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North Iowa Neighbor: Hohn champions Clear Lake’s offerings near, far
CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Clear Lake Director of Tourism Libbey Hohn talks about her nearly decade-long effort to promote the city of Clear Lake.

CLEAR LAKE | Growing up in Clear Lake, Libbey Hohn dreamed of escaping to a bustling big city with big-city amenities.

But once she did, she realized there was no place like the smaller North Iowa lake city she grew up in, so she returned with appreciation and pride.

“I do like to travel to bigger areas, but definitely, this is home,” she said.

For nearly a decade Hohn, 40, has championed the city of 7,500 and its unique offerings in food, entertainment and shopping to visitors near and far with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Hohn, the Chamber tourism director, manages a small staff of two part-timers and spearheads projects, like an award-winning visitor guide, social media marketing and a podcast, geared toward attracting people to Clear Lake to live, work or play.

“It’s a fun industry to be in,” she said. “People always want to talk about what there is to do, so getting out there and talking to people about how they like to take vacations and how they like to spend their free time is what it’s all about.”

Hohn, a 1997 graduate of Clear Lake High School, attended Iowa State University before returning to her hometown to work in the hospitality industry.

Prior to becoming the tourism director, she was the director of sales and marketing at Best Western Holiday Lodge in Clear Lake for nearly nine years and a member of the Chamber Board.

Hohn had worked in the hospitality industry since she was 16 years old, and today, remains active in the industry with the Chamber.

“I like the people you meet and the things you can learn,” she said.

High School boys basketball: Clear Lake seniors leave legacy

When the final buzzer sounded on Friday at Wells Fargo Arena, the Clear Lake boys walked off the court disappointed. Following the Lions 18 point loss to Winterset in the state tournament consolation round, some of the players wiped tears from their eyes.

Hohn said a lot of the things she learned at Iowa State about marketing “do not exist really in this current stage,” so she’s still learning new things, especially as technology and consumer needs change.

About five years ago, the Chamber began publishing its own visitor guide. It distributes about 30,000 copies of it annually, she said.

This year’s edition launched in January, and Hohn said the Chamber’s already distributed more than 23,000 and looking at its first reprint.

“We have some really great ad campaigns running and just a good buzz about Clear Lake that I'm really excited about,” she said. “Our tourism season starting up, and I think it will be a huge one this year.”

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Clear Lake Director of Tourism Libbey Hohn has spent nearly a decade promoting the city through the chamber of commerce and other campaigns.

Earlier this year, the Chamber launched a podcast on its website to showcase the “amazing things going on in Clear Lake” for a different audience.

Episodes have been produced about the Winter Dance Party’s 60th anniversary and the Color of the Wind Kite Festival.

Hohn said she’s lucky the Chamber and its board are open to “doing things that are outside the box.”

“They're very supportive of trying new things and reaching new markets, so that's really something that makes us successful,” she said. “Our Chamber has a lot of big support.”

Tim Coffey, who will retire as the Chamber’s executive director in June after seven years, described Hohn as “innovative and creative,” referring to her work with the Chamber in relation to the visitor guide, podcast and social media.

He said she’s been critical to the growth of the Chamber and the growth of tourism in Clear Lake and North Iowa.

“She’s a huge asset,” he said. “It would be an understatement to say her leadership has helped promote North Iowa to what it is today.”

Jennifer Larsen, Clear Lake city clerk, agreed.

“Clear Lake has a long history of playing host to numerous high-quality events, but Libbey has been able to build upon those and still market our tourism opportunities to bring in new and unique attractions that put our community in a positive position," she said.

Hohn attributes much of Clear Lake’s success to its namesake, a body of water with “a great reputation” that serves as a beautiful backdrop for a day trip or weeks-long vacation to the city.

The city’s vibrant downtown also attracts thousands for a variety of retail, dining and arts and entertainment opportunities within walking distance of its beach, park and lake.

“Most North Iowa towns don't have a lake to begin with, so the fact that we have one and it's just such a great natural resource and healthy, is amazing,” she said.

Hohn is also the current president of the Travel Federation of Iowa, a statewide grassroots organization dedicated to growing the state’s tourism industry through advocacy and education.

She received the Governor’s Volunteer Award from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. She was among more than 600 recognized during a ceremony in 2017.

