From Participant to Chair: The Impact of Business Horizons on Tomorrow’s Workforce

May 9, 2024 | Iowa Tourism: Economic Impact, Quality of Life, and Oh Yeah…FUN! Alex Gates, Business Horizons Program Committee Chair,

The 2024 program marks the 41st year of Business Horizons. Over 5,000 Iowa high school students have participated in Business Horizons, and I’m fortunate to be one of them. I fondly remember the thrill of ideation, the adrenaline of pitching to investors, and the triumph of seeing new ideas take flight. Now in my role as the program chair, it’s my mission to cultivate that same entrepreneurial spirit in today’s participants.

Can you highlight some exciting updates ahead of the 2024 program?
Located in the capital city, Drake University’s proximity provides participants the opportunity to tour different Iowa businesses and network with professionals across a variety of industries. In addition to planned added business visits, we plan on welcoming many new program volunteers and look forward to their unique insights. We’re also looking forward to continuing our partnership with the Jacobson Institute (University of Iowa) that incorporates their DesignDash curriculum into our program’s framework. One direct benefit this affords participants is earning college credit just for attending Business Horizons.

How does this program adapt to remain relevant and effective?
There’s no questioning that the workforce in 2024 looks different than it did in 1984 (Business Horizons’ inaugural year). Change can be hard, however, it quite frankly comes naturally to Business Horizons. The volunteers directly interacting with participants represent an incredibly diverse variety of businesses, industries, and roles – none of which are immune to change. These individuals incorporate real-world insights on how their organizations are adapting and evolving in the modern workforce landscape to ensure this program remains on the leading edge.

What sets this program apart from others?
Without a doubt our volunteers. Whether it’s a couple hours, one afternoon, a day, or the whole week, we’re incredibly fortunate to have such passionate volunteers who invest their time and expertise in our state’s greatest asset: its people. Jumping back in time when I attended Business Horizons in 1997, the program unlocked opportunities to explore new perspectives, and without those experiences and interactions with the volunteers, I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to move forward in my career as an entrepreneur. Fast forwarding ahead to this summer as we prepare for our 41st program, our dedicated group of volunteers continues to serve as our secret ingredient.

What advice would you give to students considering participating in the program?
Use this week to explore what you may be interested in. Perhaps you’ll discover a new interest or maybe the experience will validate your current ideas. Above all, though, use the week as an opportunity to define yourself and be whoever you want to be. At Business Horizons, nobody knows you as the all-state athlete, the farm kid, or so-and-so’s younger sibling. Becoming the best version of yourself is the biggest takeaway for many of our participants, and they leave the program feeling confident in whatever the next step in their journey is.