February 9, 2016

Branstad says economic signals cause for concern

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Uncertainty remains about the farm economy and the state’s future budget situation, causing the Governor Terry Branstad to think over his options.

Branstad ordered state worker furloughs and across-the-board cuts in the state budget during the depths of the Farm Crisis. “But I’ve learned that’s not the way to do things,” Branstad says.

So, if Iowa’s economy craters and the state budget plan is headed toward red ink this fall or next winter, Branstad will call lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special legislative session.

“If we really run into financial problems, I’m going to bring the legislature back to address it,” Branstad says, slapping his hands together, “because if they create the problem, they’re going to have to address it.”

Branstad says this is a “tough year, financially” for the state, as tax collections have failed to meet expectations.

“This is a challenging time,” Branstad says. “The stock market started out the year the worst, I guess in history — the first month — and then we have the farm situation and the fact that commodity prices are below the price of production. Hog prices are bad as well as corn and soybeans. There’s reason to be concerned.”

And Branstad points to last week’s announcement that ADM may try to sell its ethanol plant in Cedar Rapids because of weak profits.

Branstad made his comments late last week during an interview with Radio Iowa.


Eaton Corporation laying off 250 in Shenandoah

Eaton Manufacturing

Eaton Manufacturing

Officials at Eaton Corporation announced layoffs at the manufacturing plant in southwest Iowa.

Company officials say 250 positions will be eliminated at its Shenandoah facility as part of a change in manufacturing strategy.

That change involves the elimination of transmission assembly, gear and shaft manufacturing operations, and retaining manufacturing of some components for final assembly of the transmissions.

Employees were notified of the impending layoffs Thursday morning. Approximately 85 positions will be retained to support ongoing operations.

Thursday’s announcement follows on the heels of 71 layoffs in December. Eaton officials stated this latest round is no way a reflection of the hard work of the people in the facility.

(Reporting by Mike Peterson, KMA, Shenandoah)


MidAmerican wraps up work on its largest wind farm

Wind-PowerThe state’s largest utility company has wrapped up work on its 8th and 9th wind farm projects, and is preparing to start work on its 10th wind project his spring.

MidAmerican Energy spokesperson, Ruth Comer says work on the 8th wind farm wrapped up in early December, and the 9th farm was completed last week.

“Together the two projects account for a little more than 1,200 megawatts of wind generation capacity for MidAmerican Energy and for Iowa customers,” Comer says. The two recently completed wind farms — number 8 or the Highland farm in O’Brien County — and number 9, the Adams wind farm in Adams County increased the total number of turbines in operation.

“We added 451 turbines as part of the wind eight project and then another 67 as part of wind nine, so more than 500 new wind turbines in Iowa,” Comer says. “That brings us to a total of just a little under 1,800 wind turbines across the state in 22 counties.”

The Highland farm is the company’s largest, and Comer says it is one of the largest economic development projects in the state. She says they taken advantage of new technology as they’ve installed new turbines. Some of the changes include using concrete for a turbine tower to build it higher to catch more wind, and longer blades on turbines to catch more wind.

Comer says the turbine blades should be spinning for decades before they have to be replaced. “A turbine conservatively could last for 30 years if it is properly maintained and kept up. And so, that’s what we are looking at with our turbines, that there are here for the long-term. We have long-term leases with the landowners where the turbines reside,” according to Comer. The new turbines allows the company to generate 3,500 megawatts of electricity, which is about 42 percent of the company’s installed generation capacity.

Comer says that will increase as they complete work on their 10th wind project by the end of this year with farms in O’Brien and Ida County. “By 2017, we project with the projects that we already have in operation and the ones we have planned and under construction — we’ll be able to produce and amount that’s roughly equal to 57 percent of our customers’ retail needs,” Comer says.

Des Moines-based MidAmerican says it now owns and operates more wind turbines than any utility in the nation. The company has moved into that spot in a little more than a decade. “Back in 2004 we had no wind generation owned by the company, and so all of our projects have been put into operation since 2004,” Comer says. “So, we are really proud of where we have come in the last 12 years.” MidAmerican says wind projects has spurred economic development in the state, creating thousands of construction jobs and almost 200 permanent jobs in rural Iowa.

The company says the wind projects will generate more than $1.5 in lease payments to landowners and property tax payments to schools, cities and counties in the next 30 years.


ISU professor suggests a technology vacation to help you recharge

Rey Junco

Rey Junco

A technology expert at Iowa State University is recommending you take some time away from your electronic devices to make your life a little easier.

Rey Junco uses technology every day for research in his role as an associate professor of education and human computer interaction. But he decided about five years ago that he needed to set it aside to refresh himself.

“Every year, twice a year, I take a break from all technology. And some of my colleagues call it a tech sabbatical, but I like to think of it as a vacation from technology because it has that same kind of peaceful vibe as a typical vacation does,” according to Junco. He admits it was tough to stay away from some technology.

“There was a pull while I was on vacation to actually go into my email and process emails — because then I wouldn’t to deal with so many when I came back,” Junco explains. “So this year, I decided not to do that and to delete all the emails that I received while I was gone,” Junco says. Junco created an automatic reply email and activated a few days before his vacation, to let people know that if they needed to reach him, they would need to resend their email when he returned. He says it was tough at first, but he got used to it and found he could really enjoy his vacation.