In addition to working for the Chamber, Hohn started a human-trafficking awareness and prevention campaign in partnership with the Crisis Intervention Service in Mason City four years ago to train hotel employees and others on how to identify and report suspicious activity.

The program was expanded to Visit Mason City last year.

In April, there will be an awareness and prevention event featuring a film and guest speaker ahead of what will likely be a busy tourism season for North Iowa.

“It’s really important to me to let people know what things to look for,” Hohn said.

Hohn is also on the planning committee for the Everybody Plays inclusive playground, which will be located on 12th Avenue South within the 30-acre Outlet Complex on land donated by Clear Lake in 2017.

Fundraising for the $250,000 project began last spring, and Hohn said the committee is about halfway to its goal with hopes of beginning construction this year.

Hohn, the mother of two girls Jordan, 8, and Aspen, 5, believes an inclusive playground — a playground designed for all abilities — will be “a really awesome, magnificent draw” for Clear Lake that she’ll be able to market with the Chamber.

She’s also an admin of the “Clear Lakers” Facebook group started in 2015 to discuss information and issues related to the city. It’s independent of the Chamber and the city of Clear Lake.

“It has been a great resource for us and a lot of other people as far as getting volunteers and getting the word out about things,” Hohn said. “We’ve had a lot of success with it.”

The private group has nearly 7,000 members.

When Hohn isn’t working at the Chamber of volunteering, you can likely find her on the beach with her daughters or enjoying other amenities Clear Lake offers.

“We really make an effort to enjoy what we have here, and I’m proud to be part of Clear Lake,” she said.

Photos: Color the Wind Kite Festival in Clear Lake

Photos: Color the Wind Kite Festival in Clear Lake

Andrew Yang hopes progressive, human-centered ideas spread like wildfire in Mason City campaign stop

MASON CITY | If there was a summation for American entrepreneur Andrew Yang's presidential campaign stop in Mason City at the Hy-Vee East meeting room on Monday morning it would be: "human-centered."

That's how the former Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship under Barack Obama characterized his bevy of policy prescriptions which includes: universal basic income, using "geoengineering" to stem the tide of global climate change and Medicare for all.

And as expansive as some of the particular agenda items were, the 44-year-old Yang took care to talk about them in the simplest terms possible. 

Yang's universal basic income plan, referred to as "The Freedom Dividend," would deliver $1000 each month to every American adult between ages 18 and 64.

Revenue for the plan would be generated by a 10-percent "value-added tax" which would be levied on the goods and services a business produces.

Individuals on welfare programs, food stamps and disability would have the choice between their current benefits or the Freedom Dividend.

"No strings attached" is how Yang and his campaign characterize the plan which is based on the existing Alaska Permanent Fund.

That oil-revenue-funded government venture paid out about $1600 per individual in 2018 and has existed since 1976.

With the recurring cash infusion, Yang surmised American citizens would feel safer looking for more fulfilling work, getting additional education or possibly starting businesses of their own.

Yang also estimates that the Freedom Dividend would save between $100–200 billion "as people would take better care of themselves and avoid the emergency room, jail, and the street."

He even went so far as to suggest that the plan would help in the fight against global climate change.

"If we get a thousand bucks a month into people's hands they get their heads up," Yang said to the group of three dozen audience members. "Then if you come back and say: 'Hey, we need to worry about climate change,' they'll look at their children and say 'Yes we do.'"

Right now, Yang argued, many discussions around climate change drift back to more immediate concerns of scarcity. 

"If you go and say: 'Hey, we need to worry about climate change,' a lot of (Americans) will say: 'I can't pay my bills. The penguins can wait in line.'"

In tandem with that, Yang tossed out the idea of a carbon fee and dividend which would set an initial tax of $40 per ton of carbon emitted and use part of the revenue to fund his proposed universal basic income plan. 

"We have left young people a total mess," Yang assessed. "I'm going to clean it up."

One other prong of the cleanup project is Yang's proposed Medicare for all plan.

Similar to plans laid out by other Democratic hopefuls, Yang's policy would transition the $3.5 trillion healthcare economy toward a single-payer, cost-controlled system.

Yang's line of thinking is that the move would not only bring down costs over time but would allow doctors the chance to be more human-centered by spending more time on individual patients.

Yang was also clear about the viability of it everything he expounded upon.

He said that such massive budget items could pass through Congress because he's found his ideas have currency with Democrats, independents and Trump supporters. 

