September 2, 2015

Iowa Business Council survey shows ‘tempering of enthusiasm’

Business-councilThe latest survey of the CEOs of Iowa’s largest companies shows they’re expecting the state’s economy will be cooling off in the coming six months. Elliott Smith is executive director of the Iowa Business Council (IBC).

“The release of our third quarter survey did indicate a bit of a tempering of enthusiasm, I think, for some of the economic activity that we’ve seen lately,” Smith said. The survey employs a 100 point scale, with a score over 50 considered “positive sentiment.”

The IBC’s third quarter Overall Economic Outlook Survey Index was 59 — eight points lower than last quarter and six points lower than one year ago. “I think we are seeing some impact of international economic activity finally resonating here in the state, simply because so much of Iowa’s business activity itself rests on export trade and international business,” Smith said.

The survey shows most of the CEOs anticipate steady or increased hiring levels, sales and capital spending between September and February. But, Smith notes the numbers in all three of those categories are down from previous surveys. “Yes, the survey did back off a little bit from its previous optimism, but I think we’re still in for a decent remainder of 2015,” Smith said. ”

The numbers still remain solidly in positive sentiment territory, so I don’t know if there’s any need to raise red flags of warning yet.”



U-I presidential candidate challenged over his business background

Bruce Harreld speaks during his public forum in Iowa City.

Bruce Harreld speaks during his public forum in Iowa City.

The fourth candidate for the University of Iowa president’s job took a lot of questions Tuesday about his background during a public forum on the Iowa City campus.

That’s because Bruce Harreld comes from a mainly business background, not academic. Harreld manages a business consulting company and his past experience includes teaching at the Harvard Business school, he was a senior vice president at IBM, and president of the Boston Market food chain.

Harreld addressed the issue of his background right away, saying he believes he has experience from the business world that would help improve the university. He was asked if his approach would treat the school too much like a business.

“There’s a tendency to believe that institutions like the University of Iowa have customers, and the customers are the students. And I think part of this arms race (for students) is in that spirit,” Harreld says. “There’s something very different about an institution like this — it clearly serves the state, we have a clear role in that. And that may be more important than any set of students.”

He says he can understand how people might think his approach would treat the school simply as a business, but says that’s not what he would do. “I would fight vociferously to differ with all due respect, to the notion that I’m just going to be another corporate guy and come in here and slash and burn. I actually think part of the answer here is…going from great to greater, because we can actually start talking about outcomes and be damn proud of what’s going on, tell the story,” Harreld says.

Harreld was asked about the new Board of Regents “performance-based” funding proposal which has the University of Iowa losing funding to the other two state schools. He says he could see a scenario where he could support it because of the limited amount of state funding available. “It could actually be that there are legitimate needs at the other institutions and there may be a period of time where they need more funding,” Harreld says. “It could actually come back the other way…there might be a time when some of that money might come back to us when we need it more. I would say to the other schools scoot over and support us as we supported you. So yes, I can imagine reasons for that.”

Harreld says he doesn’t know enough about the details of the plan to take a stand on it right now. “I actually think from what I’ve read, is that the title sounds great, but there’s potential for a lot of for mischief down underneath there. And I wouldn’t put it in the context of fairness — I would put it in the context of is it right for the state?,” Harreld says.

The issue swung back to Harreld’s qualifications again when a woman named Sarah Riley who says she is an attorney in Cedar Rapids and a second-generation Hawkeye stepped to the microphone. She says she was furious to see a finalist who had never had any leadership or administrative role at an institution, and says she didn’t change her mind after hearing his remarks. “Why did you even apply for this job?,” Riley asked. “Good, question and I’ve tried to answer that question. I think I can help, and if you don’t think I can help, I totally respect that,” Harreld answered. “But why do you think you can help if you have no background?,” Riley continued. “Because I’ve worked through transformation and taking an institution from whatever the numbers are to something higher,” Harreld responded.

Harreld was the last of four finalists to visit campus. You can see the full forum on-line at the University of Iowa Presidential search page. The Board of Regents plans to interview the four candidates on Thursday and then select one as the new president.


2015 dove hunting season opens

doveIowa’s dove hunting season opens today for its fifth year. Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Todd Bogenschutz says dove hunting has steadily gained popularity.

“Our hunter numbers have grown each year, I think our harvest has as well. Of course it was a brand new sport to Iowa, so we didn’t have any history of it. I think it’s tracking about like we thought,” Bogenschutz says. ” We had as many hunters and as much harvest as we’ve ever had in last year’s.”

DNR numbers show 11,400 hunters brought in 137,927 doves last season.

Bogenschutz says scouting is the key to dove hunting as you need to walk prospective areas in the morning and at night to see how many doves are coming into the field and leaving the field. “You are looking for some type of small grain field or some type of recently disturbed ground. They really like that bare ground,” Bogenschutz explains. “It pretty common to see a lot of doves around ponds and livestock areas where the cattle have kind of tromped it down. You can see them around feedlots or in a just harvested grain field maybe that’s been worked.”

Bogenschutz says the DNR puts out plots in public areas for doves. “We’ll plant sunflowers or winter wheat and harvest it and knock it down and make it bare ground. The doves seem really keyed in on that bare ground and good visibility. You know they are not very big, so they like to see. That seems to be key when you are looking for good dove spots,” according to Bogenschutz. He says doves are fast and agile, and the national average is 5 to 7 shells used for each dove taken.

