October 22, 2014

State unemployment rate up to 4.6% in September

Workforce-DevelopmentThe Iowa Workforce Development agency is reporting the state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.6 percent in September from 4.5 percent in August. IWD spokesperson Kerry Koonce isn’t surprised. “You’re seeing transition between summer and fall employment, so we’ll frequently see a little bit of bump this time of year,” Koonce says.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in September compared to 6.1 percent in August. The number of unemployed Iowans increased to 77,900 in September from 76,500 in August. There are roughly 3,000 more unemployed Iowans compared to a year ago.

Koonce says there was also an increase in the total number of working Iowans. “It jumped from 1,626,400 (in August) up to 1,629,700 (in September),” Koonce says. “That’s 33,000 higher than it was this time last year, so that’s still very strong improvement for the economy.”

Iowa’s construction sector added 1,600 jobs in September, following an “unexpected” loss of 1,200 jobs in August. Construction has added jobs in five of the last six months. Education and health services also added 1,300 jobs last month. “We did see some losses in trade and transportation (-1,000 jobs), with most of that in the transportation area,” Koonce says. “We also saw losses in leisure and hospitality (-1,600), which does tend to trend down this time of year.”

Employment in Iowa’s construction, health care, and finance sectors are at or near record levels, according to Koonce. Manufacturing trimmed 100 jobs last month, marking the fourth straight month that sector has cut employment in Iowa. “We saw large growth (in manufacturing) last year, so that’s just kind of leveling off,” Koonce says. Compared to one year ago, there are around 400 fewer jobs in Iowa’s manufacturing sector.

Senator Grassley says Burger King protestors have the wrong focus

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

A protest is planned this afternoon outside a Burger King in Des Moines, demonstrating against the company’s proposal to move its headquarters to Canada. The list of speakers at the 4 P.M. event includes the heads of two unions, a local teachers’ association and the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says the protesters should be focusing their efforts elsewhere. “They ought to be demonstrating to Congress to change the corporate tax laws, reduce the corporate tax rate so we’re competitive,” Grassley says, “and at the same time, any organization is going to have to be able to compete in the United States and expand their business or they won’t be in business.”

Burger King, which has more than 75 Iowa restaurants, is planning to acquire a successful Canadian donut shop chain and would move the fast-food company’s headquarters from Miami to Toronto. Grassley, a Republican, says the move is understandable, given America’s tax structure. He say the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35-percent while states add another four-percent — for a total of 39-percent.

“We’ve got to reduce the corporate tax rate to at least what the international average is of about 23%,” Grassley says. “Think how uncompetitive we are at 39, get it down to 23 so we can compete.” Drug store chain Walgreens came under fire in August after its leaders announced they were considering a plan to move the corporate headquarters overseas.

In an interview with Radio Iowa in August, Grassley called the United States’ tax system “unpatriotic” as U.S.-based companies have a very hard time competing in the global marketplace. Burger King is the latest corporation to weigh such a move.

“It’s another example of several other companies that are trying to be internationally competitive and do it in a way that compensates for the biggest corporate tax rate in the entire industrialized world,” according to Grassley. A former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley says U.S. corporations are storing up to two-trillion dollars in offshore accounts, money that could be used for “economic good” in the U.S.

 

Marion companies breaking ground for expansion

Construction is underway at the ELPLAST site.

Construction is underway at the ELPLAST site in Marion.

Two companies are scheduled to break ground on big projects this week in the eastern Iowa town of Marion. ELPLAST manufactures a brand of press to close zippers on flexible packaging, such as those used on a bag of shredded cheese.

ELPLAST, based in Poland, is opening its North American headquarters in Marion. Chad Rupert, president of ELPLAST America, told KCRG-TV that he lived in Chicago, but moved to Iowa when his wife accepted a job in Cedar Rapids.

“When we started looking for property (for ELPLAST), we looked in Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, and Marion,” Rupert said. “To be honest the city of Marion, from a business perspective, was doing all the right things. They’re very cooperative and it was a pretty easy decision.”

ELPLAST will break ground Wednesday on a 33,000-square-foot facility in the new Marion Enterprise Center, located off Highway 151 just east of town. Rupert anticipates the first phase of the project will create 30 to 35 jobs, but the operation could grow to as many to 80 jobs.

