The mayor of the city President Obama is visiting this afternoon says Newton will be dealt a huge set-back if congress doesn’t extend tax credits for the wind energy industry.
“We could lose half the jobs we created over the last three years,” says Newton Mayor Chaz Allen says.
Obama Administration officials chose Newton as the site for the president’s speech about “clean energy” initiatives because the city is home to a plant that makes the towers for wind turbines and another plant that makes the blades for the turbines. Obama will speak at TPI Composites in Newton, the plant where wind turbine blades are made. The company’s CEO says they’re already seeing a decline in orders due to uncertainty about federal tax policy. Allen says that’s because the tax credit for utilities that own wind turbines is set to expire on December 31.
“Until this is passed the people that actually put the towers up aren’t going to order as many because they don’t know what’s going to happen in 2013,” Allen says.
Newton’s population swelled to 16,000 when the Maytag Corporation was in its heyday. But Whirlpool bought Maytag in 2006 and shut down the corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant in Newton in 2007. Allen and other city leaders urged former Maytag workers to help Newton “reinvent” itself. Some former Maytag workers got jobs in the two plants making components for wind turbines and Allen says the city’s population has held steady.
“We actually produced a (city) budget last year that would have shown probably 1000 to 1500 people gone, so when the Census came in and we saw that we only lost 300, it was a very pleasant surprise,” Allen says.
More than 15,000 people live in Newton today.
Allen has been invited to the president’s speech, a private event in Newton. The mayor intends to give the president a picture drawn by a fifth grader from nearby Baxter, Iowa. Obama visited Newton in 2009, speaking at the manufacturing plant that makes wind turbine towers, and Obama signed the “Flat Stanley” Allen’s daughter had colored — it’s hanging on her bedroom wall today. A 1964 children’s book about “Flat Stanley” has spawned a series of adventure books and even iPhone apps so children can decorate the character themselves.