January 30, 2015

Unemployment rate drops in December, nearing ‘full employment’ level

Workforce-DevThe state unemployment rate dropped down in December, and a spokesperson for Iowa Workforce Development says the state is getting close to full employment. IWD spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says the December unemployment rate hit 4.1 percent, compared to 4.3 percent in November. “Four-point-one percent is actually the lowest rate we’ve had since June of 2008. The national rate is still standing at five-point-six percent for December,” Koonce says.

She says the national experts believe Iowa is getting close to what’s called full employment, or the percentage of the labor market that is able to find a job if they want a job.

“It’s between 3.5 and 4 percent for Iowa, closer to the 4 percent,” Koonce says. “It used be closer to the 3, 3.5, but as the economy has changed over the years, they say the full employment for Iowa falls in that 3.5 to 4 percent range.”

It is the third straight month that the unemployment rate has dropped. “What we’ve seen is we’ve seen a decrease in the number of people who are unemployed, plus a continued increase in the size of our labor force couple with adding 2,100 jobs to the economy in the month of December, that’s what allows us to bring that rate down continually,” Koonce explains.

She says a large portion of the new jobs, 1,600 of themwere in manufacturing and another 500 still in construction. The state lost one thousand jobs in the trade and transportation area, which Koonce says included the retail sector. “You saw a lot of people leave at the end of the holiday season, plus the retail trade is just seeing a lot more people move to on-line shopping, so that just decreases the numbers they need in the actual stores,” she says. Local and state government saw the loss of 900 jobs in the month, but she says but many of these losses were seasonal transitions and should be recovered in January.

Iowa’s largest manufacturing employer, Deere and Company, announced the layoff of 900 workers last week. Koonce says that won’t have an immediate impact on next month’s unemployment numbers. “We’ill see it in the job numbers, but it may be kind of a slow progression. And that’s because the layoffs are spread out over three to four months with John Deere,” Koonce explains. “So they won’t be completed until the end of April, so it would be our May report which is for April numbers, when all of that would have taken effect. But if it’s spread out over several months it will be a small decline, you are not going to see a sudden drop of 900 all at once.”

Koonce says Iowa Workforce Development already is responding to help the Deere workers as they face the layoffs. IWD says the total number of working Iowans reached a current-year peak of 1,642, 900 in December. This figure is 3,100 higher than November and 38,100 higher than one year ago.


Branstad has the flu; all public events for rest of week cancelled

Governor Branstad was released from the hospital this morning after treatment for the flu.

Branstad’s staff now confirms the governor has the flu. The governor fell ill during a speech on Monday morning and was taken by ambulance to a Des Moines hospital. He was released from the hospital at nine o’clock this morning.  Jimmy Centers, the governor’s communications director, says Branstad is “resting comfortably” at Terrace Hill.

The governor’s personal physician issued a written statement, classifying Branstad in “good condition.” Dr. Kevin Cunningham says he’s ruled out a heart attack or stroke and has concluded the “incident was caused by a mild flu and dehydration.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds has been sick, too, and both Branstad and Reynolds have cancelled all their public events for the remainder of the week. That will give them “ample time to rest and recuperate” according to Centers. Reynolds saw her doctor this morning and a test came back negative for the flu, but she has been ordered to rest so she can recover from “a seasonal illness.”

The governor’s oldest son, Eric Branstad, tweeted a message to his father: “He had better listen to mom!”  The governor admitted yesterday that his wife wanted him to stay home from work Monday, but he didn’t heed her advice.

Centers says Branstad was alert and conscious and his official duties were not handed over to anyone. Branstad and Reynolds keep an “ambitious schedule” and, according to Centers, they have attended other 2500 public events since they took office in 2011.

“So it’s certainly unusual for the governor not to be out on the road visiting with Iowans for the next couple of days, but rest assured he’ll be back out on the road in the very near future,” Centers says.

(This story was updated at 11:53 a.m. with additional information)

AIB College of Business merging with University of Iowa (audio)


The University of Iowa is increasing its presence in central Iowa with the announcement today that the AIB College of Business in Des Moines will become the U-I Des Moines campus.

University of Iowa president Sally Mason joined AIB president Nancy Williams to reveal the details. “The idea for this merger stemmed from a casual conversation that I had with president Mason this summer. And it drew from there,” Williams says. “AIB College of Business is not seeking any kind of financial relief, in fact, the college is virtually debt free and no money is being exchanged. AIB is not being sold to the University of Iowa. We are doing this because it’s the right thing at this point in AIB’s proud history.”

