Emily Codling is a poster child for the kind of talented employee she wants to recruit and develop more of in the Quad Cities.
A 37-year-old Davenport native, she graduated from Davenport West High and Western Illinois University (majoring in art), but spent the past 12 years living in Seattle. Codling and her husband Jesse moved back to Davenport in July, and she works in the new Quad Cities Chamber position of talent manager.
“I saw this opportunity to work in the talent department of the chamber, and so far it’s been great,” she said Friday. “We missed family. I think 2020 hit and it showed how important it was to be closer to family, and we were just so far out. We decided to make the move and come back.”
In Seattle, Codling oversaw production for a jewelry designer, and her husband worked in marketing and social media for Nordstrom (he now works in marketing for Republic HVAC and Electrical Supply).
Talent attraction and retention “is definitely something that’s important to us,” she said of the chamber. “We need to have those connections to fill the talent pipeline in the area. So our main focus is to create a talent pipeline of existing talent, but also attract new talent into the area. That’s what Home Base Iowa is, one of the existing strategies.”
Mike Oberhaus, the former Rock Island-Milan school superintendent, has served as vice president of talent and administration since 2019, and was just promoted to chief strategy officer (replacing Kristin Glass, who became president of Total Solutions).
Oberhaus will apply his knowledge and experience to implement the Chamber’s Placemaking, Talent Development & Attraction, and Business & Economic Growth initiatives. He also will continue to oversee the Chamber’s financial management and administration.
“Mike will continue to be a great asset to the Chamber, where he’ll collaborate with our leadership team to advance the Chamber’s long-term strategic plan to create a prosperous regional economy where all can thrive,” said Paul Rumler, Chamber President and CEO, who added that Codling is “a rock star.”
As chief strategy officer, Oberhaus will lead major initiatives and shape the internal direction of the organization as a creative thinker, thought challenger, trouble shooter and positive influencer.
Codling was the first hire under him, and the chamber will fill his position.
“He’s so passionate about all this stuff, it will be hard for him to let go,” she said. “While we’re hiring for that position, he’ll be wearing multiple hats.”
Home Base Iowa has been going for a few years, but Scott County just joined in August, as a great way to attract transitioning military people to move here, Codling said.
It can help anyone moving from outside Scott County (even from neighboring counties), she noted. So far, there just have been two applicants that have taken advantage of the program since Aug. 1.
“It’s still so new, so to have two people that have purchased homes in Scott County is great,” Codling said. There’s no deadline to apply, and businesses can take part at no charge.
There are more than 100 communities participating in Home Base Iowa.
Veterans who put their boots – and roots – in Scott County may be eligible for up to $8,250 in relocation incentives with the county’s designation as a Home Base Iowa (HBI) community. The designation involves area partners including Scott County, the City of Davenport and the Quad Cities Chamber. The program includes:
- $1,500 closing costs reimbursement from Scott County. Scott County provides this incentive to qualifying veterans living outside of the county who purchase a home in Scott County.
- $1,500 closing costs reimbursement from the City of Davenport. The City provides this incentive to qualifying veterans living outside of Davenport who purchase a home in the city.
- Interview expenses reimbursement. Scott County will reimburse qualifying veterans living outside the county with a maximum of $250, up to two times, for hotel and meal costs incurred when interviewing for a job with an employer in Scott County.
- $5,000 tax credit available for any qualifying veteran purchasing a home within Scott County. The credit, provided through the State of Iowa, is awarded at the time of closing. To be approved, the veteran’s lending institution must be affiliated with the Iowa Finance Authority.
Home Base Iowa is a one-of-a-kind program designed to connect businesses with qualified veterans, transitioning service members and their spouses who are in search of career opportunities statewide. It also provides resources to connect veterans and their families with education and transitioning to a new community.
“Veterans, we welcome you. We want you to come to the Quad-Cities to live, work, and play,” Oberhaus of said in a chamber promotional video. “In order to do that, we’re offering an incentive in Scott County.”
First two QC veterans make home here
One of the key components of HBI is access – for both veterans and employers – to an online network that can connect employers who are hiring new workers with veterans and their spouses who are seeking jobs.
“Through the HBI website, veterans can post their resumes, and businesses can post job listings and search the database of resumes,” said Codling, who administers the Scott County HBI program.
Statewide, HBI has a network of more than 2,400 military-friendly companies that have pledged to hire veterans. Veterans can search for opportunities and post their resumes at www.homebaseiowa.gov.
Codling said membership in the network is free for QC employers, including Illinois-based companies and organizations. The HBI website provides employers with a direct pipeline to veterans searching to transfer their military skills into new careers.
“People who are in the military bring a great work ethic, work well with others and also can bring a level of integrity and loyalty to a business,” Codling said.
The Chamber and HBI are also working with other area veteran resources, including IowaWORKS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 299.
Codling said one of the difficulties for veterans leaving the military is to communicate how their skill sets in the service are transferrable to a civilian workforce. “But the skills they gained as soldiers are valuable to our area’s employers,” she said.
HBI also can connect military spouses with a variety of job openings across many industries. “One of our veterans said his wife was able to get help in her job search through the network,” Codling said.
Among the QC companies that have joined HBI is John Deere, which was instrumental in the program’s expansion to Scott County. Other companies registered with HBI include Ascentra Credit Union, Concept Bath Systems, Genesis Health Systems, Happy Joe’s, HNI Corp., Kraft Heinz, Modern Woodmen of America and Per Mar Security. To join the HBI network or find a full list of participating employers, visit www.homebaseiowa.gov.
