March 31, 2015

Branstad defends tax incentives for HyVee

Hyvee-logoGovernor Terry Branstad says the Hy-Vee supermarket chain is a “good corporate citizen” and deserves the $7.5 million in state tax incentives it has been awarded for expansion of its corporate headquarters in West Des Moines.

“We’re very blessed to have a company of that magnitude,” Branstad says. “Hy-Vee is a great corporate citizen. They’re located all over the state of Iowa. They treat their employees very well.”

Hy-Vee plans a more than $74 million expansion project that will add 72,000 feet of office space to its corporate headquarters and double the size of its conference center, which Branstad used to kick-off his 2014 reelection campaign. The Iowa Economic Development Authority approved the package of $7.5 million in state tax credits for Hy-Vee’s expansion project on Friday.

Hy-Vee operates 235 stores in eight Midwest states. According to the company’s website, Hy-Vee records sales of more than $8.7 billion each year. Hy-Vee, which is employee-owned, ranks as the 17th largest food retailer in the country.

Winnebago to open plant in Waverly to make parts

WinnebagoWinnebago Industries is expanding its presence in Iowa. The Forest City-based recreational vehicle manufacturer plans to open a subassembly plant in Waverly. Winnebago CEO Randy Potts says no jobs will be lost at the Forest City plant and calls the move an opportunity for the company to find workers that they are having trouble finding in north-central Iowa.

“The intention is to free up people in Forest City to do other tasks,” Potts says. “By relocating this work, we’re not moving the jobs, we’re just moving the work. This is an effort to free up more people in Forest City to do the work that isn’t very practical to relocate.” The company is purchasing a 33,400 square foot building in Waverly that will be used for wire loom assembly activities for the company’s motor homes.

Potts says Winnebago isn’t the only company dealing with a shortage of skilled workers. “This isn’t an issue that’s unique to Winnebago and north-central Iowa, I think you’re seeing it pretty much nationally and I know you’re seeing it in other parts of Iowa – where manufacturers are growing quickly and having a hard time finding the people to help with that growth,” Potts says.

The plant in Waverly is expected to employ around 70 people. Potts says Winnebago will spend between $1.5 million and $2 million to purchase the building and start operations.

(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)


State unemployment rate drops again in February

Workforce-Development-signThe state’s unemployment rate continues on its downward trend with February dropping down to 4.1-percent from January’s rate of 4.2-percent.

Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says it’s the fifth straight month with a drop. “We continue to see drops in the number of people who are unemployed. We are down 4,000 from a year ago for the number of people who are unemployed,” Koonce says. “And our number of people who are actually receiving unemployment insurance is down almost 12,000 from last month as well.”

The number of unemployed dropped, even though the state lost some jobs in the month, the first decline in jobs since September. “We dropped 400 jobs, which isn’t very big. Most of that being in the trade, transportation and utilities area. We saw a larger growth in that last month than really was expects, so I think that was just some leveling out,” according to Koonce.

Several areas did add jobs. “We saw nice growth in manufacturing, nice growth in education and health services — so those really helped the state as well,” Koonce says. Workforce Development figures show manufacturing added 1,200 jobs, the education and health care areas increased jobs fueled entirely by gains in private education of one-thousand jobs.

The number of unemployed Iowans dropped to 70,100 in February from 71,800 in January. Koonce says warmer weather should lead to more job gains. “Because you will have a lot of those people who are on temporary unemployment coming back to work. And we saw some gains in construction this month, the biggest gains are coming in industrial, which is good, because that shows overall growth,” Koonce says.

The national unemployment rate was 5.5-percent in February.


Winnebago sees revenue below projections in second quarter

WinnebagoA recreational vehicle manufacturer in northern Iowa is reporting weaker-than-anticipated results for the second quarter. Forest City-based Winnebago Industries reports revenue climbed by 2.5-percent when compared to last year to $234.5 million, but analysts were projecting a profit of $253.3 million.

Winnebago CEO Randy Potts dismisses the projections, saying the company is headed in the right direction. “I think the analysts maybe aren’t taking everything into account and they’re just assuming straight-line growth,” Potts says. “This company has grown very fast in the last few years and it’s very difficult to maintain that momentum on multiple fronts.” Quarterly earnings at Winnebago totaled $8.1 million, compared to $9.6 million one year ago.

Potts says labor-related constraints continue to be an issue for the company and more changes are needed. “Things like continuing to look for ways of enhancing out ability to recruit and retain employees and also expanding into other labor markets,” Potts says. Potts says demand continues to be strong for Winnebago products, with motorized unit bookings growing 59-percent in the quarter, contributing to a very healthy backlog.

