July 24, 2014

Former editor of Newton paper files complaint over firing

The former editor of the Newton Daily News has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Forty-one-year-old Bob Eschilman and his attorney held a news conference Wednesday where he claims his constitutional rights were violated because he was fire from the newspaper for his religious beliefs.

His firing in early May came one week after he wrote a personal blog criticizing gay organizations for trying to rewrite the Bible to be more gay friendly to make their sinful nature “right with God.” He used words like “Gaystopo” “Flaming Homo” in the blog “It wasn’t for publication, it was for a personal blog that maybe 30 people a day were looking at, mainly family and friends,” Eschilman says.

The blog appeared on April 28th and the newspaper put Eschilman on paid suspension two days later. He was fired the following week. “To be fired for basically on my own time expressing my personal and deeply held religious views, it’s shocking,” Eschilman says. In an editorial published in the Newton Daily News the day after Eschilman was fired, the president Shaw Media the parent company of the paper, wrote Eschilman was entitled to his opinion — but his public airing of it compromised the reputation of the newspaper and his ability to lead it.

Eschilman is being represented by Des Moines attorney Matt Whittaker, who says the firing was against the law. “I think Bob was expressing his deeply held religious beliefs, which are mainstream Christian beliefs quite frankly, and that is what is protected,” Whittaker says. Whitaker is a volunteer attorney with Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal organization focusing on religious liberty issues.

Jeremy Dys,is a senior lawyer with Liberty Institute. “You cannot be fired for your religious beliefs or for your faith,” Dys says. “If anything you have to be accommodated while you are at work for your religious beliefs. Shaw media did not even offer that to Bob, instead they just summarily fired him.” If the commission rules in Eschilman’s favor, it could order Shaw Media of Dixon, Illinois to give him back pay and damages.

(Reporting by Randy Van, KCOB, Newton)


Forbes ranks Des Moines #2 best place for business & careers

Des Moines skyline at sunsent.

Des Moines skyline at sunsent.

Forbes magazine ranks Iowa’s capital city among the nation’s best places for business and careers.

Des Moines ranked #1 on the list last year. This year the magazine puts Des Moines in the #2 spot, behind Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Forbes article cited a report from Moody’s, a firm that analyzes the finances of governments and private sector businesses worldwide. It predicts the Des Moines economy will grow by four percent in each of the next three years.

The magazine also points to the cost of living in Des Moines, which is about six percent lower than the national average, as well as the cost of doing business, which is 17 percent below the national average.

The other three cities in the top 5 on the magazines “best places for business and careers” list are Provo, Utah and two places in Colorado — Denver and Fort Collins.

Fayette County dairy looking to expand market for its yogurt

Cows at Country View Dairy.

Cows at Country View Dairy.

Business is booming for Iowa’s only on-farm yogurt store. Country View Dairy is located near Hawkeye in northeast Iowa’s Fayette County. Dave and Carolee Rapson have been milking about 150 Holsteins since 2002 when they moved to Iowa from Michigan.

Things went pretty smoothly until 2009, when milk prices hit all time lows and feed prices tripled. Dave says they realized expanding the farm wasn’t an option, so it was diversify or disappear. “We checked out ice cream, bottled milk, cheese and cheese curds. We decided on yogurt, due to it’s the fastest growing dairy product and the most value added,” Rapson said.

Before the Rapsons broke ground on a facility to process the yogurt, they did a lot of research, traveling around the country looking at other dairy operations and meeting with inspectors. Lastly, the Rapsons needed to figure out what to do with the product once it was ready for public consumption.

The Rapsons are Mennonite, so there’s not a radio or a television on their property. Marketing professional Bob Howard has the job of explaining why Country View Dairy yogurt looks different, but tastes better than any other yogurt. “It’s a non-homogenized product, so there’s a cream layer on top of every cup that you open,” Howard said. “We can manage the quality control a lot more when the milk never leaves the farm and within 12 hours from milking the cows, it’s fresh in the cup and ready to sell.”

Howard started out going from store to store and handing out samples at Farmer’s Markets. And now? “We’re looking to expand our reach the Upper Midwest. We’re technically in seven states, but we’re ready to grow bigger,” Howard said. On-farm stores are expected to increase by 25 percent in the next year in Iowa, with the addition of four to the 16 already selling everything from cheese curds to ice cream.

Story by Pat Blank, Iowa Public Radio


State economic development officials use nostalgia as part of their pitch


A Viewmaster used to promote Iowa.

New versions of vintage toys from the 1950s and ’60s are helping to prod business leaders around the nation into building their next facility in Iowa.

Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority, says about 2,500 key corporate leaders across the U.S. are receiving green-and-white care packages from the Hawkeye State.

“We have a targeted list of prospects that we’re going out to,” Hoffman says. “One of the things that we’ve done is to send them things that are kind of different, that they’ll keep on their desk and will put Iowa at the top of their mind when they are considering their next business expansion or relocation project.”

One of the incentive gifts is a rebranded Viewmaster. It resembles a pair of binoculars but instead of being used to see far-away objects, several color photos of Iowa are pre-loaded in the devices.

“We have included with them one disc and there are about eight pictures,” Hoffman says. “It talks about everything from quality of life to business climate to commute times, all of those things that are important when you’re looking at a new business location.”

