# Economic Development

Is Iowa government decentralization a fantasy?

A provocative idea from Richard Lindgren, emeritus Professor of Business at Graceland University and a past president of the Lamoni Development Corporation in Decatur County. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I have lived in Iowa for almost 20 years of my life in total, over several tenures, and for the life of me, I still can’t understand why the voters of the state allow the degree of governmental centralization that exists in the Des Moines area while so many smaller towns in the state continue to experience demographic and economic decline.

Humor me for a bit and engage with me in a “What If?” exercise. What if all the jobs involved in running the Iowa state government were more equally distributed around the state, say on a per capita basis, or better, weighted to local economic need? In this world of high-tech communication, why does Des Moines, already awash in private and public economic development dollars, continue to hold such a disproportionate share of the jobs required to run the state government? We’ll look at the obstacles in a bit, but we first may need some “whack on the side of the head” re-imagining here.

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Unfolding Energy Release Iowa Energy Assessment and Planning For A Cleaner Future Report

Paritosh Kasotia is the founder and CEO of Unfolding Energy and was named to the Midwest Energy News list of “40 under 40” last year. She led the Iowa Energy Office until late 2014. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Unfolding Energy, a not-for-profit organization released its Iowa Energy Assessment and Planning for a Cleaner Future Report. The report is intended for the State of Iowa, elected officials, Iowans, and potential political candidates as a resource to guide the Iowa Energy Office’s planning process as they work towards creating a statewide energy plan.

The report provides an overview of Iowa’s energy production and consumption patterns and dives into Iowa’s current regulatory and policy framework in the context of climate change, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and building codes. Other sections of the report examines the potential for various clean energy sources and concludes the report with recommendations that the State of Iowa should implement.

Excerpt from the report below

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A scandal waiting to happen

Governor Terry Branstad’s plan to transform the Iowa Department of Economic Development into a public-private partnership won approval from the Iowa House this week. House File 590 would create an Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress, with three separate boards supervising various aspects of economic development work. Supporters say they have worked to make Branstad’s preferred model more transparent, but its convoluted structure invites the kind of abuses seen in other states where private entities have control over economic development incentives.

More details on House File 590 and its path through the Iowa House are after the jump.

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Next phase begins in battle over Iowa spending cuts

The Iowa House approved a major “deappropriations” bill, House File 45, on January 19 by a party-line vote of 60 to 40. Republican leaders fast-tracked what they call the Taxpayers First Act, which passed the House Appropriations Committee on the third day of the 2011 session. The bill would cut dozens of programs while increasing spending in a few areas. In addition, $327.4 million from this year’s surplus revenue would go into a new “Tax Relief Fund,” instead of being used to help close the projected budget gap for fiscal year 2012. This bill summary (pdf) lists the budget cuts and supplemental appropriations in House File 45. Click here for the full bill text.

Although the majority of speakers at a January 18 public hearing opposed the bill, and organizations lobbying against the bill outnumber those that have signed on in support, the House Republicans passed the bill with few significant changes. Democrats offered many amendments as floor debate went late into the evening on January 19, trying to save funds for the statewide voluntary preschool program, passenger rail, smoking cessation programs, and sustainable communities, among other things. Representatives rejected almost all those amendments on party-line votes. This page shows what amendments were filed, and the House Journal for January 19 contains the roll call votes.

House File 45 now moves to the Iowa Senate, which has a 26-24 Democratic majority. Democratic senators are likely to back increased expenditures for mental health services and indigent defense while opposing many of the spending cuts. After the jump I take a closer look at some of the most controversial provisions in House File 45.

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Tramontina resigns over problems with film tax credits

Talk about a bolt from the blue:

A memo from auditors investigating irregularities in a state tax-credit program for filmmaking paint a picture of movie producers and film executives taking personal advantage of the program and state administrators paying little attention.

The director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, Mike Tramontina, abruptly resigned Friday after allegations of mismanagement of the program surfaced. The department oversees the Iowa Film Office. The manager of that office, Tom Wheeler, was placed on paid administrative leave.

The departure of Tramontina, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Chet Culver in 2007, came after preliminary findings from auditors looking into allegations that filmmakers had purchased luxury vehicles for themselves.

According to the memo obtained by The Des Moines Register, auditors found a long list of bookkeeping lapses and poor oversight in the program, which has spent $32 million on tax credits for 20 film projects since its inception in 2007. The program was aimed at promoting filmmaking in Iowa as a way to contribute to the local and state economy.

