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Vision North Iowa leaders lay out five-year economic plan

MASON CITY | At the start of the 21st century, Cerro Gordo County had 46,447 residents. 

The U.S. Census' latest estimate, taken in 2017, lists that total at 43,006 people.


Despite that decrease in population, many local leaders displayed a positive attitude Tuesday morning, as Vision North Iowa and its partners laid out their five-year economic development strategic plan for the region.

That included Brad Barber, who opened his first Cabin Coffee location in Clear Lake in 2002. After other local leaders presented aspects of the plan, Barber called on the county's citizens and local media to focus on the positives the county has to offer.

"It's a long road ahead, but it's getting better every day," he said.

Vision North Iowa is a "initiative to create a multi-jurisdictional strategy for regional economic growth and prosperity," according to its website. 

Before various stakeholders outlined specifics of the five-year-plan, a video by Vision North Iowa was presented to the audience on the third floor of the North Iowa Commerce Center. It highlighted some of the key issues Cerro Gordo County is facing, including:

  • A decrease in household income
  • An aging population
  • A decrease in overall population

Chad Schreck, president and CEO of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation, told reporters and the audience the last point is a primary concern moving forward.

"When we talk to employers and people, that's always something that comes up," Schreck said. "We've been talking about it for years."

But according to local political and economic leaders, it's those people in the region who have to move the county forward.

"We all know that people are North Iowa's greatest asset," Mason City Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Robin Anderson said. "The centerpiece of this plan's purpose is to invest in people."

The plan itself is broken into four parts: unifying North Iowans around a common vision, creating an environment that retains and equips young North Iowans for the future, investing in entrepreneurship and similar businesses and increasing business marketing in the area.

In the official report, which is more than 100 pages long, each one of those goals is further highlighted and broken down, featuring a multitude of data and bullet points on how to better Cerro Gordo County and North Iowa. 

Despite many challenges, officials remain optimistic that with the right stakeholders at the table, growth will occur.

"I think we're taking regionalism to the next level," Cerro Gordo Board Chairman Casey Callanan told the audience. "Ten or 15 years ago, I don't think you would've seen a panel like this."

Along with population decline, officials pointed to not enough of the right housing for people in the county as an issue moving forward. There also needs to be more opportunity for young people, including high school students, to further their job experience.

"It's about opening eyes of young people to the real jobs that are here," North Iowa Area Community College Steve Schulz said about that latter issue.

One audience member asked how the key stakeholders in the project are going to ensure that the proposed plan produces results.

Tim Coffey, CEO of the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, said residents have the right to question officials, especially as the plan moves forward.

Clear Lake Mayor Nelson Crabb, however, said the people who drive the plan's success will not be elected officials, but the everyday people who live in Cerro Gordo County.

Crabb called on those residents to better the county, asking: "What's gonna help the other people in this region become successful?"

GGMollyM / File photo 

Wade Bonnema, left, and James Wiele grab a piece of steel as it comes out of the bin sidewall machine at Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield in November 2014. The machine shapes the sides of grain bins built at the plant.

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Sukup president: Iowa farmers, manufacturers have 'most to lose' in trade war

DES MOINES - Gov. Kim Reynolds, joined by Iowa farm leaders Tuesday, said she has received assurances from top federal officials that Trump administration officials are working on plans to "mitigate" losses to Iowa farmers that may result from an international trade dispute with China.

Citing a "very fragile agricultural economy," the governor said expectation of federal help coming soon for Iowa farmers was the outgrowth of a conversation she had with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Mick Mulvaney, the president's director of the Office of Management and Budget, but she did not have details she could release.

"They're working on an option for Iowa farmers. They don't want them to be the casualty in this trade dispute and they've made that very clear," said Reynolds, who noted a federal program of "some kind" was being worked on to help lessen the economic losses farmers may incur due to a potential tariff war.

"They're working through the details," the governor told reporters at her weekly news conference.

"The fact of the matter is they're talking, they're working and the president has asked them to do something," Reynolds added. "I would think it's forthcoming. I don't know if it will be tomorrow or the next day. I can just tell you that they're working on it and that the secretary's assurance to me is that it can be done through USDA and he also said that he knows that the president and the Congress also understand the impact that this has to farmers and so they would be willing to also be a part of making sure that we could mitigate some of the damages caused by the trade dispute."

GGMollyM / File photo 

Wade Bonnema, left, and James Wiele grab a piece of steel as it comes out of the bin sidewall machine at Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield in November 2014. The machine shapes the sides of grain bins built at the plant.

At the same time, there was obvious nervousness among the leaders of commodity groups and farm organizations who joined the governor in pushing for a swift resolution of a trade dispute that could carry long-range negative consequences for manufacturers, farmers and workers in Iowa.

"Iowa stands to face a disproportionally negative impact if this dispute is not resolved in a timely manner," said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, who noted the state exports $1 billion of pork and $14 billion in soybeans to China.

Greg Hora, a Webster County farmer who is president of the roughly 6,000-member Iowa Pork Producers Association, said pork farmers already have been hit with declining prices even through no tariffs have taken effect while Bill Shipley of the Iowa Soybean Association said trade wars involving food are a "lose-lose" proposition and food should not be "a pawn" in trade negotiations.