AIB President Nancy Williams.

AIB President Nancy Williams.

Williams made the announcement in the building bearing the name of her father Keith Fenton, who was the second president of the school, following her grandfather who founded the school in 1921. AIB moved to its current location just southwest of downtown Des Moines in 1972 and has a 20-acre campus with around 1,000 students.

She says she came up with the idea while visiting her son on the U-I campus where he goes to school. “There are new challenges today for private colleges and our merger with the University of Iowa is the logical next step for our future, providing an innovative opportunity to continue AIB’s tradition of offering quality educational services to our community,” Williams says.

Mason, who is retiring in July, says this merger is part of the plans she talked about in expanding the university’s reach in the final months of her tenure. “The University of Iowa is honored that you have chosen us for this very important role, and joining together allows you to achieve a very important goal. But it allows us to achieve an important goal also, which is to broaden our service to the people of Des Moines and the surrounding region.”

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and U-I President Sally Mason listen to AIB's president.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and U-I President Sally Mason list to AIB’s president.

Mason says the merger allows the school to add more students. “Students will be able to live here, on the campus or nearby and earn a University of Iowa degree,” Mason says. “This will help the university deliver on the Board of Regents’ commitment to offering access to affordable, high quality access to the people of our state.”

 The Regents have approved a proposed plan to distribute money to the three state schools based on the number of instate students who attend.  The AIB merger could help the U-I in increasing its total of instate students.

The merger means going to AIB’s Des Moines campus would allow students access very similar to what is available at the school’s main campus. “We likely won’t have the full spectrum of programs that we are able to offer in Iowa City, but if we offer the program hear and a student wants to stay in Des Moines and do it right here, there’s no reason why they couldn’t,” Mason says. Williams says they will be doing what they can to ensure that current AIB students are taken care of in the switch.

“The average net tuition cost would be about 11-thousand dollars, so our tuition is just a little bit higher than the University of Iowa, and not by a lot,” Williams explains. “Our goal during the transition would be that the students would not be impacted negatively. So, if they have a scholarship, that it would be honored.” Williams says there would not be an immediate impact on the employees at AIB.

Williams says the goal is to have as many faculty and staff stay, as she says they are needed until the merger is complete. U-I president, Mason added “we need them.” Williams was asked what will happen with the sports teams at . She says they have not figured out yet what will happen with the sports teams as the athletic director is out of town. “So we will be having a meeting and discussing how we are going to handle that,” Williams says.

Mason says it will take some time to finish all of the details, but she says students could start seeing the change very soon. “By June 2016 we want to have all of this done, but there’s a lot of things that will happen along the way,” according the Mason. “So for example, students who are being admitted right now for next fall, we fully expect that those will be University of Iowa students.”

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter was also on hand for the announcement. The merger of the two colleges needs to get approval from the Board of Regents before it is finalized.

Audio: AIB news conference on merger with U-I. 31:00

Four Osceola residents charged in double murder in Clarke County

Richard Carson, Christopher Elbon (top l-R). Lynn Sutton, Tracy Johnson (bottom L-R).

Richard Carson, Christopher Elbon (top), Lynn Sutton, Tracy Johnson (bottom L-R).

Two people who went missing over the weekend in south-central Iowa’s Clarke County were later found dead from apparent gunshot wounds and now four people have been arrested in the case. Osceola Police Chief Marty Duffus says law officers were informed Saturday night that the two victims had disappeared Friday evening. “After further investigation, the two missing persons were located in a vehicle in rural northern Clarke County,” Duffus told reporters gathered outside the Clarke County Law Enforcement Center. “They were deceased and it appears they both died of gunshot wounds.” Autopsies are scheduled for Tuesday. The victim’s names have not been released, but Duffus said they’re both men in their 20s. After the bodies were found, the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation was called. Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Michael Motsinger said four people were arrested early this morning in connection with the double homicide. “They were taken into custody without any problems. They didn’t resist, so we didn’t find the weapon on them at that time,” Motsinger said. The gun allegedly used in the killings was recovered later, according to Motsinger.

Osceola Police Chief

Osceola Police Chief Marty Duffus.

The person accused of shooting the two individuals is 38-year-old Richard Ryan Lamb Carson of Osceola. He’s charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Three other Osceola residents are each charged with one count of accessory after the fact. They’re identified as 47-year-old Lynn Ranean Sutton, 43-year-old Tracy Kay Johnson, and 42-year-old Christopher Martin Elben. Carson and Johnson are described as being boyfriend and girlfriend. At this morning’s press conference, Motsinger did not reveal a possible motive in the case. “Just following up on leads and talking with people led us to these four individuals that we’ve charged with this crime,” Motsinger said. Authorities said the case appears to be an isolated incident and the public is not in danger.

