November 28, 2015

Rubio is pressing for changes in work visa program

Marco Rubio (file photo)

Marco Rubio (file photo)

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is calling for new limits in the program that allows U.S. companies to get work visas for foreigners.

“The H1B program is a program designed to allow American companies to hire foreigners with special skills when they cannot find an American to do the job,” Rubio said. “And the problem today is that the program is being abused.”

It is illegal for a U.S. company to replace a worker with a foreigner who holds an H1B work visa, but Rubio said U.S. firms are contracting with companies based in India who then hire foreigners, then get those foreigners visas and transfer them to work in the United States.

“Under this program, you are supposed to attest, sign a piece of paper, that says: ‘We tried to hire Americans to do this work, but we couldn’t find anybody and so therefore we hired this foreigner,'” Rubio said. “…Even if you could improve the company’s not telling the truth, no one is enforcing it.”

According to Rubio, all too often American workers who are being laid off have to train the foreign workers being brought in through the visa program.

“What’s it’s being used for, in essence, is a run around way of replacing American workers,” Rubio said.

Rubio said it’s time to limit the number of visas that can be held by American companies seeking to out-source operations. Rubio is in the midst of a five-day campaign swing through Iowa, his most extensive visit to the state since he started his campaign. Rubio, who is a Florida senator, joked about the snow during a visit to Oskaloosa this weekend.

“Thank you so much for being here today,” Rubio said. “…I know how hard it is. I know every time we get these snow storms in Miami, it’s hard to get to where we’re going.”

Rubio is casting the 2016 election as a “generational choice” and he’s warning the next president must address the ballooning federal debt.

“The cause of our debt is not foreign aid. I know a lot of people point to that,” Rubio said in Oskaloosa. “Foreign aid is less than one percent of our budget. The causes of our debt are the way Social Security and Medicaid are structured for future generations.”

Rubio campaigned in Carroll this morning. He’ll be in Council Bluffs over the noon hour. Tomorrow, Rubio will hold a town hall meeting in Grinnell.

(Reporting by Kyler Meyers, KBOE, Oskaloosa; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

State approves incentives for businesses in central Iowa, Quad Cities

IEDA-signTwo companies in the Des Moines metro area and another in the Quad Cities have landed financial assistance from the state for expansion projects. Tina Hoffman is a spokesperson for the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board, which approved the awards this morning.

“That will collectively result in the creation of 126 new jobs, the retention of 88 jobs, and will ultimately result in nearly $12 million in new capital investment projects for the state,” Hoffman said. CharNor in Davenport, a remanufacturer of forklift driveline components, is expanding its operations.

The IEDA board awarded the project a $245,000 loan/forgivable loan through the High Quality Jobs Program to create 74 jobs. The CharNor project involves a capital investment of $570,000. The company is relocating into a larger facility.

“This company will be going into a facility that’s been vacant for quite some time and has been considered a property that’s been difficult for Davenport to fill,” Hoffman said. Concrete form manufacturer EFCO on Des Moines is planning to build a new $11 million dollar facility to boost its production capacity. The expansion is expected to create 40 jobs and retain 88 more.

The IEDA board awarded the project tax benefits. In Urbandale, software company Fastpath was also awarded tax benefits for an expansion that’s designed to create 12 jobs, doubling the company’s workforce.


State unemployment rate hits ‘full employment’ level in October

Workforce-Development-frontOctober’s unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percent from September to 3.5 percent.

Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Courtney Greene, says it has been awhile since the unemployment rate was this low.

“The low unemployment rate of 3.5 hasn’t been seen since 2006,”Green says. The unemployment rate one year ago in October was 4.3 percent. The number of unemployed dropped to 60,300 in October.

Iowa’s unemployment rate may have bottomed out. “Many economists agree that 3.5 percent is considered full employment. There’s roughly 3.5 percent of the population in transition between jobs at any given time, or those who have significant long-term barriers to employment,”Greene says. “Low unemployment is good for job seekers — but it is challenging for many Iowa employers who are struggling to find those with the skills needed in various industries.”

Greene says non-farm employment added jobs for the second straight month. “Professional and business services surged ahead in October — thanks to hiring in administrative and waste management. This is the third consecutive month of growth for this sector, which has added 4,500 jobs since July,” according to Greene. “There was also a gain in the service sector — which has gained jobs in three of the last four months. And Iowa’s financial sector has remained strong over the past 12 months and is up 2,500 jobs annually.”

Greene says job losses were low compared to the gains. “Leisure-hospitality lost 1,900 jobs and manufacturing saw a slight decline of about a thousand jobs,” Greene says. The Workforce Development report says leisure and hospitality was hampered this month by a decrease in accommodations and food services staffing that was larger than seasonally expected. The current estimate is that the number of people without a job is 13,500 lower than one year ago.

Iowa’s unemployment rate remains well below the national rate, which dropped to five percent in October.