"I have many Republican and independent and conservative friends and they find me to be a non-ideological, practical person they can work with."

Yang, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, admitted that President Trump "got a lot of the problems right" in the 2016 campaign but failed to properly diagnose them.

So he joked that what was needed was the exact opposite.

"The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math."

Trade woes, Sunshine and cow farts: Political cartoons for March

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Farmer patience on tariffs comes with caution flag for Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa hog farmer Howard Hill is feeling the pinch from President Donald Trump's get-tough trade policies — his pigs are selling for less than it costs to raise them. It's a hit that Hill is willing to take for now, but his understanding also comes with a caution flag for the president.

"We have patience, but we don't have unlimited patience," says Hill, who raises about 7,000 hogs a year near the central Iowa town of Cambridge.

The president's willingness to pick trade fights with multiple trading partners at once has set off volleys of retaliatory tariffs, driving down the price of pork, corn and soybeans in political bellwether Iowa and elsewhere, and contributing to a 12 percent drop in net farm income nationally last year.

At issue are trade talks with China over intellectual property theft and a new U.S. deal with Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA that is awaiting congressional approval. Those efforts could take months to complete. So scores of farm and business groups are pressing for quicker relief, a stopgap step to help them out until the more comprehensive trade agreements are resolved. They're urging the administration to remove Canada and Mexico from the list of nations hit with a 25 percent tariff on steel shipped to the U.S. and a 10 percent tariff placed on aluminum. Their hope is that action would give the U.S. neighbors cause to remove retaliatory tariffs they placed on U.S. goods, such as a 20 percent levy Mexico placed on U.S.-produced hams.

So far, the administration hasn't bit on that idea, but it dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Iowa last week to assure farmers that help is on the way.

For now, Trump is walking a political tightrope: Going to bat for steel and aluminum makers has endeared him to many voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where steel production is a matter of economic pride and legacy, but it could end up hurting him in ag-heavy states like Iowa and Wisconsin that backed him in 2016.

In Iowa, which casts the first votes of the presidential campaign season, state Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kauffmann said he's surprised by how patient farmers have been with Trump. The Trump Agriculture Department did approve up to $12 billion in assistance to help compensate farmers caught up in the tariff battle.

"They all say it's hurting," Kauffman said of the trade disputes. "They're all saying the stopgap relief was definitely not a cure-all, but they all understand what the president is trying to accomplish. It's quite an interesting phenomenon."

But the defeat of two Republican House lawmakers in last year's midterm elections hints at some of the anxiety in farm country.

State Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said the political climate in the state has changed since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points in 2016, in part because of trade.

"These tariffs are kind of a slow burn. People are getting more and more frustrated," Price said. "It's one of the reasons Donald Trump is going to lose Iowa in 2020."

Some of the Democratic candidates for president are starting to differentiate themselves from Trump on trade when talking to Iowa voters. Sen. Kamala Harris of California has criticized the president's "go it alone" attitude. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland says "we're not going to succeed in the global economy by enacting protectionist policies."

Still, some Democrats could have trouble seizing on the issue. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont spent much of the 2016 campaign railing against the very trade deals that Trump denigrated, calling them "disastrous" for blue-collar workers.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is among the lawmakers urging the Trump administration to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs on products brought in from Canada and Mexico. He said it's a first step to getting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement through Congress. He also said it would improve the financial picture for farmers.

"Unfortunately we're starting to see more and more warning signs that farmers are running out of leeway with their bankers and landlords," Grassley said.

Pompeo sought to calm some of those nerves Monday even as he warned that Chinese theft of technology affects agriculture, too.

"The good news is this — help is on the way," Pompeo said. "American producers and Chinese consumers will both be better off. The outcome of President Trump's trade negotiations currently under way will pay dividends for people in each of our two countries."

Hill said he was encouraged by Pompeo's remarks.

"I think people recognize, particularly with China, they have not been playing by the rules for a long time," Hill said. "I think producers are supportive of trying to correct these issues. On the other hand, we don't want it to go on forever."

The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies in the U.S. went down in 2018 compared with prior-year levels. But it also noted that farm debt is at a record high, and that lending standards are tighter and the cost of credit is rising.

"Certainly many farmers have liquidated assets to discharge debt. How much longer can many others endure remains a question," the farm group said.