October 9, 2015

Deere reaches tentative deal on new labor contract

John-DeereDeere and Company has reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers union to replace the 6-year master labor contract that expired Wednesday at midnight. The new deal impacts thousands of people in Iowa.

The tentative agreement was announced by John Deere in a news release early Thursday morning. In the release, company spokesman Ken Golden confirmed the new deal is for six years, pending approval of the union membership.

Other terms of the new labor contract won’t be made public until after the deal is ratified. UAW represents approximately 10,000 Deere manufacturing employees at 12 factories in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas.

In Iowa, the contract covers union workers at facilities in Ankeny, Davenport, Dubuque, Ottumwa and Waterloo.

(Reporting by Elwin Huffman, KOEL-Oelwein)


Survey puts Iowa at bottom in ranking of businesses owned by women

SBA-LogoA new national survey ranks Iowa dead last among the 50 states for the growth and prosperity of businesses owned exclusively by women. Jayne Armstrong, director of the Iowa office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, says the ranking by American Express is a disappointment, but it’s one they aim to improve upon.

“It did show that Iowa is last in the nation for women business owners,” Armstrong says, “but we think with the energy that we’re seeing in the past couple of years in Iowa that things are about to change.” The study placed Iowa 50th for the “combined economic clout” of women-owned businesses, based on factors like growth in the number of firms, growth in firm revenue and growth in employment between 1997 and 2014. In two of those categories, it showed the revenue in women-owned Iowa firms fell nearly four-percent, while employment by such firms fell nearly 22-percent.

Armstrong says, “There is so much more than we need to do to empower women throughout the state and encourage more to get into business and to help the ones already in business to grow and take it to another level.” She questions whether the survey’s numbers are entirely accurate as she says many businesses might not have been counted as the women are in 50-50 partnerships with their spouses. Armstrong notes, Iowa has a rich history of women being involved with family-owned businesses, especially in the agricultural sector. Georgia was tops in this year’s survey.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Gains in Iowa construction industry counter national trend

There’s been a downturn in the construction industry nationwide, but not in Iowa.

Iowa saw an eight percent increase in construction jobs between August of 2014 and August of this year according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Eighty percent of those job gains were outside of the state’s major metropolitan areas, driven partly by the large Iowa Fertilizer Plant construction project in rural southeast Iowa.

There was just a two percent increase in construction jobs in the Des Moines metro and a one percent increase in the Cedar Rapids area. There was a small decrease in the Quad Cities. The Omaha/Council Bluffs metro saw a three percent increase in construction jobs.

Nationwide, employment in the construction industry declined between August of 2014 and August of this year. The Associated General Contractors of America group cites “growing uncertainty about federal funding for construction programs and growing shortages of qualified construction workers” as the main reasons.

Unemployment rate drops back to 3.7 % in August

Workforce-Development-thmbThe state unemployment rate headed back down in August after a small move up in July.

“Iowa’s unemployment rate is down a tenth of a percent to 3.7 in August. Total nonfarm employment was down slightly this month, but the total number of unemployed Iowans decreased to its lowest level since February of 2008,” according to Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson Courtney Greene.

The number of unemployed Iowans hit 62,400 in August, down from 63,900 in July. The unemployment rate increase in July was the first move up in six months, and now the level has dropped back down.

“This month’s decline could be a natural correction in the monthly data following large gains to begin the year,” Greene says.

Several areas added jobs in August. “There was an increase in the construction and finance sectors. Construction saw an increase of 21-hundred jobs and this is the fourth consecutive month that finance has added jobs — seeing about a thousand jobs added in August,” Greene says. “Retail and leasing also saw hiring gains. The only other sector to add jobs this month was professional and business services, with an increase of 600 jobs.”

The state did lose 800 nonfarm jobs in the month. “Manufacturing saw a slight decrease of 600 jobs following three months of gains. Trade, transportation and other services lost jobs for the second month in a row fueled by disappointing retail hiring this month. Smaller drops included leisure and hospitality,” Greene says.

The total number of Iowans working is 1,200 higher than July, and 2,600 higher than one year ago, with more than 1.6 million people working. “You know, Iowa is doing pretty well in terms of the economy. Low energy prices, low gas prices means there’s more money in people’s pockets and it seems people are pretty optimistic,” Greene says.