The governor’s office announced Tramontina’s resignation at 4:56 pm on Friday. Culver also suspended the tax credit program until auditors complete a review of it.

State Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, told the Des Moines Register “he talked to state officials about problems with the movie tax credits about a month ago, when labor officials complained that few Iowans were getting hired to work on the movies.” Courtney raised those concerns again in a meeting with the Iowa Economic Development Board the day before Tramontina resigned:

“I’m hearing nothing but complaints that workers are being brought in from other states” during film productions in Iowa, Courtney said. “I don’t imagine we have a lot of Clint Eastwoods running around, but with a little training, we could be doing many of those jobs.”

Michael Tramontina, the state’s economic development leader, said he couldn’t put a number on how many jobs are created, since many are temporary – from contractors used to build sets to caterers and “extra” actors.

“Anecdotally from the film industry, it ranges from 20 to 60 percent Iowans” employed on films produced in Iowa, Tramontina said. […]

Tramontina said the agency is working to develop “employment thresholds” for a film, but hitting a number is complicated.

Employment requirements should depend on the kind of film being made – whether it’s a feature film being made over three to six months or a TV series that might run for years. […]

Courtney said lawmakers might need to address closing what he called “an open door” in film tax credits if Tramontina’s agency is unable to do it. He said most Iowa economic development incentives carry job-creation requirements. “Iowa has a bright future in the film industry, but we have to help the people who live here.”

While Republicans harp on the need to cut spending further, it’s equally important to subject every tax credit to scrutiny. The Iowa Policy Project has found that expenditures on tax credits for business have “skyrocketed” in recent years, far outstripping the rate of increase in spending from Iowa’s general fund. These tax credits should be on the table as legislators look for ways to balance the budget.

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Dave Murphy is working to strengthen rural economies

The Des Moines Register profiled Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now in Monday’s edition. The article mentioned the incredible success of the petition signed by more than 94,000 Americans. Two of the “sustainable dozen” candidates whom Food Democracy Now recommended for U.S. Department of Agriculture posts now work for the department. Drake Law Professor Neil Hamilton, also on the sustainable dozen list, is an “informal adviser” to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

You should read the whole Des Moines Register article. The most important passage is about how Murphy makes the case for changing agriculture policies:

[Murphy] pointed to a survey from the Organic Trade Association that showed that the U.S. sales of organic food grew nearly 16 percent between 2007 and 2008 to reach $22.9 billion. Organic foods now account for about 3.5 percent of all U.S. food sales.

For Murphy, sustainable farming is about more than the food.

He sees it as returning to a model of production that is better for the environment and one in which farmers can start without taking on deep debt to finance heavy equipment.

He said the agricultural policies today are stacked against farmers of small- to mid-sized farms in favor of larger operations. […]

Murphy stressed that he isn’t against large farm operations. He said sustainable practices can help farms of all sizes.

But Murphy does believe that the playing field ought to be leveled, for the benefit not just for smaller farms but for rural areas in general.

“That’s the best way to improve rural economies,” he said. “The more farmers there are on the land, the better it is for rural economies.”

Health and environmental concerns sparked my interest in buying local food produced sustainably, but Murphy is wise to connect the dots between agriculture policies and the economic future of rural areas. For more along those lines, read the feature on Murphy and Food Democracy Now from the Washington Post in March.

Speaking of Iowans who are incredibly committed to helping small and medium-sized farms thrive, Woodbury County’s rural economic development director Rob Marqusee has pledged to “eat only food grown within 100 miles of the Woodbury County Courthouse for the entire month of June 09 (and no meat will be allowed in the diet).” Keep an eye on Marqusee’s Woodbury Organics site next month, because he’ll be blogging about his food challenge.

Those interested in Murphy’s work should go read more on the Food Democracy Now site. Click here for past Bleeding Heartland posts that referenced Food Democracy Now’s work. Jill Richardson wrote more here about Murphy’s activist roots and the role he played during the Iowa caucus campaign.

If organic farmer Francis Thicke decides to run for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2010, expanding local food networks will be a major theme of his campaign.

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Events coming up this week

It’s been a week since same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa, and I’m happy to report that my hetero marriage has not yet collapsed under the strain of sharing rights with gays and lesbians.

Click “there’s more” to read about events coming up this week. As always, post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of something I’ve left out.

Advance warning: May 11-15 is Bike to Work week.

