April 19, 2015

Google in Council Bluffs, Curly’s in Sioux City given state economic incentives

The inside of Google's data center in Council Bluffs.

The inside of Google’s data center in Council Bluffs.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board agreed today to award Google nearly $20 million in tax incentives for the technology giant’s expansion of a data center in Council Bluffs. The IEDA’s Paul Stueckradt outlined the proposal at the board’s meeting in Des Moines.

“They’re proposing to invest an additional $1 billion at that location,” Stueckradt said. The Google project was initially approved in 2012 and the IEDA board at that time awarded the company with nearly $17 million in tax incentives. Stueckradt said when “phase two” of the project is complete, Google will have invested about $2.5 billion in the Council Bluffs facility, making it the largest economic development project in the state. “They’re also pledging to create an additional 35 jobs, for a total of 70,” Stueckradt said.

In addition to the Google project, the IEDA board awarded $360,000 in tax credits to Curly’s Foods in Sioux City. Officials with the food producer are planning a $9 million expansion that will create 30 jobs.

Chris Myres, with Sioux City Economic Development, doesn’t believe Curly’s will have any problem finding the needed workers. “The John Morrell (pork) plant closed about five years ago and we have good reason to believe a lot of those people are still in Sioux City who are either underemployed or are still looking for employment,” Myres said. “We think there are a lot of people with the aptitude to get in there and help out Curly’s.”

The John Morrell plant had nearly 1,500 workers. Curly’s Foods currently has a workforce of 650. The expansion by Curly’s will benefit several other companies and producers around Sioux City, according to Myres. “We’re geared up with all of the trucking companies, construction firms, and everything from pallet makers to box makers and everything in between,” Myres said. “Curly’s buys their meat from other local processors, so there are a lot of local firms that will see benefit out of this project.”

Curly’s Foods is a subsidiary of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods. Overall, action taken by the Iowa Economic Development Authority board today is expected to help with the creation of 150 jobs and result in almost $16 million in new capital investment for the state.

The board awarded direct financial assistance to software developer FunnelWise in West Des Moines and to heavy road equipment maker Weiler, Incorporated in Knoxville. The FunnelWise expansion is expected to create 14 jobs, while Weiler officials say their $6.6 million project will create 106 new jobs.


Quad Cities part of effort to reduce poverty

An effort to reduce poverty in the area that includes Iowa’s third largest city will take a big step forward Saturday. The Opportunities for Quad Citians Committee will match volunteer mentors with local residents who are struggling to leave poverty. Committee spokeswoman, Liz Dierolf, says 100 volunteers who’ve experienced success in their lives, called “navigators,” have been trained to offer help.

“So, that person can say, ‘you’re having trouble with this barrier to getting a job. OK, I’m going to work with my contact at the local college and we’re going to do some job searching and career coaching…and get you on the path to finding a new job,'” Dierolf said. Another volunteer with experience in health care will meet with people struggling to pay medical bills. Dierolf says the committee did a lot of research and chose a national model for eliminating poverty called “Opportunity Community.”

It was developed by Donna Beegle who grew up in poverty. “She found success through interactions with people along her path who really took time to work one-on-one with her and say, ‘OK, let’s work through particular barrier on its own and then move to the next one,'” Dierolf said. According to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 18-percent of the population of Davenport is living “below the poverty level.”

The statewide rate is just over 12-percent. Opportunities for Quad Citians is funded by the United Way, and is a cooperative effort by a variety of agencies and organizations.


Latest emerald ash borer confirmation is in Dallas County


Click on map to enlarge.

The Emerald ash borer (EAB) has been found in another Iowa County. State Entomologist Robin Pruisner says the destructive pest has been positively identified in Dallas County in a tree on the outskirts of Waukee.

“We have 21 counties already that have some level of EAB infestation in them now,” Pruisner told reporters and others gathered at a news conference held in a Des Moines park this morning.

Trees infected with EAB typically die within three years. Iowa has more than 3 million ash trees located in urban areas and an estimated 55 million in woodlands. Tivon Feeley, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, does not believe the invasive beetle will completely wipe out all of the state’s ash trees.

“I do believe that we’re going to see ash that have some tolerance out there,” Feeley said. “We’ve seen that with elm and Dutch Elm Disease and it’s taken many years for us to breed that resistance. But, you can go buy true America elm today that is tolerant to the disease. I think eventually we’ll see the same thing with ash, so we’ll breed resistance in there and we’ll have ash on the market.”

emerald ash borer

emerald ash borer

Feeley is encouraging woodland owners in Iowa to consider leaving their ash trees alone. “If you have some out there and you need to harvest them for income, it would make sense to harvest those (ash trees) because you rely on that income. However, if you don’t rely on those, just let the emerald ash borer run its course. Let’s see if any of them remain after that first wave goes through and see if there’s any resistance afterwards.”

