April 25, 2015

Sioux City Coca-Cola bottler signs deal to expand in Iowa and Nebraska

Chesterman logo from the company's website.

Chesterman logo from the company’s website.

Sioux City’s long time Coca-Cola bottler is expanding its territory in Iowa and Nebraska. The Chesterman Company has signed a letter of intent with the Coca-Cola Company to assume territories in Nebraska and western Iowa, including the Omaha and Lincoln markets.

Company CEO Cy Chesterman says it’s part of a 21st century partnership model Coca-Cola is implementing with its main distributors. “It’s a big deal for us, those are very big markets,” Chesterman says. “It’s really part of a broader scope of what the company is doing across the county.” Chesterman has been a Coca-Cola bottler for five generations, beginning in 1904, and currently has more than 400 associates serving a territory of nearly one million people in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Illinois.

The company’s corporate headquarters is in Sioux City. Chesterman says there will not be any change to their existing territories. “We love doing business in Sioux City and it has been a great place for us,” Chesterman says. He says a final agreement and transition probably won’t be completed until late 2016. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)


Wellmark disputes Polk County property tax bill

The Iowa Court of Appeals has sided with Wellmark in its fight over the property taxes Polk County officials sought to collect on the company’s corporate headquarters.

In 2010, Wellmark Blue Cross-Blue Shield completed its new corporate headquarters in downtown Des Moines. It covers two city blocks and a vacant street — almost five acres in total. The county assessed the property at $99 million. A district court ruled the actual value of the property was $78 million. The Iowa Court of Appeals today affirmed that decision. In one section of its ruling, the appeals court wrote that the Polk County Board of Review “simply misses the mark” in how it interprets appraisals of the property.

Bird flu outbreak in NW Iowa is the nation’s largest

ChickenState and national officials held a conference call with reporters to answer questions surrounding the latest bird flu out break in northwest Iowa.

Officials first clarified that the facility in Osceola County has a capacity of 5.3-million egg-laying hens, but there are were 3.8-million hens there when the disease was discovered. It is the largest outbreak discovered in the U.S. thus far.

USDA chief veterinary officer, John Clifford, says the large number of birds at the Osceola County facility raised concerns.

“A lot of people ask the question ‘well what can we do about it?’ Well, one of the things that we’re doing, we are trying to determine the pathway of introduction into these houses,” Clifford says. “My guess is — and right now there is no solid evidence as such — my guess is there are multiple pathways of entry and it doesn’t mean that people are using poor biosecurity.”

The disease is believe to be carried by wild waterfowl. Clifford says other states like Minnesota have seen more cases than Iowa thus far because they have more lakes and more wild migratory birds. He says other states have also had some colder weather. “And hopefully through the summer we would expect to stop seeing these cases because of the heat. This virus does not like the heat much at all, it prefers cooler temperatures in weather,” Clifford says.

He says we could see more cases of the virus as the waterfowl move gain in the fall and spring.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey was asked about the economic impact. He says it has varied since the first outbreaks were reported in other states in January.

“In some cases we’ve lost some markets, some export markets. In that case maybe we see a negative impact to prices — we actually see lower prices because there are less place for these egg products and poultry products to move,” Northey says. “In other cases we now are starting to see some significant reductions in the supply, so we are kind of counterbalancing, so it depends on how this plays out on what the impact might be.”

But Northey says while millions of birds have died in Iowa and other states, the impact has not been major in terms of prices.

“Right now it does not appear that the loss of supply in either turkey products or egg products is significant at this time to show a significant impact on prices,” Northey says. The first outbreak in Iowa was in a turkey facility in Buena Vista County.

The 37,000 turkeys there were destroyed and Northey says state and local officials are helping the Osceola County facility euthanized the birds there. Northey says the cases appear to be isolated at this point.

“We do not believe this is spreading in a way that is likely to create other problems on other farms. We believe this is coming from wild birds to these farms. That does not mean we might not see a significant number of new cases,” according to Northey. But he says this could also be the last case found in Iowa too.

Northey says these two facilities are a small part of the large egg and turkey industry in the state.

“As of today, eggs are still rolling out of most of our facilities. These are good, healthy eggs,” Northey says. “Consumers need to feel very comfortable eating Iowa eggs, eating Iowa turkey and eating Iowa chicken meat as well.”

Dr. Clifford, with the USDA, says the eggs from the facility in Osceola are cracked and pasteurized for use in egg products, so that would have killed any of the virus in those eggs. And the chickens are not being released into the market, so they do not pose any threat.