At Iowa Freedom Summit, Fiorina & Palin blast Hillary Clinton (AUDIO)

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, offered a biting critique of Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, drawing cheers from the crowd of conservatives gathered at Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines.

“Like Hillary Clinton I, too, have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe, but unlike her, I have actually accomplished something,” Fiorina said, setting of whoops, cheers and applause from the crowd.

Fiorina touted her own resume in contrast to Clinton’s, telling the crowd she had “done business in over 80 countries” and had served “for several years” as chair of the Central Intelligence Agency’s external advisory board. Fiorina dismissed the Obama administration’s approach to Russia as “gimmicky” and she blasted the way President Obama and Clinton handled security at the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

“And unlike Hillary Clinton I know what difference it makes that our American ambassador and three other brave Americans were killed in a deliberate terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 in Libya,” Fiorina said, to applause. “And apparently unlike Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama I know our response must be more forceful than the arrest a single individual one year later.”

The crowd rose to its feet, whistling and cheering.

AUDIO of Fiorina’s speech

Fiorina, who has said she may run for president in 2016, unsuccessfully ran against long-time California Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010. Fiorina formed a political action committee in 2014 and supported conservative female candidates around the country, including Iowa’s Joni Ernst.

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who campaigned for Ernst last fall as well, was also a speaker at Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit. Palin, who spoke longer than any other featured guest at the event, urged Republicans to “go on offense” against Hillary Clinton now.

“Knowing what the media will do throughout 2016 to all of us, it’s going to take ‘more than a village’ to beat Hillary,” Palin said, and as the crowd applauded, some women in the audience started chanting: “Sarah! Sarah!”

Protesters disrupt Rick Perry’s Iowa Freedom Summit speech

Protesters disrupted former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s speech at today’s Iowa Freedom Summit, prompting the Republicans in the room to rise to their feet and roar back. The hullaballo started when Perry starting talking about security on the country’s southern border.

“We need to send a message to congress: secure the border now. Override this president’s lawless executive order. Restore law and order to our border in Mexico. Stand up to this face of evil and protect our citizens,” Perry said.

At this point a handful of protesters carrying blue stgns stood up in the balcony and started yelling in opposition. As the crowd rose in support of Perry, the former Texas governor continued speaking.

“That’s the face of America,” Perry said. “That’s what they’re going to see for the next two years. This is why we live in America today, to be able to stand up and tell our government to do what we want to do. That’s what we elected them for.”

Perry dispatched Texas National Guard troops to his state’s southern border late this summer. His 14-year run as governor of Texas ended this past week. Two of today’s protesters were arrested.

Lawmakers tour new prison, ask questions about delays

New prison under constructon at Fort Madison.  (click on image to enlarge)

New prison under constructon at Fort Madison.

About a dozen state lawmakers spent Friday in Fort Madison, touring the current Iowa State Penitentiary and its still empty replacement.

Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, says he’s frustrated with the delay in opening the new prison.

 “I was here, I spoke at the grand opening of this prison a year and a half ago and this prison is still empty,” Courtney said. “A year and a half ago…what’s going on?” Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, is among those looking for answers to Courtney’s question.

Kaufmann heads the House Government Oversight Committee which is charged with looking into the delay. Kaufmann says three basic questions must be answered. “Why isn’t it open, what’s it going to take to get it open, and what’s the reason it took so much longer than we initially anticipated,” Kaufmann said.

 The first two questions were discussed openly during Friday’s tour. The prison’s deputy warden, Mark Roberts, said the initial delay resulted from problems with the geothermal heating and cooling system. That issue has been resolved, but now there’s a problem with the ventilation system in case of a fire.

 “The problem is… the design of the building did not allow for enough fresh air intake,” Roberts said. Once the ventilation system is addressed, Roberts anticipates he could have inmates in the new facility within 60 days. But, he could not say why the problems occurred in the first place.

 The state is considering legal action against some of the companies involved. Kaufman expects to hold more hearings on the topic in the coming weeks.

 Iowa Department of Corrections director John Baldwin told lawmakers this week he’s “embarrassed” by the situation. Prisoners were to be transferred out of the 176-year-old maximum security facility in Fort Madison and into the new prison nearby last March, but now Baldwin predicts it won’t happen until sometime this summer.