December 19, 2014

Report provides ‘blueprint’ for state economic development efforts

BatelleA new report concludes Iowa’s businesses overall have been “highly productive” and there’s been good job growth in the state in the past decade. However, the study warns Iowa’s low population growth and a lack of graduates with science, engineering and math degrees could dampen future economic growth.

The Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress, a state advisory board appointed by the governor, commissioned the report from the Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute. Governor Branstad was on hand for the report’s release.

“I think they did a very thorough and a very good job assessing what we have accomplished, but also the challenges ahead,” Branstad said, “and kind of helping us with a strategy to kind of grow the Iowa economy and bring more good jobs here.”

The study measured the state’s economic output and workforce and it concluded Iowa’s rebound from the 2008 recession has been higher than the national average. Iowa has outperformed the nation in the number of new jobs that require advanced skills, but the report also found that Iowa’s colleges and universities aren’t producing as many graduates with science, technology, engineering and math degrees when compared to all U.S. colleges.

“It shows that the focus on STEM makes sense. We’ve got to accelerate it and we’ve come a long way in the last couple of years,” Branstad said. “We need to continue to keep that focus. I think it is catching on and will make a difference.”

From 2009 to 2013, there was a 31 percent increase in the number of Iowa college graduates with so-called STEM degrees. However, only one out of every 10 Iowa college graduates earned a degree in a STEM-related field. The report also warns Iowa’s population growth is less than half the national average and that will limit the ability of Iowa businesses to expand and hire more workers.

Branstad notes the report also focused on the state of Iowa’s infrastructure, it’s roads, bridges and railroads as well as broadband capacity. The governor along with leaders of Iowa’s business community met Thursday afternoon to publicly discuss the report.

“This will be really a helpful blueprint for our future direction,” Branstad said.

Battle of the Bulge veterans to be honored at Goldstar Museum

GoldstarThe Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge has events planned Saturday to observe the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. The battle began on December 16th in a last gasp effort by the Germans to defeat the allies in Europe.

Museum curator Mike Vogt says they’ll begin the observance at 10 A.M. and will honor veterans from the Battle of the Bulge. The have been able to locate three Iowans who were in the battle.

“They will receive a certificate recognizing the Army’s largest battle in World War Two in Europe,” Vogt says. He says they will have a program discussing the battle and it’s significance. “What happened, where and when and why. We’ll have some reenactors wearing reproduction World War Two equipment and weapons to explain to visitors how soldiers were dressed — how cold was as big an enemy almost to the Germans at that time,” Vogt says.

The Germans massed their troops under the cover of the weather and then launched the attack. “The battle got its name from the bulge created westward into the allied lines during the war. And they advanced quite a way westward through the American lines

World War Two era tank on display at the Iowa Goldstar Military Museum.

World War Two era tank on display at the Iowa Goldstar Military Museum.

into the Ardennes forest,” Vogt says. The area where the attack took place was considered a quiet area where troops were getting some time off from the front lines.

Vogt says the allied commanders had some intelligence that the Germans were up to something, but thought the terrain of the area made an attack unlikely as the roads weren’t good and it is heavily wooded. But the Germans pulled off the attack.

Vogt says there is no way of knowing exactly how many Iowans may’ve taken part in the battle, but they will have a display in the museum. “We do have in our collection some photos and some materials from Iowans who served in the Battle of the Bulge, and some stories. And we also have a German sub-machine gun that was picked up in the Ardennes Forest after the battle,” Vogt says.

One piece of Iowa history sticks out for Vogt. “An olive drab standard-issue Army shirt that has five holes torn in it from machine guns bullets guy name John Phillips who is now deceased, he lived to an old age, was caught in an ambush,” Vogt says. He says one of the bullets hit a bible in Phillip’s pocket and that bible which is on display with the shirt, is believed to have save his life. An official report by the U.S. Department of the Army lists 108,347 U.S. casualties during the battle, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded, and 26,612 captured or missing.