Manning first to receive new SBA ‘Iowa Community of the Year” award



The west-central Iowa town of Manning is chosen as the first-ever Iowa Community of the Year by the Iowa office of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Ron Reischl, of Main Street Manning, says the Carroll County town of nearly 1,500 is progressive yet slow-paced and offers a high quality of life. Reischl says, “There is a spirit within the community that we will thrive rather than survive and the community organizations work together very well.”

The SBA says more than 90-percent of Iowa’s businesses are considered small businesses, but Reischl says the percentage is much higher in his community. “All of our businesses would be considered small businesses,” Reischl says. “We do not have any chains in Manning except for Casey’s, so all of the businesses are locally-owned and mostly homegrown.” A news release from the SBA says this is the inaugural year for the Community of the Year award, which highlights community efforts to support small business. Reischl says Manning is also one of 52 Main Street Iowa communities.

“As we move forward and recruit businesses, we purposefully aim at businesses that have employees from ten to 30,” Reischl says. “That way, if there are layoffs or if a company moves out of town, it is not a major blow.” The award will be presented to Manning at the Iowa Smart Conference in Des Moines on May 7th, while the SBA plans to re-present the award at a ceremony in Manning later this spring.



State unemployment rate drops to lowest level in nearly 7 years

Workforce-DevelopmentThe state unemployment rate continued its slow trend downward in March. “The Iowa unemployment rate dropped to 4-percent and that’s the lowest it has been since 2008,” according the Ed Wallace of Iowa Workforce Development. The March rate is down from the 4.1-percent in February, and its the sixth straight monthly drop.

Wallace says part of the drop in unemployment is driven by six straight months of increases in non-farm jobs. “Iowa added 3,300 jobs in the month of March alone,” Wallace says. “We see a lot of job growth in industrial construction in all four quadrants of the state.” The retail sector saw an increase of 1,800 jobs in preparation for increased summer traffic. Wallace says lower gas prices have given Iowans more money to spend on other items.

The were some job losses, with the leisure and hospitality sector losing 1,100 jobs — 900 of the losses coming in accommodations and food services. Manufacturing lost jobs for the first time since October, with small losses occurring in both durable and nondurable goods factories.

Overall though, Wallace says more Iowans are working this year compared to 2014. “Iowa’s unemployment is up 25,000 jobs over last year. The total number of Iowans employed is almost 1.7 million,” Wallace says. He says the state is getting close to a level where the percentage of people who want to find a job can find one.

“Iowa is getting closer to full employment, but there’s always opportunities for folks to look for them (jobs). “We’re continuing to work with folks who have the greatest barriers to employment,” Wallace says. The number of unemployed Iowans dropped to an estimated 67,800 in March compared to 70,300 in February.

Alliant Energy adding animal protection to power poles in Keokuk County

View from the Decorah eagle cam.

View from the Decorah eagle cam.

Alliant Energy is installing some equipment on power poles in southeast Iowa’s Keokuk County today to try and protect eagles and other wildlife. The company started looking at adding the equipment after one of the Decorah eagles was electrocuted.

Alliant spokesman, Justin Foss, says not every power pole is a danger. “Some of the power poles have extra equipment on them — in the industry we call them cutouts and arresters — other pieces of equipment that help bring the electricity down to a farmstead. And it’s those pieces that raptors can sometimes touch and get electrocuted on. So, on those pieces of equipment, on those poles, we are going to be able to add this extra equipment to protect them,” Foss says.

Foss says eagles used to stay closer to water and were in these more rural areas where the poles are located. But, they’ve found the eagles are feeding on carcasses from an animal operation and showing up in areas they weren’t expected to be. The new equipment will provide more protection for the poles in the area. “If they do land around there, then we’ll have other cover ups and other protective material to hopefully prevent another electrocution down there,” Foss says.

Foss says they looked at poles in a 6-mile radius of where the eagle was electrocuted. “Not every pole presents the same hazards for raptors and birds, so we’re going to target the ones that have a lot of the extra equipment that is more dangerous and concerning,” Foss says. He says the things being installed will help prevent eagles and other animals from being killed or injured, but won’t ensure it never happens.

“Even with all the investments and all the protection equipment out there, you just can’t protect 100 percent, and that’s part of what we’re trying to mitigate and work against here,” Foss says. “If you installed this really good plastic equipment out there, there’s nothing to say that a raccoon or a squirrel won’t come through some day and really gnaw it and chew it.” Foss says they will do what they can to make the equipment safer and prevent injuries to animals.



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.