In many Iowa towns and cities, ash trees make up 15 to 20 percent of the tree population. Many cities have been removing ash trees located on public property or using insecticides to try and save ash trees. Iowans with healthy ash trees on their property are being encouraged to contact a tree service company to learn about treatment measures.



Des Moines man charged with robbing a bank

Thaddeus Erickson

Thaddeus Erickson

Des Moines Police have made an arrest in connection with a bank robbery. A Bank of the West branch on Des Moines’ east side was robbed shortly before 10 a.m. Monday. Employees said a man entered the bank and handed a note to a teller demanding cash.

He did not show a weapon and left with an undisclosed amount of money. Police released photos of the suspect taken from a bank surveillance camera and acting on a tip, on Wednesday, officers arrested 28-year-old Thaddeus James Erickson of Des Moines. He’s charged with first-degree robbery.


Congressman Blum proposes ban on lobbying for those who leave office

Rod Blum

Rod Blum

Congressman Rod Blum, a Republican from Dubuque, is hoping to ban members of Congress from engaging in lobbying activities after they leave office. Blum has introduced his first bill called the No Golden Parachutes for Public Service Act.

“I feel that the bill would ensure that politicians focus on representing their constituents instead of catering to lobbying groups,” Blum says. More than 400 former congressional members are now lobbyists, according to Blum, and some are making seven-figure salaries.

Blum says the “incentives” of serving in Congress are backwards, as lobbying groups continually offer politicians lucrative post-electoral careers. “So when they’re a congressional member, they’re actually incentivized to pay more attention to special interest groups than to their constituents,” Blum says. Blum has also backed legislation that would eliminate luxury travel perks and enact term limits for congressional members. He admits those measures and his lifetime ban on lobbying proposal are not likely to be approved anytime soon.

He hopes voters will speak up. “Most change does not come from within the beltway in Washington. Most all change comes from ‘we the people,’ the grassroots, and the activists back in Iowa and across the nation,” Blum says. Blum is a member of the Oversight & Government Reform Committee, as well as the Budget Committee.


Quinnipiac poll shows Iowans have split views on marijuana use

marijuana plants

marijuana plants

A new survey shows Iowa voters are divided over the issue of legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Peter Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Iowans are split right down the middle on the question of legalizing recreational use of marijuana, 47-percent of Iowans told Quinnipiac they favor legalization, while 47-percent oppose it,” Brown says.

Quinnipiac also surveyed voters in two other states on the same issue. Voters in Virginia support so-called recreational pot 54-41 percent, while Colorado voters still back their first-in-the-nation experiment 62-34 percent.

In Iowa, Brown notes support for legalized recreational use of marijuana is much stronger among Democrats than Republicans. There’s also a large gap on the issue among age groups.

Support for personal use of marijuana is 62-32 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old, while voters 35 to 54 years old are divided 47-47 percent and voters over 55 years old are opposed 53-41 percent. Iowans, meanwhile, overwhelming favor the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.

The Quinnipiac poll shows 87-percent of the Iowans surveyed support the use of medical marijuana, while 11-percent are against its legalization. Last week, dozens of people took part in a rally at the statehouse and met with legislators to lobby for a new state law that would allow marijuana to be grown and dispensed in Iowa — as treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.

The Quinnipiac University Poll was conducted between March 29 and April 7 and involved phone interviews with 948 Iowa voters.




Senate Democrats propose budget spending equal to governor’s

Bob Dvorsky

Bob Dvorsky

Iowa Senate Democrats have proposed a state budget that’s equal to the amount of spending recommended by Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

Both the governor’s proposal and the plan issued by Senate Democrats call for a $7.341 billion state budget for the fiscal year starting on July 1st. That’s $166 million more than the budget proposed by Republicans in the House.

Senator Bob Dvorsky of Coralville, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement the Democrat’s budget plan is “sustainable and spends less than the state takes in.” He adds Democrat’s “number one goal is making Iowa’s middle class larger and more secure.”

Chuck Soderberg

Chuck Soderberg

House Appropriations Chairman Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, responded by saying the Senate Democrats’ budget targets “spend more than the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa are paying.”

The Senate budget plan calls for an increase in state funding of 2.625 percent for K-12 schools, a tuition freeze at state universities for a third consecutive year, and fully funding property tax credits and a commercial property tax cut previously approved by lawmakers.

In addition, the proposal includes an early retirement incentive package for eligible state employees that is projected to save the state $16.1 million in the next fiscal year.