Junco says the same thing will work for you. “If you are taking a vacation and you’re still on email, you are really not taking a vacation,” Junco say, “you are thinking about work, you are thinking about these things that are pulling at your subconscious this whole time. It’s not a good way to relax.” Your boss might want to stay in touch with you and send you email while you are on vacation. Junco has this message for those managers.

“If you’re a boss and you have that expectation, then you are a boss who doesn’t really care about your employee’s well being,” Junco says. “You also don’t really care about your employee’s productivity.”

He says a lot of bosses have the erroneous view that productivity comes only from producing and that is not the case. He says putting down the technology is a natural and important thing.

“You need a break to refresh, you need a break to reboot. It’s why we sleep,” according to Junco. “You need to take a break from the mental, you need to take a break from the physical. There’s all this research to show that if you take a break you are going to be a lot more productive.”

Junco says he could understand how it could have been frustrating for some to not be able to immediately reach him during his breaks from technology, but he says he got a lot of people who understood his need to take a break.


Fast food workers in Des Moines join national call for an increase in pay

Fast food workers in Des Moines want their pay upped to $15 an hour.

Fast food workers in Des Moines want their pay upped to $15 an hour.

Dozens of fast food workers in Des Moines walked out of their jobs today calling for union rights and pay of 15 bucks an hour.

The protest was timed with the Republican presidential debate in Iowa’s capital city tonight.

Thirty-year-old Wiley King says he’s paid $8 an hour at Wendy’s. “It’s very difficult working for $8 an hour. There are a lot of critical decisions you have to make as far as sacrifices, deciding what’s more important and what has to be done,” King said.

Originally from Milwaukee, King moved to Des Moines as a teenager with his mother and siblings. He’s worked at several fast food restaurants over the past five years. “They say $15 an hour is too high. I don’t believe that because that would just basically be what’s necessary to survive, to pay rent, transportation, education, and things like health insurance,” King said.


Workers protest at a McDonald’s near the state fairgrounds

Simone Davis, who works at a McDonalds, also believes the corporations running fast food franchises could easily afford to pay workers $15.

“These companies…are making billions and just give us $7.25 and we can’t even meet the basic needs of our living situations,” Davis said.

The 19-year-old Davis said she’s worked for three years at fast food restaurants, but has never made more than $7.25 an hour. And, at times, she’s held down three jobs at once.

“Only making $7.25, I can’t afford my own place. I can’t afford to go to college. I have to struggle from check to check and borrow money from people,” Davis said. “I shouldn’t have to do that when I’m working and doing three jobs at time. The workers marched around a McDonald’s near the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines over the noon hour.

The national group “Fight for 15” helped organize the rally — claiming just under half of the people working in Iowa are paid less than $15 an hour. The strike in Des Moines was the third in recent months to coincide with presidential debates.

The Fight for 15 group also organized protests in Milwaukee in November and Charlotte, North Carolina in January.



Polaris laying off workers in Spirit Lake and Milford

Motorcycle assembly line in Spirit Lake.

Motorcycle assembly line in Spirit Lake.

A company that makes motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, and other vehicles is laying off around 100 workers, including some at production plants in northwest Iowa.

Kelly Basgen, spokesperson for Polaris Industries, says roughly half of the layoff are in the Twin Cities area, but operations in Spirit Lake and Milford are also affected.

“I can confirm that we have a really small number between Spirit Lake and Milford that were among the positions eliminated,” Basgen said. “I would say less than 10 between the two locations.”

The two Polaris plants in the Great Lakes region have more than 1,000 employees. In 2014, the Iowa Economic Development Authority awarded Polaris $300,000 in direct financial assistance and tax incentives toward an expansion project at the Milford facility.

Basgen says the company “needs to align employment costs with growth expectations.” Polaris is working to reduce employment costs by 7 percent and Basgen says they’re doing so in a number of ways.

“Thoughtful attrition, reduced use of contractors and temp-agency workers, and the closing of open, planned, or budgeted positions,” Basgen said. That’s in addition to the roughly 100 layoffs announced this week.

Polaris reported net income of $110.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2015, a decrease of 18-percent over the same period in 2014. Fourth quarter sales for Polaris dipped 13-percent over the previous year.

(Reporting by Ryan Long, KICD, Spencer)


December unemployment level unchanged

Workforce-Development-signState job numbers show the unemployment for December stayed the same as November at 3.4 percent. Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Courtney Greene, says good weather played a part in the labor situation.

“Due to the mild winter, construction again added about 2,400 jobs and ended the year up 10,000 jobs. This is the highest gain numerically and by percentage — up 12.9 percent for all sectors for the year,” Greene says. The jobs reports says the number of construction jobs in 2016 could drop as a number of big projects come to an end.

Overall, the state averaged 2,100 new jobs each month in 2015. The job gains offset the job loses in the month. “Trade and transportation were down, hampered by a disappointing retail shopping season — losing 2,500 jobs in December,” according to Greene. “Professional and business services and government also saw declines — with loses fueled by administrative support, waste management occupations and early releases of local government workers.”

Overall, fewer Iowans are getting unemployment. “The number of unemployed Iowans fell to 58,300, down 500 from November. The current estimate is 15,300 lower than the year ago level of 73,600,” Greene says. Workforce Development says the state has gained 25,600 jobs compared to last year, which allowed the number of unemployed to steadily drop from January of last year when it was at 4.2 percent.