Speakers talk about concerns, benefits of proposed Baaken pipeline at hearing

Hundreds of people turned out for the IUB hearing on the Baaken pipeline.

Hundreds of people turned out for the IUB hearing on the Baaken pipeline.

Hundreds of people packed a room in at the Boone County Fairgrounds today to speak and listen to comments at a public hearing on a construction permit for the Baaken oil pipeline.

The Iowa Utilities Board has more than 200 people signed up to testify. They are alternating between those for the project and those against.

Jonas Magram of Fairfield spokes against. “The board must reject the Baaken Pipeline just as the Keystone was rejected last week. The Baaken will contribute very little to Iowa’s economy. It will not reduce Iowa fuel costs and it will not reduce rail shipments of Baaken oil,” Magram says. Magram says the pipeline will bring many problems. “It will create an unprecedented abuse of landowner’s rights, it will present a perpetual threat of catastrophic spills in Iowa, and it will contribute to climate change,” according to Magram.

He criticized the Utilities Board for alternating the hearing between those who are for and against the pipeline, saying it gives the idea that the support is equal. “The board’s own website shows that 60 percent of those scheduled to speak today in favor of the pipeline are not Iowans, whereas 98 percent of those who are scheduled to speak against it are Iowans. The same can be said for the letters that you have received,” Magram says.


A large clock counted down the 2 minutes allowed for each speaker.

Mike Matejka of Des Moines spoke in favor of the pipeline. “As a laborer, people are going to refer to our jobs as temporary jobs,” Matejka says.”As a laborer, a construction worker, every job is temporary. As a laborer it is a career.” He says the work the project will provide is important. “Allowing this pipeline is not only good for the country and energy independence — it’s decent jobs at a time when decent jobs are very badly needed in this country,” Matejka.

Matejka countered the statements that pipeline will do a lot of damage. “As laborers, as workers, we are also interested in the environment. We camp, we hunt, we fish and we’re outdoors and we’re trained, we are professionals. We go through an apprentice program to learn our job, to know how to do it safely,” Matejka. “And we want a safe pipeline, we don’t’ want trains running through our community full of oil. We want a pipeline that will create good jobs and create energy independence for this country.”

William Alexander of Ottumwa says the company that plans to build the pipeline should not be allowed to use eminent domain to get right of way. “Dakota Access isn’t a utility company, others that received eminent domain were utilities. Dakota Access is an intrastate crude oil pipeline, and I believe under Iowa law, they can’t take eminent domain for taking agricultural land,” Alexander says. He had more questions about the company. “Where is the projected profit and loss statement for this project? We only saw their projected expenses. Why? Afraid to show this amount,” Alexander says. “How many oil pipelines has Energy Transfer put in? How did their board of directors allow a project of this magnitude without knowing the projected profit? Maybe we should ask Rick Perry, a board member. When it leaks do we sue the Iowa Utilities Board? Dakota Access has already circumvented the Iowa Code twice. How many more times?,” Alexander asked.

Ross Walsh of Winterset says the pipeline is important to him and others. “I’m a veteran and I’m also an apprentice with the operating engineers out of Local 234. I support the Dakota Access project for a variety of reasons and encourage the utility board to grant a construction permit for the project,” Walsh says. ” The Dakota Access project offers the chance for not just myself, but for thousands of highly skilled workers to build their careers in the construction trade.”

He says the pipeline project will benefit him long after it is built. “Rather than tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, I am gaining the skills I can use to build a future for myself and my family right here in Iowa,” Walsh explains. “The training that I will receive — as well as many others — the use of the latest technology and safety standards will ensure the safe installation and operation of the pipeline.” Walsh says the pipeline will benefit everyone.

“A reliable domestic energy source is a better alternative than importing products form regions in the world filled with conflict and hostile intentions toward the U.S.,” Walsh says. “The Dakota Access project benefits the local and state economy. When I am working on a project I spend my money at local restaurants, convenience stores, sometimes staying at local hotels. And I also pay Iowa taxes. That revenue supports other jobs and local economies.”

The two minutes of testimony were often followed by cheers and clapping on both sides of the issue. Some of the speakers went silent as the microphone was turned off when they hit the time limit. The IUB is not taking any action at the public hearing, and will consider the comments along with others it has received on the subject to make a decision later this year.


Transportation funding approved for Davenport Oscar Mayer plant, GE in West Burlington

oscar_mayerThe Iowa Transportation Commission approved more state funding Tuesday for the Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport. The Iowa Economic Development Authority board approved $4.75 million dollars in state incentives to the Kraft Heinz Foods company last week to keep the plant in Davenport.

The Transportation Commission approved a nearly $4.7 million grant that Davenport economic development coordinator, Sarah Ott, says is needed for a road to the plant. She says the construction of the new road will allow access to the build site in the industrial park. The company will build the new plant and then tear down the old one.

