April 18, 2014

Microsoft to build second data center in West Des Moines

Microsoft has been identified as the company behind another big economic development project in West Des Moines. The company will build a $1.1 billion data center on a 154 acre site in Polk County.

Governor Terry Branstad was in West Des Moines for the announcement, made shortly after the Iowa Economic Development Authority approved just over $20 million dollars in sales tax rebates for the project. “Iowa has been very fortunate in the last few years to have numerous economic development projects worth over one billion dollars; Facebook, MidAmerican Energy’s Wind Farm, CF Industries, and Iowa Fertilizer,” Branstad said.

Microsoft already has a data center in West Des Moines, so the company’s total investment in the area will now reach nearly $2 billion. “That is an all-time record (for the state),” Branstad noted.

The City of West Des Moines has promised $53 million in infrastructure improvements to accommodate the site. Mayor Steve Gaer  said it’s well worth the investment. “The economic impact of this project alone, when it’s fully developed, will be over 8 million dollars a year in property taxes to the city, county and school district,” Gaer said.

Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said the data center will be huge, covering a space comparable to roughly 20 football fields. “The project will firmly establish central Iowa as one of the country’s leading technology environments and with the addition of over 80 jobs, will certainly bring new talent to our community,” Connolly said. Microsoft officials have pledged the project will eventually create 84 jobs, most of which will pay a wage of at least $24.32 an hour.

Construction on the project is expected to start this spring.

Lawmaker objects to use of eminent domain for high-voltage transmission line project

A retired utility engineer who is a member of the Iowa House of Representatives is raising concerns about a proposed high-voltage transmission line that is to be constructed across Iowa. Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, objects to the use of the government’s “eminent domain” authority to seize property along the 500-mile route for the Rock Island Clean Line project.

“Rock Island Clean Lines is a non-utility, private enterprise embarking on a private project for private gain,” Watts said this week during a speech on the House Floor.”…Therefore, it would not serve a public purpose which is required as a justification for use of eminent domain.”

Developers of wind farms are not allowed to use eminent domain authority to seize ground for wind turbines, but state law does allow eminent domain authority to be used for power lines. A bill stalled in the House this year that would have set up a new appeal process for Iowa landowners affected by power line projects that stretch 200 or more miles.

The transmission lines for the Rock Island Clean Line project would be used to export energy from wind turbines in northwest Iowa to Chicago and other electricity customers to the east. Representative Watts said it would be “shamefully negligent” for the Iowa utility board to allow the firm to use eminent domain authority to seize some of the Iowa farm ground needed for its project.

“After all is said and done, if Rock Island Clean Lines is allowed the use of eminent domain for their project, it could likely result in the largest unjustified taking of private property in the history of the state of Iowa,” Watts said.

Governor Terry Branstad’s economic development director has called the transmission line “an important infrastructure project that needs to occur” because wind energy has the potential to be a growing Iowa export. Developers of the 500-mile Rock Island Clean Line project have charted a preferred route that would start in northwest Iowa’s O’Brien County and would exits on the east side of the state in Scott County, just north of the Quad Cities.

DPS identifies Iowa Falls man shot to death by police

The Iowa Department of Public Safety has released the identity of the Iowa Falls man shot and killed by police Thursday. A news release from DPS says officers were called to the residence of 25-year-old Leighton Fitz around 1:20 on the report that Fitz was suicidal.

The DPS release says Fitz came out of the residence with several weapons and wearing a bullet-proof vest. Two Iowa Falls police officers and 3 from DPS fired at Fitz after he refused to drop his weapon. Officers found multiple loaded guns and a gas mask inside the home. Agents also discovered threats against the officers posted on Fitz’s Facebook page.

Fitz’s body has been sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy. DPS says it won’t release any other information until the investigation is complete. The 5 officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave during the investigation.

Unemployment rate inches up to 4.4% in March

The state unemployment rate moved up again in March. “We had just a tenth of a percent increase in our unemployment rate, and that’s really primarily due to an increase in the state’s labor force,” Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson Kerry Koonce says. The 4.4-percent unemployment rate in March is still below the 4.8-percent rate for March of last year.