While stereo-scopes were around decades earlier, the Viewmaster became a very popular toy starting in 1966, so there’s a clear, nostalgic appeal to business leaders who are in the Baby Boomer Generation.

“We also have done the Magic Eight Ball,” Hoffman says. “That’s a pretty cool thing. When you ask the Eight Ball a question, the answer always comes up, ‘Iowa.’ There are several different specific answers but ultimately, it’s always Iowa.”

Each device costs about $15 but Hoffman says it’s worth the price. Since January of 2011, she says the office has been working with projects that will result in more than $9 billion in capital investment in Iowa.


State board votes against incentives for Fairfield grain terminal

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) Board today denied more than $1.5 million in proposed incentives for a company that’s planning to build a $27 million grain terminal near Fairfield. The action follows opposition to the Heartland Co-op project raised by a Jefferson County community group called AHEAD-Iowa.

The group’s president is Terry Smith, who says Heartland will build the terminal even without the state’s help. “It’s really puzzling that this is even an issue…it just looks like, ‘if we ask for (state incentives) and we get it, fine, if not, we’ll continue.’ I don’t think that’s the purpose of this grant, in my opinion,” Smith said.

Heartland has already started construction on the project. Jim Larew, an attorney representing AHEAD-Iowa, argued the IEDA would be breaking its own rules if the board awarded state money to Heartland. “The rules say those projects…that are initiated before the board has a chance to approve (financing) are presumed to be sufficiently economically viable not to need the assistance that is here,” Larew said. The IEDA Board voted unanimously to reject the incentives.

The project by Heartland Co-op is expected to create at least five new jobs and supporters believe it will lead to additional projects in the area. Adam Plagge, executive director of the Fairfield Economic Development Association, felt the Heartland project deserved state taxpayer support. “It’s disappointing,” Plagge said of the IEDA decision. “I think it’s a great project that Heartland is proposing here and it will give a substantial benefit to local farmers and producers and I think it will attract other economic development in its wake.”

Opponents of the $1.5 million in state incentives argued the taxpayer support was excessive for the creation of just five jobs. “I think the argument for this project has never really been about the five jobs,” Plagge said. “The argument is we’re going to be reducing costs for local producers.”

The IEDA Board did approve incentives for four other companies across the state. Cloverleaf Cold Storage will receive $400,000 in tax credits to move the headquarters of its refrigerated warehouse company to downtown Sioux City, according to IEDA spokesperson Tina Hoffman. The project is expected to create nine jobs and retain 23 more. “This award helps ensure that the headquarters location stays in Sioux City,” Hoffman said.

New Heaven Chemicals is getting just over $400,000 from the state to help open its first U.S. location in northern Iowa’s Worth County. Hoffman said the project will create 16 new jobs in the town of Manly. The renovation of American Republic Insurance Company’s headquarters in downtown Des Moines is getting $2.5 million in incentives from the IEDA. That $27.2 million project is expected to create 146 jobs.

The IEDA Board also awarded $26,200 in incentives to CPM Acquisition Corporation in Waterloo for the reconstruction of a test center.



State unemployment rate holds steady in June

Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says the June unemployment rate held steady at 4.4 percent. “This is compared to 4.8 a year ago, and the national rate is standing at 6.1 percent, so the Iowa is still significantly below that,” Koonce says.

Koonce says college graduates out looking for jobs impacts the market at this time of year. “They might not be employed yet, so they’re part of our labor force but they can also increase our unemployment numbers,” Koonce says. “So the overall labor force increased, but so did the number of people that were unemployed, that causes our rate to hold steady.”

Koonce says there were gains. “We did actually add 31-hundred jobs to the economy for the month. Most of those being in the government sector at the local level,” Koonce says. Workforce Development figures show a gain of 10,800 jobs in the last three months.

There were some loses in June. “The education and health services category took about a 17-hundred drop,” Koonce says. She says most of that is from private schools and colleges going into their summer breaks.

The total number of working Iowans increased to 1,624,600 in June, up 500 from May, and 32,100 higher than one year ago.


Iowa airports see an increase in business

Airports around Iowa are seeing an increase in the number of passengers. Sioux City airport has increased ridership after adding another airline was added. The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids is reporting six record breaking months in a row for the number of passengers. And during the first half of the year, the Des Moines Airport has seen more than one-point-one million passengers go through its gates — which is ahead of last year’s pace.

Des Moines Airport Executive Director, Kevin Foley, says there are two main reasons more people are flying. “The economy is very strong right now in the state of Iowa, and aviation is directly tied to the economy. And the other is the increase in competition and specifically it increases competition in low-cost carriers like Southwest and ultra-low cost carriers like Allegiant,” Foley says.

Eastern Iowa Airport director, Tim Bradshaw, agrees with his counterpart in Des Moines that the economy is part of the reason for the increase. “The leisure traveler supports some of the airport’s market, but it’s really the business travelers, that’s really where air service really comes from,” Bradshaw says. “So the fact that the local economy in Iowa is doing extremely well is what’s driving the increase in passenger numbers.” Bradshaw says the airport is planning about 40 million dollars in expansion over the next four years. The Eastern Iowa Airport reports a record-breaking number of about 460-thousand travelers in the last six months.