BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The wheels are starting to turn again on an economic vehicle in Lee County called the Southeast Iowa Regional Economic and Port Authority.
The State of Iowa approved Code 28J in 2005 authorizing the creation of port authorities within the state of Iowa and Lee County jumped on the new law in 2006 and formed the first port authority in the state of Iowa.
Mike Norris, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, which provides administration for the organization, said past changes in Foreign Trade Zone rules have led port authority board members to evaluate new areas of impact for the organization. Establishing a site with pre-authorization for FTZ status was once a focus for the organization.
Cerro Gordo County in north central Iowa near Mason City is also considering forming a port authority, but currently the Southeast Iowa entity is the only one in the state.
“The Quad Cities Point Port of Entry eased the process of forming foreign trade zones through an alternative site framework which makes the application process easier. A while ago the FTZs were a hotter commodity because it was tough to get one, but that designation is easier to get now.”
He said custom duties, or taxes, on goods being imported to the country to create a finished product that is then exported, can be reduced or eliminated by companies operating in or through a Free Trade Zone, which is part of the attraction of port authorities.
SIREPA has been less active in recent months, but Norris said the group has gone through some normal cycles and circumstances since it was established and now new efforts are being made to educate people on the value of the designation.
“Our intent is to be a uniquely valuable organization to Lee County,” he said. “Over time we’ve been through cycles of opportunity and we are investigating new opportunities now.”
The group is controlled by a board of directors including two members from Fort Madison, two from Keokuk, and two from Lee County. Currently, those members are Mike Dunn of Keokuk, Kim Auge and Roger Keller of Fort Madison, and Denise Boyer of Lee County. One open spot is still available from Keokuk and one from Lee County. Lee County Supervisors Rick Larkin and Gary Folluo serve as liaisons to the board.
The SIREPA board also works in close conjunction with the Lee County Economic Development group.
“We’re working with LCEDG and are in close contact with them all the time, so we know who’s looking at sites and what RFPs they are receiving, and if there is something we can help with and be of assistance from the beginning,” Norris said.
“I think any time the county is looking to plan something or run something where it’s difficult for one entity to do, the Port Authority is the kind of entity that could own, manage, lead, and develop. It can do a lot of different things. If there are difficult questions out there about who could own it, manage it, the port authority should be in on those discussions. The organization exists to get involved in these larger complex projects.”
“SIREPA is alive and well. We are positioned to respond quickly to any opportunity that uses our unique abilities in economic development, education, freight, ports or other areas benefitting Lee County,” said Mike Dunn, SIREPA board member.