The transportation grant was part of a joint application by the city and Scott County. “We are currently in the process of annexing 70 acres that they have purchased into the city of Davenport. It abuts right next to both Scott County and the City of Eldrige. Both have stated their support for this project as well,” Ott says. The project promises to retain some 470 jobs in Davenport out of the 14-hundred at the current plant.

The Transportation Commission approved another grant of more than $1.5 million for a joint project between Burlington and West Burlington for the GE plant. The economic development director for the Greater Burlington Partnership, David Toyer, talked to the commission about the project. “I think this is a wonderful project that demonstrates a great example of how a partnership works in Iowa to create jobs,” Toyer says. “We’ve got a project that’s inside the city limits of West Burlington, and we’ve got a road improvement that’s needed to support this project that is really in both communities.”

Toyer says the project is part of a big turnaround story. “Back in 2009, GE was down to 109 employees in West Burlington. And today they have 322. With this project they’ll add another 128 jobs to the mix,” Toyer says. Governor Terry Branstad was on hand earlier this month for the announcement of the expansion.

He says the company is expanding to make a new part. “This is actually going to be support of a new line of medium voltage switch gear. It’s their fourth generation of switch gear that GE is going to manufacture, and we’re really excited that they are going to be doing that here in the State of Iowa,” Toyer says. The total project will cost $2.175 million.


Primghar woman makes her way into male-dominate ag repair industry

Kellie Einck at work.

Kellie Einck at work.

A northwest Iowa woman was recognized with a National Proficiency Award at the recent National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky in a field that doesn’t have a lot of women.

Kellie Einck from Primghar received the award in the Agricultural Mechanics and Repair and Maintenance category for her work at the local John Deere dealership.

Einck is a student at South O’Brien High School and says the award honors students for their supervised agricultural experience, and is one of the highest honors given.

“The proficiency award measures your skills and growth and passion in your award area,” Einck explains. “It’s not so much who makes the most money — it does count the money made and hours worked in your application — but the award is more based on growth and development in an ag field.”

Einck says didn’t grow up on a farm, but always enjoyed diesel trucks, and working on those trucks. She completed a diesel mechanics course through Northwest Iowa Community College and says FFA allowed her to follow her passion into a career when an opening became available at John Deere farm equipment deal ICON Ag and Turf in Paullina. “Found out I love tractors and the ag world. I feel like it is a strong part of our community, so it is an important role keeping the farmers going,” Einck says. Einck has been working as a farm equipment mechanic for a year-and-a-half.

Einck found she has a passion for working on agriculture equipment.

Einck found she has a passion for working on agriculture equipment.

She says on occasion she will get some strange looks from farmers when they first realize it is a young woman working on their tractor, combine, or other farm equipment.

“Some are wowed and they think that’s just the coolest thing ever. And others are more used to the traditional men going out to work on their equipment, so they come in and they are a little more skeptical ‘oh, I don’t know if I want a girl working on my equipment.’ So, you kind of take it with a grain of salt,” Einck says. “I am kind of like the museum piece in here. Everyone kind of walks in and looks at me a little funny and then they carry on with their day. It’s just something that they are going to have to get used to.”

Women make up more than 45 percent of the total national F-F-A membership. Just to give you an idea of how young women have made a difference in the agricultural organization, of the six selected national officer positions, this year’s national officer team consists of five women, including the new National F-F-A president.

(Story and pictures Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)


State approves incentives to keep Oscar Mayer in Davenport

oscar_mayerThe Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board today approved state incentives to the Kraft Heinz Foods Company to keep the production of Oscar Mayer products in Davenport.

Spokesperson Tina Hoffman says part of the incentives will got toward a new state-of-the-art plant to replace the one now operating in Davenport. “They approved tax benefits with a maximum value of $1.75 million to support the $163 million capital investment that Kraft Heinz is proposing to make,” Hoffman says. The IEDA board also approved $3 million forgivable loan targeted at getting rid of the old plant.

“That would only be available to the company for the purposes of demolishing the existing facility once they move into the new location. And creating a site that is marketable for future development to benefit the Quad Cities,” Hoffman explains. Kraft Heinz’s Davenport facility now manufactures Oscar Mayer products and is the largest bologna plant in the world. It was built in 1915 and Kraft Heinz purchased the facility from Kohr’s Packing Company in 1946.

Hoffman says they have a contract for at least 475 jobs to be retained as part of the project. More than half of the jobs will have a wage of $17.84 an hour. The plant now has around 1,400 employees. Hoffman says the investment should be a long-term one for eastern Iowa. “You don’t see companies making 160 million dollar capital investments and then walking away,” Hoffman says. “So, we fell like this solidifies the company’s presence in the community and hopefully positions it for future growth as the company grows and expands in the future.”

The Kraft Heinz Company is the third-largest food and beverage company in North America and the 5th-largest food and beverage company in the world. It has been consolidating its operations and announced Oscar Mayer’s nearly 100-year-old headquarters and meat plant in Madison will close and move the corporate offices to Chicago.