“HBI provides a pipeline to new candidates outside the area that area employers might not have had access to,” Codling said, noting two vets have taken advantage of HBI so far.
A commercial featuring Deere’s green machines planted the seed for BJ Keating’s family to think about returning to Iowa. But the idea blossomed when the veteran landed an internship at John Deere Davenport Works and learned about HBI, according to the chamber.
Keating, a native of Center Junction, Iowa, relocated to the QC last spring to enroll in a Department of Defense (DoD) SkillBridge internship at Deere as part of his transition out of the Iowa National Guard. A 30-year veteran, he retired in August as a Command Sgt. Major and a job that had him on the move most of his career, including stints at Camp Dodge in Iowa and installations in Alabama and Georgia.
Returning to Iowa roots
Keating said his family was watching one of their favorite farming YouTube videos when a John Deere commercial aired. “One of my boys said, ‘Dad, you should work for John Deere.’ We all laughed, but three days later an internship popped up at John Deere.”
“The military took me away from my roots in Iowa, and Home Base Iowa let me come back,” Keating said.
Keating was introduced to the HBI program, while stationed at Camp Dodge in Iowa. The program allowed his family to come back home to be closer to family. Through HBI, he received a $1,500 relocation award for moving into Scott County.
Charles Wheeler, a 24-year Army veteran and retired Chief Warrant Officer, also credits his DoD SkillBridge internship with John Deere and the HBI relocation incentives for putting Iowa on his radar, according to the chamber. The two retired veterans since have become co-workers and full-time employees at Davenport Works and have forged a new friendship. Both families now live in Eldridge. Wheeler and his wife, Emily, have two sons, ages 11 and 13, and Keating and his wife April have two sons, ages 10 and 11.
Wheeler learned about HBI months ahead of Scott County joining the statewide veterans program this summer.
“I came to Iowa because there was plenty of manufacturing jobs here. The Home Base Iowa program definitely was an incentive for me and my family to choose Iowa,” said Wheeler, who is a native of Douglas, Wyoming, and has also lived in Alaska. “I originally was looking to move farther west – Idaho, Montana or Washington.”
As he began planning for his second career, Wheeler said, “COVID happened. I didn’t even look at Iowa, but one of my students (in the military) brought it up. I probably had looked at every other single state. As far as a state-based veteran’s program, HBI is by far the best one I’ve looked at.”
Although Wheeler landed his own Deere job and did not use HBI’s network of Iowa employers, he said the employer partnerships are a benefit for veterans. He did receive the $1,500 housing relocation award from Scott County and wished he’d known about HBI’s interview expenses reimbursement. Scott County’s program reimburses veterans with up to $250, up to two times, for hotel and meal costs incurred while interviewing for a job with a Scott County employer.
“I just kept getting the HBI emails and they were more welcoming to vets,” he said, adding, “A lot of vets need to consider that.”
Keating agreed that HBI was a strong factor in his decision to locate here. But he said, “You have to look at the total package of Iowa,” from its school systems, small-town communities, lower cost of living and its Iowa values. Another attraction, Keating said, was “Iowa’s agriculture as a whole; we feed the world.”
Applying personal experience to the job
Codling knows from personal experience why it’s attractive to settle in the QC – “it’s a great place to live; housing is inexpensive,” she said Friday. “Living in Seattle, it was so crazy. For my husband and I, it wasn’t attainable for us to own a home there.”
They were renting there, and are renting now in Davenport as they look for their first home.
“The chamber is just an awesome place to work; everyone is so passionate about making this a great place to live and work,” Codling said. “It is a big initiative for us, to convince high school kids that they don’t have to move away. There are a lot of great opportunities already in the Quad Cities. That is a big thing we’ll be trying to do, and trying to get that message across.”
There are many staffing shortages in the area now, so there are jobs that need to be filled, she said. Businesses need to be more involved to reach to potential hires in the talent pool, Codling noted.
In her post-college experience, she finished in spring 2008, which was a challenging time for the economy.
“I did want to explore, and spread my wings a little bit,” Codling said of moving to Seattle, first for an internship, which turned into a career. “It was a really interesting time.”
There’s a strong Midwest work ethic in the QC, and with the variety of companies, there are chances for people to work their way up in job responsibilities, she said.
“We have a great labor pool here, for sure,” Codling said. :”I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can, learn as much as I can from people in the area.”
Since being back here full-time, she’s been impressed with the improvement of local downtowns.
“Our downtowns are beautiful,” Codling said. “Our downtown development team has been doing a great job in programs that we have going on. To see how clean everything is, and the number of events there are, it’s really nice. And I think people should know how lucky we are – to have these four, and more, downtowns and developed areas.”
“Another big thing we’re working on is, we’re working with K-12 schools to really build that talent pipeline, of the talent we already have growing here,” Codling said. “That’s a big thing I’ve been working on – meeting with a lot of the area schools and nonprofits and businesses, to see what programs we already have in place and what the chamber can do to facilitate the growth of our career connections.”
Career exploration activities, including job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships with businesses are important pathways to build the talent pipeline, she said.
“Continuing to offer opportunities locally for Quad Citizens to grow in their career will help diversify our region. And finally, we’re inviting new residents to relocate to the Quad Cities. Once here, they will quickly discover the benefits of our family of communities along the Mississippi River as a place where a balanced lifestyle and home ownership are within reach,” Codling said.