"To say China matters to U.S. soybean farmers would be an understatement," said Shipley, who invited Trump to visit his Nodaway farm to see production agriculture in action during the spring planting season.

"We're pretty well locked into what we're going to plant this year already. We can't change that," Shipley said. "If allowed to take hold," a prolonged trade war "could jeopardize the ability of Iowa farmers to do business in China for generations," he added. "I would hate to see those relationships go by the wayside."

Steve Sukup of Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield said his company uses about 1 million pounds of U.S.-made steel per week - and the price of that steel has gone up 40 percent. The price of the company's grain bins and other products has gone up about 20 percent.

"There hasn't been a trade war that the U.S. has won and farmers, manufacturers and Iowa workers have the most to lose," said Sukup, a former state representative who ran an unsuccessful 2002 bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Iowa.

Reynolds signs bill imposing financial sanctions against Iowa 'sanctuary cities'

DES MOINES - Gov. Kim Reynolds signed 17 bills into law Tuesday, including controversial legislation to impose financial sanctions against local governments that fail to cooperate with federal officials in enforcing immigration laws in Iowa.

Senate File 481 will require law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration detainer requests for people in their custody under policies to be in effect by next Jan. 1.

In addition, the legislation prohibits local governments from discouraging their enforcement officers or others from activities related to enforcing immigration laws.

The legislation imposes financial sanctions against local governments that backers say are providing sanctuary to potentially illegal immigrants rather than cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in enforcing federal laws in Iowa Backers say the legislation was enacted to address situations that arise when federal immigration officials believe someone in custody is in the country illegally and subject to deportation.


The measure also would discourage so-called sanctuary cities or sanctuary counties in Iowa.

After the governor signed the bill, Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director, issued a statement saying her organization views the law as unconstitutional.

"Let's be clear. It violates a person's constitutional rights for lowa law enforcement to hold them without a warrant or probable cause of a crime," Bettis said in a statement. "But that is what ICE detainer requests ask Iowa law enforcement to do. That's because ICE "detainer requests" are exactly that: an ask of local law enforcement to hold a person without a warrant or probable cause. As a result of this, we are deeply concerned about the passage of S.F.481 and will strive to defend the constitutional rights of Iowans against unlawful detentions."

Critics opposed the bill as an unfunded mandate for local entities by requiring them to hold people without a court order and makes them potentially financial liable while not providing any money to cities and counties for their costs. Opponents also charged the bill was intended to score political points while scaring, intimidating and dividing Iowans.

"This law does not reflect Iowa values, and we will continue to defend each other because we believe that we all belong. Everyone sill has rights, and we will continue to fight for everyone's rights." said American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Iowa Director, Erica Johnson. "Our country has seen unjust laws in the past. And just like we did then, we will stand up against SF481 and call for dignity and justice for all people in Iowa, regardless of immigration status."

The legislation requires local governments in Iowa to comply with federal detainer requests, prohibits them from adopting policies that discourage immigration enforcement activities and bars discriminatory practices. It creates a sanction whereby offending local entities could be denied state funds for up to 90 days for violating the law's provisions. That would apply to road-use tax funds, state property tax replacements, tuition replacement, flood mitigation projects, community college funding, Iowa Economic Development Authority grants and other state funds.


Cambridge Analytica report touted success of its ads for U.S. senator from Iowa

DES MOINES — A data analytics company that collected Facebook users’ personal information, allegedly to create voter profiles in an attempt to sway elections, also helped Joni Ernst’s 2014 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Iowa.

Cambridge Analytica gathered information from 87 million Facebook users to create voter profiles, according to Facebook. A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower alleges the data was used improperly to aid President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.



Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress on Tuesday, facing questions about whether the social media giant did enough to protect users’ privacy. And special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible connections between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign, according to multiple media reports.

Cambridge Analytica created digital ads supporting Ernst’s campaign in 2014. A company report later touted their success.

In its post-election report, Cambridge Analytica touted the success of its digital advertising created for multiple campaigns across the country. Two example included the Ernst campaign: one had a photo of Ernst with her husband and daughter that reads, “Joni Ernst an Iowa mom with a plan,” and another with photos of then-Congressman Bruce Braley and President Barack Obama that reads, “Washington loves school bureaucrats.” The report touts the number of clicks each ad received.

The Ernst campaign did not pay for the ads. The political committee run by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, paid Cambridge Analytica $133,333 to create digital advertising to support Ernst. The payment was dated Oct. 24, 2014, just 11 days before the election, online federal campaign finance records show.

A spokeswoman for the Ernst campaign said the campaign did not take donations from or employ Cambridge Analytica’s services.

“Many groups run ads independently, without permission or consent of candidates or elected officials,” Ernst campaign spokeswoman Brook Hougesen said in an email. “Sen. Ernst is pleased that congressional hearings are underway to look into the misuse of Facebook data.”

According to online federal campaign finance records, Robert Mercer, principal owner of Cambridge Analytica, donated $5,200 to Ernst’s campaign in 2013. In 2014, he donated $350,000 to a political committee that funded television campaign ads that praised Ernst and criticized Marc Jacobs, another Republican in the U.S. Senate primary.