Legacy Manufacturing is also moving into the Marion Enterprise Center. The longtime Marion company makes lubrication equipment, water and air hoses, and other products. Mark Weems, President of Legacy Manufacturing, says they’re building a $10.4 million facility that will more than double their current space.

The hope is that the new building will allow them to make more parts for their products, rather than getting them from overseas. “This facility is critical because it will give us the space to bring American manufacturing jobs back to Marion, Iowa,” Weems said. Legacy plans to break ground on the 125,000-square-foot building late this afternoon.

The Marion Enterprise Center is a 180 acre industrial park. Legacy Manufacturing and ELPLAST are the first two tenants. There are still approximately 150 acres for sale at the industrial park.

By Heather Hubbs, KCRG-TV

 

State gives economic development incentives to Sioux City, Ankeny, Dubuque

IDEDThe Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board today approved state incentives for a food plant, an insurance firm and a railcar maintenance facility. IEDA spokesperson, Tina Hoffman, says the railcar facility will be built in western Iowa.

“Trinity Industries is going to be building a new facility in Sioux City and creating 250 jobs as part of that. This project has a capital investment $29.5 million,” Hoffman says. “They will have an operating facility to do railcar maintenance, to do railcar remanufacturing there have been some new regulations that have gone into effect that really are demanding a reworking of railcars. So, that’s and industry need and this is a great project for Sioux City.”

The company won an award that is specific to cities on Iowa’s borders. “We actually have 5 around the state that are able to use this program, and over the course of the next 8 years as these jobs are created by Trinity Rail, they could receive $1.9 million, based on the jobs that are created,” Hoffman explains.

The program involves the taxes paid by the new workers, as Hoffman says the withholding taxes of the new employees at the company are diverted back to the company as the new jobs are created. The company says 160 of the new jobs will pay around $17 an hour.

Another award went to an eastern Iowa company for insurance services. “Kunkel and Associates is an insurance consulting firm that is going to do a project in Dubuque. It will be an expansion for them and will have a capital investment of $2.4 million, and will create 18 new jobs,” Hoffman says.

The board awarded them a $128,000 half-loan, half-forgiveable loan under what’s called the “High Quality Jobs Program,” along with some tax credits. The company promises to create at least 16 jobs of the 18 which will pay more than $20 an-hour.

Mrs. Clark’s Foods in Ankeny also won state incentives today. “This is a $7.3 million project that would add an additional 69,000 square feet for warehousing and refrigeration. The board awarded them tax benefits through the high-quality jobs program and that will help them create 13 new jobs,” Hoffman says.

The jobs will pay $25.52 an hour. Mrs. Clark’s Foods makes fruit and vegetable juices, salad dressings and other sauces.

 

Fired GOP staffer files suit, alleges hostile work environment in state senate

Kirsten Anderson during an appearance on WHO TV.

Kirsten Anderson during an appearance on WHO TV.

A woman who worked for Republicans in the Iowa Senate for five years has filed a lawsuit alleging she was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment and was fired seven hours after she made a formal complaint to her boss. During an interview on WHO TV last year, Kirsten Anderson called the state senate a “toxic” place to work and she accused some senate staff and even some senators of harassing her and her female co-workers.

“Things that would make you blush,” Anderson said. “Things that you don’t want your daughter, your mother, your sister having to put up with and that sort of attitude about women — objectifying women — it has to change.”

Her former boss said last year that Anderson had been “given an opportunity to improve” during the last six months she worked as communications director for Senate Republicans, but was fired for “substandard work.” Anderson’s lawsuit was filed today and she’s seeking back pay and damages, plus she’s asking the court to order that state senators and their staffs undergo training as well as monitoring for three years to ensure the work environment is not hostile due to someone’s gender or sexual orientation. Anderson was one of 11 staff members hired to work for the 24 Republican members of the Iowa Senate.

“When you go to the workplace, you should have a safe environment,” Anderson said on WHO-TV in May of 2013. “Women, especially, should not have their body parts scrutinized, objectified…and those sorts of things were taking place at the capital.”

According to Anderson, voters “would not be happy” with the conduct of some of their state senators and during that TV interview 17 months ago, she hinted a lawsuit was coming.

“My goal is to change the work environment at the capital,” Anderson said. “..I’m willing to do what it takes to change that work environment.”