Bogenschutz says a lot of dove hunters also go after pheasants too as he says most of the upland game hunters buy a pheasant license and also buy a dove hunting license or squirrel license, so there’s a lot of crossover. The opening of the season coincides with the migration of the birds. Bogenschutz says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keeps track of dove numbers and they should be plentiful this season. The entire state is open for dove hunting and the season runs through November 9th.


Iowa men ordered held without bond in Boston Pokémon threat case

GavelTwo Iowa men accused of making online threats against competitors at a Pokemon event appeared in a Massachusetts courtroom today. A judge ordered 18-year-old Kevin Norton of Ames and 27-year-old James Stumbo of Boone held without bail during a hearing in Boston.

The two were arrested August 22nd after they allegedly made threatening statements in an online Pokemon forum and on other social media before driving to Boston for the World Pokemon Championships.

Police stopped the two when the tried to register for the Pokemon event and say they found a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in their car.

Their lawyer says their statements were just boasts, but the judge says the guns they brought with them makes it seem more than idle threats.


New plant produces product for ISU research on pavement

ISU pilot plant for producing biopolymers.

ISU pilot plant for producing biopolymers.

Researchers at Iowa State University’s Bio-Century Research Farm just west of Ames now have a $5.3 million tool to work with to try and improve roadways.

Researcher Eric Cochran says the pilot plant will make materials known as biopolymers. “These are rubbery polymers that we are making from soybean oil, is what we demonstrating here. And the role of the facility is to be able to produce the ton quantities of the material that we need to blend that into the asphalt that goes into the pavement for some demonstration sections,” Cochran says.

Cochran is an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and says the polymers help keep ruts from forming in the pavement. “What happens is in the hot summer months the pavement softens enough that that heavy semi traffic actually makes the roads flow like mud would, and it severely reduces the service life of the pavement,” Cochran explains. He says they believe they can stop the ruts and increase the life of the pavement.

“You add that polymer in and you get more elasticity at those hotter temperatures, which prevents those ruts from forming,” Cochran says. The plant was built and paid for by Seneca Petroleum of Crestwood, Illinois and its subsidiary Argo Gennesis. He says Argo Genesis is the sister company of Senneca Petroleum, which has funded the research that has taken them up to this stage and the building of the new plant.

Cochran says they hope to start production this week. “We hope to have those demonstration quantities of asphalt-modifer ready for the 2016 paving season. So then we would have some demonstration paving strips in place, and then after another year the performance data would be back,” Cochran says. “That’s really the last thing that we have to do to get acceptance by state agencies for accepting the use of that material on their roads.”

Cochran says biopolymers have a variety of uses in adhesives, coatings and packing materials, but they want to get this project rolling first. “The market barriers to entry for asphalt are relatively low compared to some of these other applications. That’s part of why we are starting with asphalt-modifier,” Cochran says. “Branching out to adhesives and sealants and paints and coatings, those are what we would do as a next step,” according to Cochran.

It took 18 months to design and build the facility that uses technology Cochran and fellow researchers developed. It’s expected the plant will make about 1,000 pounds of biopolymers each day.

Photo courtesy of ISU.


Reinbeck man accused of possessing child pornography

Crime Scene TapeA Reinbeck man is facing child pornography charges. The charges against 43-year-old Michael Cottrell were issued in the U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.

He is accused of one count of receiving child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography for allegedly receiving the material between 2012 and 2014. Cottrell appeared in court Monday (August 31st) and was released on bond. He is scheduled to go to trial on October 26th.


Conservation officers file charges connected to Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area

Police-lightsThe Iowa Department of Natural Resources filed several charges this weekend in its effort to clean up the Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area.

The DNR has already banned camping at the area in northwest Johnson County, and law enforcement supervisor Shawn Meier says they continued to monitor the activities there.

“We’ve had several complaints of destructive acts that go only in the Hawkeye Wildlife area. And some of those things we could handle temporarily, but we had to step up a little more of the enforcement actions. And throughout the summer we’ve been watching for any and all violations that occur on the wildlife area,” Meier says.

He says they found several issues this past weekend, including driving off the roadway, possession of drug paraphernalia, littering, OWI, and prohibited destructive acts. In addition, three individuals were charged and arrested on Sunday for indecent exposure.

Meier says they are still processing the individuals and haven’t released their names yet. He says there have not been a lot of arrests as they tried to determine how to best control the issues. “The summer for the most part was finding what we did have for violations, following up on the complaints that were there and then coming up with an enforcement action plan along with the wildlife management plan on what we want to do with the Hawkeye Wildlife Area,” Meier explains.

Meier says they found people who were mowing grass and cutting trees in the area, which is forbidden. He says the area of more than 13,000 acres is one of the largest and most important complexes for wildlife in the entire state — but many people don’t understand that. “Sadly it’s not always treated as a wildlife management area. Some people want it to be more like a park, but that’s not what it is designed for,” Meier say. “Its designed for management of game and non-game species of wildlife, plant life. There’s a lot of research studies that actually occur on that area.”

Meier says the area is expected to be heavily used during the upcoming hunting seasons and DNR officers will continue enforcement efforts to help maintain public safety as well as ensure proper use and protection of the wildlife area.