Governor Tom Vilsack will leave his mark on Iowa because of two major programs. The first, called Vision Iowa, hands out state grants for construction of major community attractions like the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines and the Mississippi River Museum complex in Dubuque. By design, local governments have to had come up with some cash to help bankroll the projects, too, and private donations have been raised.

Lowell Junkins, a former state Senator who’s a behind-the-scenes advisor to Vilsack, says Vilsack’s a policy-wonk who spent a lot of time working out the details of Vision Iowa and other state initiatives. Junkins says Vilsack is “one of the brightest individuals I’ve ever met in my life who has a superb ability to kind of capture all the details and one of the people who has an ability to kind of quickly get his mind around issues.”

After his re-election in 2002, Vilsack still had to work with a republican-led legislature, but the partisans sat down and created a huge new state economic development iniative called the Iowa Values Fund. The goal: hand out half a BILLION dollars over seven years to businesses that’ll expand or build a new enterprise in Iowa.

Ron Corbett, the president and C-E-O of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, says it’s been a boon to development.

“I think the people that are trying to get companies to locate here and new companies to grow and expand have been extremely supportive of the Values Fund and actually had, you know, pushed very hard to get that done. So, we’re pleased with the governor’s support of that and the legislature’s support of that also. We’re happy that a focus was and is being placed on economic development because we felt that it was somewhat lost in the first year or two of his term,” Corbett said during a Radio Iowa interview.

The state budget has been pared dramatically during Vilsack’s tenure as governor, and while other states have been forced to raise taxes to balance budgets, Iowa has not. Vilsack has said that’s one reason why Iowa needed to make such a big money committment to economic development and strike while other states were swimming in red ink. Next, the final installment in Radio Iowa’s series on Tom Vilsack’s career.