The German High Command’s official figure for the campaign was 84,834 German casualties. Other estimates range between 60,000 and 100,000 for German casualties. Visitors can enter Camp Dodge through the main gate A photo I.D. is required for for individuals 16 years of age and older. Museum admission is free.


Farmland values drop almost 9% in latest ISU survey


Iowa farmland values saw their biggest drop in almost three decades in the latest survey released by Iowa State University today. The Center for Agricultural and Rural Development is taking over the survey duties from retired economics professor Mike Duffy. But Duffy helped crunch the numbers this year.

Mike Duffy

Mike Duffy

“What we saw was an 8.9 percent drop,” Duffy says. “When you look, the primary reasons the survey respondents gave for the drop were lower commodity prices.” The drop means an average value of acre of farmland in the state fell $779 to $7,943 dollars. Duffy says it’s not surprising the value would drop given the drop in commodity prices and the impact seen in other areas of the economy.

“You know if you use just the basic formula — land values to income divided by the interest rate — right now when the income drops, then we would expect to see the land values drop. And in fact, I think it’s probably a sign that the market is working when we do see responses like this,” Duffy says. It is only the second year since 1999 that the survey has shown a decline in farmland values.

The drop has some people asking if land prices will continue on the way down after hitting a peak in 2013, just like they peaked and dropped in the 1980’s. Duffy doesn’t see that comparison.

“My personal feeling is that we went into the fall that we did in the early 80’s because we went on a speculative bubble,” Duffy says. “The increase that we’ve just experienced until this year, I think has been more income driven.”

Even with the decrease, he says farmland values are more than double what they were 10 years ago, 81 percent higher than 2009 values, and 18 percent higher than 2011 values. “Even though it’s not good news that it dropped, it is a response to the market. And my personal feeling is that it doesn’t say that we are going to see major drops now for the next several years,” according to Duffy. He believes the values have settled in to adjust to the economic situation. “My guess, if we see corn end up in the $3.50 to $4.00 and beans in the $10 range, which is kind of what it looks like now, we good expect to see these land values stabilizing, maybe a little more down, but stabilizing and kind of holding in there,” Duffy says.

For the second year in a row, Scott County in eastern Iowa had the highest land values and Decatur County in south-central Iowa reported the lowest farmland values. Decatur County reported a value per acre of $3,587 or a drop of $41 an acre from last year’s report. While Scott County reported a value of $11,618 or a decline of about $795 dollars and acre, which was about $22 dollars more per acre than the statewide average decline.

Southeast Iowa was the only crop reporting district in the state to show an overall increase in values. “We had seven counties down in that area that reported an increase in value,” Duffy says. “Southeast had drought a couple of years ago, so they had not been increasing — think that is part of the reason. I think that they had record corn yields.” He also says increased livestock values caused more of a demand for pasture land in the southeast. Southeast Iowa reported land values were 3.2 percent higher than last year. Keokuk County, located in that southeastern portion of the state, reported the largest percentage increase for any single county at 2.4 percent. To find out more, go to CARD’s website.



Dog rescued from well near Oelwein

Rescue personnel in northeast Iowa’s Fayette County were sent out on a somewhat unusual mission Wednesday morning. Christina Edmonds, who lives in a rural area northeast of Oelwein, has an old well on her property that sits near her dog’s kennel. She told KCRG-TV that a stray dog somehow became trapped inside the eight-foot deep pit.

“My boyfriend went to work and he’s like, ‘there’s a dog in that well.’ And I was like, ‘oh my gosh, how are we going to get it out?’,” Edmonds said. The well pit was covered with heavy boards, but the dog apparently slipped through. Oelwein Fire Chief Wallace Rundle wasn’t sure how long the pit-bull mix may’ve been in the well, but it was friendly and excited to get out. “(The dog) was very docile when I looked down through the opening,” Rundle said. “We got a cage down there, the firefighter got the dog in and then shut it, and we attached a harness and brought it up.”

