Giving it a ‘Whirl’

Giving it a ‘Whirl’
 
Date November 30, 2005
Section(s) Columnists
By Sen. Dennis Black  
 
Location, location, location! I heard that again a couple of weeks ago while speaking to a business forum in Altoona, where an Altoona businessman commented about the prime location of the Altoona-Newton corridor in regard to population and business expansion. Along with Jasper, my Senate district covers eastern Polk County and 6,000 acres inside the city of Des Moines, so I spend considerable time in Altoona, Mitchellville, Bondurant and Runnels. Traveling east from there, I see the expansion of housing into western Jasper County. Most of this was anticipated, as the expansion westward into Dallas County from Des Moines has become crowded with miles and miles of “cookie-cutter” homes. Those seeking more open spaces are moving into Jasper and commuting to their jobs in Des Moines.

During the forum, questions were asked about the continued availability of state dollars in programs designed to initiate economic development. The truth is … yes, because there are those who believe that this incentive creates success. Surely it helps, but there are few guarantees in entrepreneurial risk. I know of several failed projects during the past decade where sponsors virtually guaranteed success. I quickly learned that government should not get involved in doing those things that private enterprise can do better. Untold millions of state dollars have gone to projects that just did not make it, such as a Laser Building at the University of Iowa and nearly a half-billion dollars to a statewide fiber-optic system that is now antiquated. I supported the U. of I. Laser Building., but adamantly opposed the state ownership of the statewide fiber-optic network, calling it “a big black hole, that will consume a half-billion dollars from other critical needs during the decade to come.” Although it took more than a decade, the state is now approaching the half-billion dollar mark in combined construction, operations and maintenance. Frankly, private enterprise isn’t even interested in acquiring it from the state, for technological advances far surpass the days of fiber-optic transmission!

Achieving economic growth in a community commences when someone brings forth an idea on products, services or opportunities. Once the idea reaches critical mass — where a person or group of people believe it will work, then the process moves on to evaluating market demand, securing a funding stream, detailed planning, and finally, implementation. That’s the American way — believing in some endeavor so strongly, that you are willing to take the personal risk to make it happen. That’s how we ended up with Maytag in Newton, along with The Vernon Company, Thombert Inc., Keystone Laboratories, Meisner Electric and other local ingenuity in small business and industry creation that provide the jobs that make us what we are.

A thriving community is one that works together; one justifiably inter-dependent, where the needs of the private sector are met with a talented and productive workforce, and the laboring men and women rewarded with livable wages, benefits and job satisfaction. Fairness in tax policy is essential for long-term commitment of any business, and government cannot be overly restrictive with regulations and expect business to succeed.

Not every business endeavor works. Fred Maytag was undoubtedly discouraged when some of his ideas didn’t jell. Several items, including automobiles and farm implements, just didn’t seem to catch on. However, his washing machine did, and surely he would be amazed to know his humble beginnings became one of the top 500 industries in America.

On a related topic, a suggestion was made in Monday’s Des Moines Register, that officials should approach Whirlpool for consideration of Newton as the logical location for their corporate headquarters. I can attest to the fact that this proposal was tendered months ago and also is now being pursued with greater vigor in view of the feds’ acceptance of the buy-out plan. Gov. Vilsack was the first to initiate the appropriate contact with corporate leadership last spring when Whirlpool entered the picture. Congressman Boswell, Rep. Bell and I have taken a lesser role in the proposal, whereas Mayor Allen has had frequent and specific dialogue with the corporate leadership suggesting consideration of the very thing that was editorialized in Monday’s paper.

A month ago I visited Benton Harbor, Mich., just to assess the community in which the new appliance behemoth was headquartered. Although the Whirlpool campus is well groomed and the buildings well cared for, I was rather taken aback by the community itself. Newton can easily compete, if only given the chance. Unknown to me at the time, Dave Aldridge also was visiting Benton Harbor on the very day of my arrival.

I have yet to hear back from Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig, to whom I made the case in a letter that Iowa has much to offer with its safe communities, great educational institutions, affordable housing, talented workforce and great varieties of leisure time opportunities. I’m convinced the bottom-line of that corporation would well be enhanced by the preservation of “Washer City” for corporate and manufacturing needs. I urged Mr. Fettig to “come check us out … to give Newton a ‘Whirl.'”

Questions or comments? Write Box 1271, Newton, 50208; or e-mail dblack@black4senate.com

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