The state jobless rate continues to be well below the U.S. level of 5.1 percent for August.


Touting ‘best kept secret’ of Iowa apprenticeship programs

l-r: Jason Shanks, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Duane Boswell

l-r: Jason Shanks, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Duane Boswell

The manager of an Iowa apprenticeship program says there’s more demand for skilled workers than his program that trains plumbers, welders and technicians who work on heating and air conditioning systems can supply.

“Apprenticeship has been the best kept secret for a long time. If you have a conversation with people about apprenticeships, they know what the work is, but they don’t understand the true meaning of apprenticeship. I think that’s been the biggest problem,” says Jason Shanks, the training director for the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33 in Des Moines.

The apprenticeship program Shanks runs lasts five years and the cost for the apprentice is only $200 a year, plus a contractor hires that apprentice as a “helper” and they earn a paycheck.

“Day one they get the same benefits that I receive, health care,” he says. “…They don’t have a huge student loan debt when they’re done. They have a career.”

There are 753 apprenticeship programs registered with the State of Iowa today. Duane Boswell of Iowa-based TMC Transportation says his employee-owned company started a “heavy truck” apprenticeship program in the early 1990s and today there are a thousand drivers enrolled.

“One of our greatest challenges and frankly one of the greatest challenges in the over-the-road trucking industry is finding enough quality individuals to drive our trucks,” Boswell says. “It’s not everybody that wants to be out a week at a time or more.”

But the apprentices who go to work for his trucking firm can earn $50,000 in their first year of training, plus they get health benefits. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds invited the two apprenticeship program managers to speak at a news conference at the statehouse this morning.

“There is a significant skills gap in Iowa and across this nation,” Reynolds says. “And as we continue to work every day to grow this economy, we need to make sure that we have that talent pipeline in place not only to meet the jobs of today, but to meet the jobs of the future.”

A new state program started in 2013 provides $3 million annually to cover the some of the costs of equipment, materials and other expenses for apprenticeship programs in Iowa.


Manpower report shows majority of businesses to maintain staff levels

logo_manpowerA new report shows a lot of Iowa companies plan to boost their workforces before the end of the year. The fourth quarter Manpower Employment Outlook Survey found 27 percent of the companies questioned about their hiring plans expect to increase staff levels between October and December.

Another seven percent plan to lay off workers, while 64-percent expect to maintain current staff levels. The figures are weaker compared to the hiring intentions in the third quarter survey, but leaders of Iowa companies are more optimistic about adding to their payrolls than they were one year ago.

While 27 percent of the Iowa companies surveyed expect to add workers over the next three months, more than 11,000 employers were surveyed across the U.S. and 21 percent anticipate adding to their workforces.



Boyden awarded state transportation grant to help with new mill

dotThe Iowa Transportation Commission awarded the small northwest Iowa city of Boyden a grant of nearly $285,000 today for street improvements to property for a new business.

Boyden Mayor Tim Lammers talked to the commission about the project. “Our community has been blessed with a kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We’re a little town of 700 people — a total tax base of about 32 million — and we have a feed company/elevator that is looking to spend 15 million dollars in our community,” Lammers says.

He says the new FCS feed mill will replace one in town and be in a better location and increase its capacity. “With the increased flow — we are currently doing about 700 tons a day — this will be about upwards of three-thousand ton,” Lammers explains. “So we are looking at about one hundred semi loads of feed being produced each day.” Lammer says the new mill will help areas farmers. “It’ll enhance the corn prices in the local area and it should by estimates bring about an extra million dollars of income to local growers. Because of our location being up in the northwest corner we’re about 30 miles from Minnesota and about 30 miles from South Dakota. So, we have the ability to export some of this extra feed to Minnesota and South Dakota.”

Lammers says the new mill will bring in at least 20 new good-paying jobs. “The average estimate from FCS is in that 47 to 49-thousand dollars a year range. And they are sustainable jobs,” Lammers says. “They are actually investing also in the pork production. They are building about 50-thousand pig spaces themselves — so they are actually providing the feed for their own buildings that they’ll be contracting to local growers.”

Lammers told the Transportation Commission the 20 new jobs is a conservative estimate, and the company thinks it could eventually have as many as 40 new jobs