Koonce says the workforce has been growing “excessively” over the last couple of months. “Individuals who maybe stopped looking for work, because they didn’t think it was available, have started again,” Koonce says. The total number of Iowans working is now 1,615,200. “That’s reached a record number — which is very good– that really shows the economy is growing,” Koonce says. “That’s 27,000 higher than it was this time last year.”

Koonce says there were some job losses. She says the most loses were in manufacturing, but she says the forecasts show that durable goods manufacturing jobs should pick up in the coming weeks and level out the loses. The professional goods and services area also lost jobs, which Koonce says is an area that tends to go up and down.

Overall manufacturing jobs are up 800 compared to last year. Koonce says construction employment should be picking up soon as the weather improves.

Decorah woman injured in police chase dies

A young woman who allegedly tried to elude police in northeast Iowa before being involved in a crash has died from her injuries. The crash happened Saturday night in Dubuque. Police officers had pulled over a truck in relation to a call about a suspicious person with a flashlight walking around a house.

Twenty-two-year-old Alexandra Benson of Decorah was driving the truck, but police say she gave officers a false name. The officers correctly identified Benson and discovered there was an active arrest warrant for her in Delaware County. When they asked her to exit the truck, Benson sped away and police say she ran a red light before colliding with another vehicle, which caught fire. Benson and a passenger were transported to a Dubuque hospital.

Benson was later transferred to University of Iowa Hospitals, where she died on Thursday. The occupants of the other vehicle were not injured.

Dubuque festival features film about small farm town

Filmmakers Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm.

Filmmakers Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm.

A documentary about how a small farm town overcame some of its challenges by holding an annual combine demolition derby will be featured at a film festival in northeast Iowa next week. “Dryland” is also about the struggles of a young man who had to leave his family’s farm in order to make a living.

Sue Arbuthnot produced and directed the film, which centers on the unusual farm implement demolition derby. Arbuthnot says, “That really is a metaphor for the resilience and ingenuity that rural communities are finding to be able to rebuild themselves by rebuilding old equipment and then drawing tourists into the community and rally around a fundraising effort that really supplies funds for the entire rest of the year.”

The film was shot in and around the small burg of Lind in Washington state. Arbuthnot is a Wisconsin native and is based in Portland, Oregon. She says it’s a thrill to be coming to Iowa for the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival.

She thinks Iowans will very much relate to the film’s central character, Josh, as economic troubles and technological advances in agriculture force him to leave the fourth-generation family farm. Arbuthnot says, “Certainly, the universal themes of not just farm youth wanting to find a way to stay on farms, but just young people in general finding ways to pursue a dream through optimism, through hard work, through problem-solving and fixing things up and through a community-building effort.”

JawsJosh has a vintage John Deere combine named “Jaws” which he’s painted blue and affixed a dorsal fin to the roof. He and his friends compete in the annual combine demolition derby which draws 5,000 visitors to the community of 500, helping to support a host of community programs.

“The combine derby itself is a spectacle and it’s quirky and young people are drawn to that aspect of it,” Arbuthnot says. “I think also, too, just learning about how to follow a dream is something that young people — and old people, older people, me — find very inspirational.”

The film was ten years in the making and eventually sees Josh land one of his “dream jobs” in Iowa — at John Deere in the Quad Cities. Arbuthnot and her filmmaking partner/husband Richard Wilhelm will be in Dubuque to do question-and-answer sessions after each of the documentary’s four showings, each day April 24th through the 27th. The film showcases an original score by Mark Orton, who most recently scored the Oscar-nominated film “Nebraska.”

Iowa Falls man shot and killed by police

A police standoff in Iowa Falls on Thursday afternoon ended when a man was shot and killed by law  officers. Iowa State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Scott Bright said the incident happened in the 400 block of College Avenue.

Residents who lived in the neighborhood were ordered to leave due to the situation. Sgt. Bright said the man was suicidal and made threats on Facebook during the standoff with officers. The man came outside of his home, yelled at officers from his porch and walked into his driveway. He then pulled a weapon from his pants, raised it and pointed it at the officers.

The man was then shot and killed by the officers on the scene. The name of the man has not been released with the incident under investigation.

(Reporting by  Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)