Anderson’s lawsuit alleges two female senators witnessed some instances of harassment, but did nothing to stop it. One of those state senators, Joni Ernst, is running for the U.S. Senate. Ernst issued a personal statement saying she was unaware of the issues Anderson has raised but, if she had witnessed what Anderson has described in her lawsuit, Ernst said she “would have put a stop to it.” Ernst said she is “shocked to learn” she’s even mentioned in the lawsuit and Ernst concluded her statement by saying she hopes Anderson “is not being exploited ahead of the election.”

The Des Moines attorney Anderson hired is Michael Carroll, who specializes in employment law. Most of the tweets on his personal twitter account — @carollmikej — are about sports, but a tweet this past July linked to a story about an alleged Ernst “gaffe” and the previous month Carroll tweeted at Chuck Grassley, saying “a guy like Grassley could handle a little ribbing” from Bruce Braley about Grassley’s lack of a law degree. Braley is the Democrat running against Ernst for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat.

 

Senator says she doesn’t ‘see a pathway’ for IWD director keeping job in 2015

Janet Petersen

Janet Petersen

A Democrat in the Iowa Senate says some of Governor Terry Branstad’s top administrators may not be reconfirmed for their jobs.

Governors choose their state agency directors, but two-thirds of the state senate must vote “yes” to confirm the appointment. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, says she doesn’t “see a pathway” for Teresa Wahlert to get reconfirmed as director of Iowa Workforce Development. Petersen cites the March incident in which 85 people who weren’t due unemployment benefits got them anyway and Wahlert directed staff not to discuss the computer glitch that caused the overpayment.

“Not only did she let down the business community who invests in the unemployment trust fund, but she also let down unemployed Iowans who count on the integrity of that firm,” Petersen says. “…I just don’t believe the state of Iowa should tolerate that type of leadership.”

Petersen, who is chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, says she doesn’t want to “name names,” but she’s hinting other Branstad administrators could lose confirmation votes in the senate next year.

“From the research that I have been doing, I believe there’ll be a number of administrations that might want to consider a different line of work,” Petersen says.

Petersen’s comments about whether Branstad’s top aides should remain in their jobs in 2015 suggests Senate Democrats are laying the groundwork for their approach to four more years of Branstad in the governor’s office. Branstad’s on the November ballot, seeking reelection to a sixth term. Even if Democrats were to lose majority control of the state senate, it would still require the votes of Democrats to reconfirm Branstad’s administrators. Thirty-two senators must vote “yes” on a governor’s appointment for that person to be confirmed for the job.

Workforce Development given money to upgrade unemployment payment system

The federal government is giving Iowa Workforce Development nearly two million dollars to upgrade the system used to track unemployment. IWD spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says they will be upgrading the technology of the system.

“Overall the intentions are to be able to make it so claims can be processed faster — that lets individuals get paid quicker — but yet the enhancements will be in the checkpoints where we validate information on individual Social Security numbers, their names, individual dependents and those kinds of things,” Koonce says. All the verifications should be faster and more accurate with the new system. “And that allows us to cut down on fraud, and cut down on overpayments and those kinds of things,” Koonce says.

The processing of unemployment payments became a political issue earlier this year when a computer malfunction in March sent $27,000 in unemployment checks to 85 people who weren’t due benefits. The led to questions from Democratic lawmakers about how I-W-D director Teresa Wahlert was doing her job. Koonce says while this grant addresses payment concerns, it is not directly related. “It was something that we had already applied for when the Department of Labor put it out, so yeah, it was in the works before that,” Koonce says.

Part of the upgrade includes some new security features. “It allows us to track some more information quickly, it’s allowing us to make the claim information available in more languages as Iowa becomes a more diverse population. And it is automating some of what we call cross-matching,” Koonce says. She says that’s where they match what an employer says they paid in unemployment to the people who are requesting unemployment to speed of the process of identifying overpayment quicker on that end.

They hope to get the new software installed as quickly as possible. “There’s different amounts of time for different components, but we are given about 18 months from the U.S. Department of Labor to get it all up and done,” Koonce says. “Our goal is to get it up and running before that, be we do have that time frame to work within.”

The agency has to create specific software tailored to Iowa’s system. “While unemployment is a federal program, there’s state laws that regulate it, so the unemployment program is not the same in every state, and therefore you can’t just take something off the shelf,” Koonce says. The $1.78 million for the upgrade is all from federal funds and does not have to be matched by the state.