Former Governor Terry Branstad unveiled a plan today to scrap the Iowa Department of Economic Development and replace it with a new public-private partnership. Branstad, a Republican who is seeking to return to office, says the  agency has become “dysfunctional.”

In an interview with Radio Iowa, Branstad cited the scandal at the Iowa Film Office within the D.E.D. along with the state’s highest unemployment in 24 years.  “Obviously it’s not working,” Branstad said of the agency he helped create more than 20 years ago.

Branstad said his plan would be similar to one in the state of Indiana, which “takes the best knowledge and experience from business leadership in Iowa, partner that with the people from state government that are professional developers and focus on the future.”

Branstad would call the new entity the “Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress” and he would be have his lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds, serve as its chairman.

“We’re going to do a cost benefit analysis of every program, and determine what ones work and what ones don’t,” Branstad said. “Keep the ones that work, and hopefully improve on them. Eliminate the ones that don’t and make it much more cost efficient and effective, and also just interactive so that the public and business decision makers can go on-line and see what Iowa has to offer and hopefully get their interest so we can sell them on expanding and creating jobs in our state.”

Branstad touted programs within the Department of Economic Development when he was governor.  Branstad said while the agency’s Tourism Department and Mainstreet program have done well, the problems outweigh the successes.

“I think what happened is we’ve just added and added and added, so now we have an alphabet soup of different programs, and they’re not clear, and there’s some overlap, and it is very hard for prospective businesses to determine the benefit,” he said.

Branstand would have the new entity focus on small businesses. “It’s been the regulatory climate and the lack of responsiveness of the bureaucrats in Iowa that’s hurt small businesses,” Branstad said.

Branstad said he is confident lawmakers would get behind the idea of the change. “I think, you know, with a new governor coming in, with fresh ideas based on experience that have worked in other states, I’ve got to believe that we’re going to be able to convince the legislature that we need to try something different, something that’s workable,” Branstad said. “And we’ve got a dysfunctional agency that’s mismanaged and cost the taxpayers of Iowa a lot of money, and we can’t afford to continue the status quo.”

Branstad said jettisoning the Department of Economic Development and started from scratch with a new public-private agency would help achieve his goal of creating 200,000 new jobs in Iowa. 

Governor Chet Culver speaking at the Iowa State Fair Tuesday.

Governor Chet Culver, the Democrat Branstad is challenging in November, said Branstad’s “one-page” plan is a retread, and lacks details. “We want to know, ‘where is the beef?’ when it comes to Terry Branstad’s plan for Iowa,” Culver said this afternoon during a news conference at the Iowa State Fair.  “And he’s certainly got it wrong in terms of economic development.”

According to Culver, former Branstad chief of staff Doug Gross — the 2002 Republican nominee for governor — was the first to advance this idea eight years ago. “Terry Branstad’s campaign manager yesterday said that the purpose of today’s press conference that Branstad had was to ‘put some meat on the bone,'” Culver said. “Well, we’re still looking for the meat.”

On Monday Culver admitted mistakes had been made in state agencies like the Department of Economic Development, but Culver said he’d learned some valuable lessons. 

Today, Culver defended the department’s record in the wake of Branstad’s call to dissolve it. “What Terry Branstad doesn’t know is that over the last three years we have worked successfully with 251 businesses across America and around the world including IBM and Microsoft and Google to bring 20,000 jobs to this state,” Culver said.  “And Terry Branstad wants to take us backwards on economic development.”

The “Where’s the beef?” slogan was first used by the Wendy’s fast-food chain in January of 1984 and former Vice President Walter Mondale used it two months later to ridicule Democratic rival Gary Hart’s campaign.  Culver is now employing the phrase in his 2010 contest with former Governor Terry Branstad.

“He’s got no plan on economic development. He’s not got no plan on the budget and he’s got no plan on education,” Culver said. “So I ask him: Where is the beef?…There is no meat on the bone.” 

Branstad argues the Department of Economic Development is dysfunctional, and it would be better to forge a new agency that’s a new public/private partnership between state government and private sector groups like the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Chamber Alliance and the Iowa Business Council.  Culver counters that Branstad’s “out of touch.”

“We’ve had public/private partnerships at that agency for many, many years. That’s what it’s all about,” Culver said.  “That’s how we leveraged $7 billion in capital investment is through the public/private partnership that that already exists at the Department of Economic Development.”

(Additional reporting from O. Kay Henderson at the Iowa State Fair.)