BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Speaking to a full crowd of county economic, business, and education officials, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said efforts going on in Lee County will help solidify a future workforce.
Reynolds was speaking at the Lee County Economic Development Group’s Salute to Industry Summit Thursday afternoon at Comfort Inn and Suites. Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg also spoke.
LCEDG officials also gave out their 2nd annual Grow Lee Awards to many different manufacturers in the county.
Joe Steil, LCEDG CEO, opened the summit with remarks about the impact of local manufacturing on the county’s economy.
“Twenty-five percent of all jobs in the county are manufacturing. This estimates to $250M in annual wages. Industry in Lee County is a lifeline, a lifeline to Lee County’s economic existence.”
Steil said collaboration at all levels of state and local government, economic development partnerships, and academic leaders helps the county and region overcome obstacles.
“If one partner wins, we all win. Demonstrated by the recent completion of Iowa Fertilizer Company, regionalism makes southeast Iowa a much stronger competitor on a regional, a national, and an international level for industrial recruitment,” Steil said.
He said collaboration with existing utility and industrial partners is critical for infrastructure planning and development and future industrial leads. He said those collaborations also help in solving the area’s workforce problems, which is still one of the top issues facing industries in the county.
Reynolds said the state is looking to move the state’s economy from its current $29 billion to $32 billion by 2022.
“This is exactly what you’re doing here by helping us raise awareness, talking about the importance of, and giving a salute to industry,” she said. “In Lee County 4,100 people work in the manufacturing sector which represents 25% of the job market and, as you heard earlier, that equates to $250 million in annual wages. It’s really amazing what you’ve done over the past few years.
“A few short months ago we were down here for the grand opening of the Iowa Fertilizer Company through your hard work and your investment collectively, your unemployment rate has dropped from over 11% to 6.3%. We still have work to do but it demonstrates the progress that you’re making. Since Jan. 2009 unemployed Lee County residents has dropped from 2,000 to 1,051.”
Reynolds said it’s important to show parents and Iowans the rewarding and high paying jobs that are available in the state.
“We need to provide them a pathway through training and additional education,” she said.
She said the state’s Future Ready Iowa Initiative, systematically connects K-12 and beyond with the workforce and is a collaborative approach that works by cultivating partnerships across the state.
“One of our goals is to have 70% of all Iowans have education or training beyond high school by 2025. And community colleges are big part of making that happen.”
Reforming the tax structure is a priority with Reynolds. She said the code books are complex and should be simplified and made more competitive.
After the summit, Reynolds said recent incentives awarded to companies coming into the state are a result of a non-competitive tax code.
“Part of the problem that causes us to use incentives is that our tax structure is not competitive,” Reynolds said. “We have one of the highest corporate tax structures and rates in America. That’s why we have to use incentives within reason. As we look to reduce the taxes and make them simpler and more competitive that will reduce our reliance on those. Some still make sense, but we need to do our due diligence on them. But it starts with our tax structure and if we can bring that inline it will help reduce the need for incentives.
She said there still seems to be some misconceptions about how the state awards incentives.
“The narrative is that we write a check, but that’s not the case. It’s a tax credit and they have to build facilities and execute on their end to get the tax credit.”
Outside the summit, protestors stood at the exit of the hotel with signs to reverse the changes to Chapter 20 of the state code regarding bargaining rights of public employees, and telling state leaders to leave the state’s pension fund alone.
Randy Schultz, with PPME local 2008, a union that represents the public employees in Lee County, said outside groups are working to rig the system and are offering to do free studies to look at the perceived inefficiencies of the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System with an effort to move it to a 401k based system.
“We’re hoping to draw attention to the fact that public employees are under attack in this state. We’re under attack because of changes in legislation and that’s just the first thing that happened. Next up is IPERS. Thye want to make it look like IPERS is in trouble. There’s folks like Americans for Prosperity have offered to a do a free study for the state. Wasn’t that nice of them.
“The current public employees and retirees are going to end up suffering as well as new hires. You can rig things so they fail and that’s what’s going on here. You start deferring funds in a different direction obviously the pension’s going to be in trouble and that’s what they’re trying to do right now.”
As part of the summit, LCEDG Chief Operating Officer Dennis Fraise announced winners in several categories at the summit.
The 2017 Legacy Award winners went to Decker Manufacturing, Henniges Automotive, Pipeline Cleaners, and Seither and Cherry.
The Workforce Champion Award was given to Axalta Coating Systems, Climax Molybdenum, Huffman Welding & Machine, Iowa Fertilizer Company, Pinnacle Foods, Roquette American, Siemens Gamesca Renewable Energy, Silgan Containers, and Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing.
The LCEDG also awarded Scotts Miracle Grow the “World Record Champion Award” for their efforts in helping the LCEDG set a world planting record in 2016.