Registration is FREE. Over 500 Bike to Work Socks have been ordered from the Sock Guy. This year’s socks are green. Socks will be available at events throughout the week on a first come, first serve basis. (One pair per pre-registered rider.) Everyone who registers and takes the pledge is eligible for $1,000 in Bike Bucks for use in any sponsoring bike shop and many other prizes! Registration closes at Noon on Thursday May 14th. Questions? Check out Bike to Work Week events and businesses around Iowa at www.bikeiowa.com.

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Tell legislators to fund passenger rail in Iowa

Following up on my post from Wednesday, here’s another issue to bring up when you contact your state representatives and senators. (Hat tip to noneed4thneed.)

Iowa Global Warming is calling on supporters to advocate for at least $25 million in passenger rail funding as part of the huge infrastructure bonding package that is likely to pass. $25 million is less than 5 percent of the cost of the bonding bill.

I’m a fan of calling your elected officials rather than e-mailing this late in the session, because I am not convinced they get through all the messages in their in-boxes.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House switchboard: 515-281-3221

If you prefer to e-mail, Iowa Global Warming has made it really easy for you on this page. They also provide some talking points, such as

– The future of our state economy will be determined by the decisions we make now about infrastructure

– Reliable, efficient and economical rail service connecting Iowa to Chicago and other Midwest cities will ensure that Iowa can fully benefit from the regional economy

Iowa Global Warming has a sample letter ready for you to send, although it’s better to put these things in your own words if you have time.

This thread is for discussing anything Iowa progressives should bring up with their representatives and senators before the end of session. Don’t let anyone tell you elected officials don’t pay attention to how many voters they hear from on an issue.  

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Remember the economic case for healthy food

The Washington Post ran a feature in Wednesday’s edition about Iowan Dave Murphy, who founded Food Democracy Now in November. The whole piece is worth reading, but I particularly liked this passage about what Murphy is bringing to the sustainable food movement:

Perception gets you in the door in Washington. But it’s policy that keeps you in the room. The laws that govern food policy, such as the nearly $300 billion Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act that funds the school lunch program, are notoriously complex and political. “As a movement, we have not had nearly enough sophistication on policy,” [author Michael] Pollan said. “We’ve been outgunned by people who understand the Farm Bill.”

Equally important, Murphy says, is to recast the debate about good food from a moral battle to an economic one. Take the school lunch program, which Congress will review this year. Food activists have long argued that more fruits and vegetables from local producers should be included to help improve childhood nutrition. But Murphy says the better way to sell the idea to legislators is as a new economic engine to sustain small farmers and rural America as a whole. Talk about nutrition and you get a legislator’s attention, he said. “But you get his vote when you talk about economic development.”

Murphy is realistic that change won’t come quickly. He knows he is battling huge, entrenched corporations with better connections and more resources at their disposal. To succeed, he must unite grassroots organizations and persuade an array of other interests — health insurers, senior citizens and teacher lobbies, all of which have a stake in healthful eating — to join the fight. “If you want to change the ballgame, you have to address the policies that are responsible for the system we have in place,” Murphy said. “If you change policy, the market will change.”

Economic development isn’t what sparked my interest in eating locally-produced food raised without hormones, antibiotics or toxic chemicals, but it’s definitely the key to bringing policy-makers on board.

I learned that lesson from Woodbury County rural economic development director Rob Marqusee, who talked his county supervisors into approving amazingly good policies to promote local foods and organic farming. Marqusee runs the Woodbury Organics website, a superb resource on what I call the cold-blooded capitalist case for local foods.

On a related note, look what sustainable food producers have done for the economy of Hardwick, Vermont, an industrial town that fell on hard times during the 20th century. (Hat tip to La Vida Locavore diarist JayinPortland.)

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Five Iowa communities will receive "smart growth" assistance on rebuilding

A friend alerted me to this news release from the Rebuild Iowa Office. I’ve posted the whole release after the jump, but here is an excerpt:

Five Iowa communities affected by the tornadoes and floods of 2008 will receive assistance in recovering stronger and smarter through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) program.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) and the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) recently announced that New Hartford, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Iowa City have been chosen to receive expert technical assistance to help with growth and redevelopment.

This is good news, because rebuilding with smart growth principles in mind will bring economic and environmental benefits to those cities.

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Main Street redevelopment benefits whole communities

This article from Wednesday’s Des Moines Register is worth your time: Grinnell theater renovation sparks projects downtown

Bill Menner, a Grinnell area economic development leader, points to the $2 million renovation and expansion of the city’s longtime theater as a turning point.