“Our product is very competitive and in demand, we’ve gained market share,” Potts says. “We are typically the premium product on the retail lot and that’s a good position to be in — when you can command that price for your product. All systems are go in that way, it’s just the headwinds that we’ve encountered in our ability to grow with the market has put a pause on things momentarily.”

Investors reacted to today’s report as Winnebago shares dropped nearly 13-percent on the New York Stock Exchange during the first two hours of trading.

(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)

Deadline approaching to claim 2011 federal tax refund

IRS LogoApril 15th is the deadline to file your federal taxes — but it’s not just a deadline to get all the information in for 2014. IRS spokesman, Bill Brunson, says the clock is also ticking for those who are still owed money from previous years.

Brunson says you have three years from the tax year to file for a refund, so that puts those Iowans who haven’t filed 2011 returns on the clock this year.

“The Internal Revenue Service believes that 11,100 Iowans have more than 10 million on the books,” Brunson says, “ten million dollars that they could collect if they file their 2011 tax return.” He says that can be a good chunk of money that will go away. “The average refund would be approximately $719. And if they don’t file on or before midnight April 15th for the 2011 year, they are going to lose the opportunity to claim that refund,” according to Brunson.

He says some of the refunds could be due to people who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit not filing to take advantage as they didn’t realize they had to file, or part-time workers who mistakenly thought they didn’t make enough money to get a refund. “They could have been going through a divorce, there could have been a death in the family, they may’ve had other things that caused them to postpone the filing and here it is 2015. Well, if you haven’t filed for 2011, you still have time to do something about it,” Brunson says.

He says you need to file the 2011 forms to claim any refund for that year. “And they can get the information off of, that prior year return and the instruction booklet is available online,” Brunson says. “And if you don’t have your W-2’s or 10-99’s from that year, if it has been reported to the Internal Revenue Service by that third party payer, the IRS would then have that information and can provide it to you for free.” There is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund.


Des Moines learning tricks for hosting NCAA basketball from Omaha

Omaha-ncaaA delegation from Iowa’s largest city is in Nebraska’s largest city today for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but they’re not at the CenturyLink Center just to watch the games. Deb Ward, with the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it’s a learning experience for everyone involved in putting on the Big Dance.

“We’ve got a contingency from Des Moines coming in,” Ward says. “Des Moines is going to host this thing next year. They’ve never done that before so they’re sort of looking to Omaha for some expertise. Same thing with Wichita. We’ve had a contingency from Wichita. They’re hosting it in a couple of years.”

Omaha has hosted several big sporting events in recent years, including the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in 2012. With huge crowds expected this weekend, Ward says it’s an opportunity for the Omaha-Council Bluffs area to shine — and to enjoy an economic boost. “Back in 2012, we saw a 31% increase in hotel demand over the year prior,” Ward says. “I can imagine it’s going to be that and more.”

Ward says most of the 9,300 hotel rooms in Douglas County, Nebraska, are booked this weekend and those in surrounding areas are filling up. She says area businesses are preparing for large crowds. “The beauty of this is, of course, there’s things to do between the games and there’s the Saturday off day when we’ll have a lot of visitors looking for things to do,” Ward says. “They’ll be out exploring the bars and restaurants and shops and attractions which is a bonus.”

The Henry Doorly Zoo and the Durham Museum are expecting an increase in visitors, along with Omaha’s Old Market area, and the casinos on the Iowa side of the river.


Time off for 2016 Iowa Caucuses? Senate Democrats say yes

Bob Dvorsky

Bob Dvorsky

Democrats in the Iowa Senate have passed a bill that would force Iowa businesses to give employees up to four hours of unpaid time off to attend the Iowa Caucuses.

Every Republican in the Senate voted against the bill. Senator Dave Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said legislators should not be promoting a “political party event.”

“What do they do at political party events? We’ve all been to ‘em,” Johnson said. “You pass the hat. Sometimes they pass the bushel basket. OK, these are fundraisers as well. Do you really think that’s appropriate?”

Critics of Iowa’s lead-off event in the presidential nominating season say low wage employees and shift workers are not represented at the Caucuses because they cannot easily get time off to participate. That’s one reason Hillary Clinton’s backers have cited as a chief complaint about the Caucuses and Senator Bob Dvorsky, a Democrat from Coralville, urged his senate colleagues to back the bill.

“I mean, we’re the first in the nation! Don’t we understand that?” said Dvorsky, whose wife, Sue Dvorsky, is a former Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman. “…I think it’s a small price to pay to keep us first in the nation to pass this bill.”

Democrats have been talking about other steps to increase Caucus participation, like offering babysitting service and allowing members of the military on active duty to participate from a distance, but Iowa Republicans have not been embracing those moves. Iowa’s Caucuses are party-run events and the two parties have different rules for determining winners. Iowa Democrats base their declared winner on a delegate count, while Iowa Republicans conduct a statewide straw poll to determine their winner.