BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEVER – U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) made his first stop at the $3.25 billion Iowa Fertilizer Company facility on Wednesday and called the facility “massive”.
As part of the 85-year-old legislator’s annual 99-county tour around Iowa, IFC dignitaries gave him a 25-minute tour and then Grassley offered a 20-minute Q&A before heading to Keosauqua to meet with Iowa Farm Bureau members.
Iowa Fertilizer Co. invested $3 billion in the facility, while tax incentives as part of a combined state and local economic incentive package contributed roughly $140 million to the project. Groundbreaking on the facility took place in 2012 with operations beginning in April of 2017.
Currently the plant employs roughly 240 full-time employees, which plant manager Darrell Allman said is more than the company originally planned to hold.
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Annual payroll, according to officials at the facility, contributes $25 million and annual maintenance spending adds another $25 million to regional pocketbooks.
The facility is the first world-scale greenfield nitrogen fertilizer facility built in the U.S. in more than 25 years, and produces 1.7 to 2.2 million tons of fertilizer products each year.
“Well, it’s pretty massive and pretty helpful to American agriculture so you don’t have to import so much nitrogen,” Grassley said.
“I think the jobs it creates are pretty good paying jobs I would guess. To have a $3 billion investment in Iowa is a pretty big investment.”
With the $140 million public investment, the largest in Iowa history, Grassley said it was something the state had to do.
“It could be taking money out of one pocket to put it in the other, but let me tell ya, if Iowa didn’t do it we wouldn’t have any economic development because 49 other states are doing it. So whether it was good idea or not, if you want to be competitive you gotta do it,” Grassley said.
Grassley talked about the impact of heavy rainfall and tariffs on agriculture in the state. As a former farmer, Grassley said 92% of Iowans have crop insurance and that, coupled with preventative planting, and an additional $16 billion in government aid announced last week, farmers do have some options although conditions are not optimal
He said Trump has gotten further with China on discussions of tariffs than he ever thought he would have.
“This is the first president going to back to Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama that’s really gotten tough with China,” he said.
But he said Trump is making progress on leveling the playing field with China, and it’s just a matter of knowing who you’re dealing with and both sides negotiating in good faith.
“We thought we were at the 10-yard line with them and then a couple weeks ago, China moved it back to the 30-yard line,” he said.
He also was questioned about workforce and skills gaps. Grassley said current STEM initiatives and a culture change in education could help fill those gaps.
“Many manufacturers in Iowa have told me, ‘We’ve been going down into the high schools and the middle schools to tell people what’s available in our community and they said after a few years of doing that they are seeing some success.”
He also told the group that in his generation, the idea was that if you didn’t get a college degree you weren’t going to make as much money and have job security.
But he said now only 35% of people going to college end up getting a degree.
“You’re just now starting to hear that not everyone’s gotta have a college degree. We’re waking up to the shortage of the skills we need,” he told the group.
The visit took place a few hours after federal investigator Robert Mueller made his first public statements on the final report looking at possible criminal activity of President Donald Trump and his campaign team regarding possible obstruction and Russian collusion activity surrounding the 2016 election.
Grassley said Mueller indicted 25 people and spent two years digging into the issue.
“After two years and $35 million there was no collusion and no crime, so it’s about time it ends,” Grassley said.
“Think about the 28 people he indicted. Maybe you can’t prosecute a sitting president under rules of the justice department. but if it was so bad he could have made a determination of prosecution and the first day the president leaves the office of the presidency he could have been prosecuted.”