Skilled workers big issue in H.C.

Gwen Boeke introduces Gov. Terry Branstad at the town hall meeting held at Cresco Library on Oct. 19.

By Marcie Klomp

Gwen Boeke of Cresco welcomed Gov. Terry Branstad, her friend of 50 years, to a town hall meeting at Cresco Library on Oct. 19.

His first order of business was to speak of the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, a hometown hero. “Yesterday was Norman Borlaug Day in Iowa and we gave out the World Food Prize on Thursday night.” He also mentioned the statue of Borlaug that is being sculpted to be put in the nation’s capitol.

Branstad was governor of Iowa from 1983-1999 and was re-elected in 2010.

“People came to me and said, ‘The state is in financial trouble.’” They asked him to run again, two years ago, which he did. He explained how he had to make some tough decisions, such as cutting 780 state jobs, to get the government to run more efficiently.

When the fiscal books were closed, Iowa ended up having $260 million more than anticipated. “Iowa has it’s financial house in order,” he said. Iowa is the second most sound state in the nation, behind South Dakota. Our neighbor Illinois, on the other hand, is next to the last most sound state.

A goal of the Branstad administration is to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. He says the distinction will bring more people to Iowa. “We’re number 16 now,” he admitted.

Audience members then asked questions of the governor.

Allison Holton, NICC, regarding skilled workers.

She stated that she works with businesses in six counties in northeast Iowa who are in need of workers with skills.

“I hear that wherever I go,” replied Branstad. He added he was working on a workforce development program where people could continue to receive unemployment benefits while enrolled in a program that teaches manufacturing skills.

Harold Jensen, Howard-Winneshiek Tech Dept., on broadband.

“John Carver is our superintendent, and he’s got pretty lofty goals. He wants H-W to be the model of rural education by the year 2020,” Jensen said. He added the problem lies in not having adequate high speed access for everyone in the district.

The governor admitted, “I don’t have an easy answer, but I agree we need this not just for education but for economic development, too.”

Sen. Merlin Bartz spoke up, “Iowa Telecommunica-tions would be a great place to start.” Then Rep. Josh Byrnes replied there are a lot of rural telephone companies, such as his local Omnitel, who have a harder time keeping up with technology.

Branstad noted, “Property tax on rural telephone companies is higher than the property tax on other companies.” He is working to change that.

Amy Bouska asked why the Natural Resource Fund wasn’t being funded.

Branstad explained the way it was set up was that the Natural Resource Fund would be funded if the state passed to increase the sales tax. He agreed. “I don’t think raising sales tax is the answer.”

She asked how to get money to state parks. Branstad said he was on the Iowa State Parks Foundation that gets private funding to augment state funds. Getting donations is a good way to raise funds.

Jesse Stevens, Lime Springs Beef, introduced himself.

Every time Stevens started a sentence, the governor finished it for him. The governor joked, “I do know something about it!”

He explained he and DNR director Chuck Gipp rode from near South Dakota on another matter and talked about the business. Branstad knew it was a meat processing plant and that Lime Springs has an antiquated sewer system. He also knew Stevens was looking at some new German technology for the facility.

Stevens did accomplish to say, he was glad the governor’s staff and Rep. Josh Byrnes brought it to his [the governor’s] attention. “It was refreshing and amazing how your administration could move forward [with the problems].”

Branstad stated, “Chuck Gipp is a problem solver.” He clued the audience in, “The key to success is to surround yourself with good people.”

It was mentioned Stevens was looking at hiring 30 people initially and hopefully getting it up to 40. After listening to earlier comments, he was concerned about getting skilled labor to work in the processing plant.

Holton mentioned NICC is working with Stevens to help with training.

Dr. Wee, president of NICC, added, “We are putting together a play book for jobs.” This would give parents, students and schools an idea of what training is needed for area manufacturing jobs.

Byrnes spoke up that in Kansas, schools are working with kids to get them interested in different aspects of the workforce. It would be good to adopt that philosophy.

Holton summed it up. “We need to educate people on how manufacturing has changed.”

Connie Kennon, Regional Health Services, thanked the administration on keeping public health budgets level instead of cutting it as in past years.

Bouska asked about being 16th from the bottom on roads.

Branstad said the legislature is looking at infrastructure. The way to get money for roads is to raise the road use tax, which is hard to do with $4.00 gas.

Doug Berg, H-W school board member, asked about allowable growth.

At times in the past, there has been zero allowable growth. The governor noted this year it was at two percent and no decision has been made for next year.

He observed, “For 30 years, schools had allowable growth and we went from being the best in the nation [academically] to the middle of the pack. Allowable growth has not solved problems.” His solution is trying to tie funding to student achievement and allowing talented young teachers the opportunity to move up on their merits, not tenure.

He also suggested thinking differently about benefits. He gave the example of how he and many of the heads of his departments opted to pay for 20 percent of their own health insurance. “The private sector pays much higher than that.”

He said if every state employee would pay 20 percent of their health insurance, it would save the state $115 million. He recommends, counties, cities and schools to look at it, too.

Bartz then cited that H-W district has the second largest area in the state. He said a different formula should be figured according to area and not just a flat rate for transportation.

Byrnes agreed, “It would take some strain off the school district.”

Ruth Nelson was concerned about air quality in Iowa from a new mine in Minnesota.

Branstad said he wasn’t aware there was a big pollution problem but there are air quality requirements in Iowa.

Mark Murphy talked about biofuel.

“There is a new biofuel station here and we couldn’t have done it without the state government. Thank you.”

The governor replied, “I’m a strong supporter of biofuel. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy.

Murphy stated, “Big oil is upset over it and is spending a lot of money with propaganda.”

Branstad concluded, “I’m with you. We fight a lot of misinformation.”

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