The 2004 redevelopment of the Strand Theater attracted Washington, D.C., developer Dick Knapp. The 1976 Grinnell College graduate is buying his third building in downtown Grinnell.

The theater project attracted a $7 million investment from the city for new sewers, water mains and streetscape in downtown. It attracted small businesses such as Grinnell FiberWorks, a quilting shop that receives busloads of shoppers.

Redeveloping the theater “got people excited and brought people downtown,” said Jim Ramsey, president of Grinnell Private Investment Corp., the group that organized efforts to reopen the theater. “It’s hard to find a place to park, even during the middle of the week.”


The theater, owned by 20 investors including former owner Fridley Theatres, “is holding its own” financially. It was expanded from one screen to three with a donated building next door.

Ramsey said it also brings business into downtown restaurants, shops and coffeehouses and has generated excitement about downtown.

Businesses like Fareway rebuilt its grocery store near the city’s core. Also, some businesses that located on Iowa Highway 146 are looking to relocate downtown, said Ramsey, president of Ramsey-Weeks, a real estate, insurance and investment company.

Investing in downtown helps revitalize local economies, and renovating existing buildings is more environmentally friendly than new construction at the fringe of town.

The Strand renovation was one of 1000 Friends of Iowa’s Best Development Award winners in 2005:

Originally built in 1916, the single-screen theater closed in 2002 and the operators suggested it might be economically desirable to build a multiplex on the edge of town, allowing for more parking than the downtown had to offer. A group of local investors (Strand LLC) were gifted the theatre by its owners, as well as an adjacent building shell (no roof following a 1998 snowtorm).  They committed to creating a three-plex on the site of the theatre plus the adjacent lot.  A local fundraising campaign generated $100,000 to restore the old 1916 façade. The total project exceeded $1.5 million.

The building is a beautiful testament to Grinnell’s commitment to maintaining its historic downtown and making efficient use of its existing infrastructure. The renovation is a delightful integration of historic elements with modern technology.

1000 Friends of Iowa is accepting nominations for the 2008 Best Development Awards through this Friday, July 25. Click here for more details about the categories and how to nominate a project.

Click here for information about the Main Street program at the Iowa Department of Economic Development. That page has links explaining some of the benefits of renovating the streets and neighborhoods where our historic buildings are located.

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There is still time to nominate "Best Development" projects

Last month I wrote about 1000 Friends of Iowa taking nominations for their annual Best Development Awards.

The original deadline for nominations was June 25, but because flooding caused disruption in many communities that may have worthy projects, 1000 Friends of Iowa has extended the deadline for submitting a nomination to July 25.

Read my earlier post, or go here on the 1000 Friends of Iowa site, to find more information about the Best Development Awards, how to nominate a project, and the criteria used to judge nominees.

1000 Friends of Iowa taking nominations for Best Development Awards

The non-profit organization 1000 Friends of Iowa gives out Best Development Awards every year to recognize “quality development and redevelopment projects in Iowa and leadership that upholds our mission.”

Here is the organization’s mission statement:

1000 Friends of Iowa promotes responsible development that

   *  Conserves and protects our agricultural and natural resources

   *  Revitalizes our neighborhoods, towns, and cities; and

   *  Improves the quality of life for future generations

The awards are given in six categories:

   * New Residential

   * Renovated Residential

   * Renovated Commercial/Civic

   * New Commercial/Civic

   * Mixed Use

   * Leadership

After the jump you can find more information about how to nominate a project, as well as the criteria used to judge nominees. That information can also be found here.

To see photos and read about the 2007 award-winners, click here.

The 2006 winners of the Best Development Awards can be seen on this page.

Click here to see which projects won in 2005.

The deadline for nominations is coming right up on June 25, so spread the word and act quickly if you know of a worthy project.

More details about the Best Development Awards are after the jump.

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TIF-ed Off.

(For those getting sick of Presidential gossip. :-) - promoted by Drew Miller)

All this presidential stuff is okay, I guess.  But really people, even as a hard-core politics geek there is no way in heck I’m going to maintain interest and enthusiasm for 330-odd days until the caucuses, let alone the more than 20 months until the general.  We need something else to focus on as well or we will all go starkers, our friends and family will shun us.

Lately, my gaze has drifted lower towards local governance, especially local governement finance and economic development issues.  When we talk about economic development and growth in Iowa (as in most states now) the word, TIF enters the conversation pretty quickly.  More on TIFs and their uses and overuses on the flip.

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