working together to make it happen. “