Despite falling down an eight foot hole, Dr. Ken McDonough with the Oelwein Veterinarian Clinic, said the dog is happy and healthy. “From all we can tell, it looks like he is doing fine,” McDonough said. “He would probably sit next to anybody who would pet him.” The sheriff’s department is looking for the one-year-old puppy’s owner. The vet’s office said if no one comes forward, they’ll look for someone to adopt the dog.

By Jill Kasperie, KCRG-TV


Winnebago posts first quarter profits, but below market expectations

WinnebagoWinnebago Industries is reporting lower-than-anticipated profits for its first quarter. Winnebago CEO Randy Potts cites additional labor costs and delayed delivery of supplies to make the recreational vehicles as the reasons.

“A lot of the labor constraints were caused by the supply chain issues and that can be a little bit confusing,” Potts says. “If the issue is in the supply chain oftentimes that disrupts the production process and the resolution to that is to work more hours to correct those issues and when you work more hours, you create these labor constraints, so it’s a multi-faceted issue that we dealt with in the first quarter.”

The Forest City-based motorhome manufacturer reported a profit of profit of $9.9 million or 37 cents per share in its first quarter. That compared with profits of $11.1 million during the same period a year ago or 40 cents a share. Market analysts had expected the company to post a profit of 45 cents a share in this year’s first quarter. Potts says they need more employees than they currently have, so the current staff is working more overtime.

“So you manage that using a lot of different tools,” Potts says. “In this particular case, while we were short some employees, it was exacerbated by having these other issues that disrupted production.”

Despite falling short of expectations, Potts says it still was a good quarter and 2014 was a good year for Winnebago.

“We need to keep that trend going, so we’ll be looking for every possibility to make 2015 a successful year, too,” Potts says.

Sales of Winnebago motorhomes rose nearly one percent, to $224.4 million. Shipments of motorhomes to dealers grew 1.3 percent in the quarter, while shipments of towable units rose nearly 13 percent. ​

(Reporting by Robert Fisher, KLSS, Mason City)

Group seeks to refocus attention on 1992 murder of Grinnell College student

Tammy Zywicki

Tammy Zywicki

The kidnapping and murder of a Grinnell College student 22 years ago remains an unsolved case and a new group aims to refocus attention on the crime. The Task Force for Tammy, directed by two Grinnell College graduates who were friends of the victim, wants to jump-start the investigation.

Grinnell senior Tammy Zywicki was on her way to Grinnell in 1992 when her car broke down along Interstate 80 in Illinois. Nine days later her body was found about 500 miles away in a ditch alongside Interstate 44 near Springfield, Missouri. An on-line campaign has been launched at in hopes of re-starting the investigation into the crime.

The FBI assisted local law enforcement agencies with the investigation but, by early 1993, the combined task force was disbanded without finding Zywicki’s killer. T

he Task Force for Tammy aims to gather 10,000 signatures supporting the petition, which is addressed to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The petition urges them to instruct the Illinois State Police to release more information that could help solve the 22-year-old case.

(Reporting by Chris Johnson, KGRN, Grinnell)

Pilot program puts student teachers in schools longer

Department of Education Director Brad Buck.

Department of Education Director Brad Buck.

Thirty-five student teachers are taking part in a state pilot program to provide more intensive training as they prepare to become full-time teachers. Department of Education Director Brad Buck says the pilot project is part of the legislature’s 2013 education reform bill. It gives the teachers-in-training from the University of Northern Iowa and Dordt College more time in the schools.

“This is a full year so students really have the experience of starting a school year, having parent teacher conferences, going through the full length of a school year and closing out a school year,” Buck says.

Buck says student teaching assignments are usually shorter, as he says when he went through the program years ago, his student teaching assignment lasted 16 weeks. “I saw what school was like for a portion of the school year but not the whole school year,” Buck explains. “So really, I think the intent of this is, does it robustly prepare them for their first year of teaching to have gone through an experience of a school year from start to finish,” Buck says.

UNI and Dordt College each received about half-a-million dollars to conduct the pilot project.