City outlines plans to deal with Maytag job losses

City outlines plans to deal with Maytag job losses
 
Date June 09, 2006
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By ANDY KARR

NDN Staff Writer

Bryan Friedman’s optimism for Newton’s future shines through every time he speaks before Newton City Council. On Monday evening, Newton’s community development director again showed his enthusiasm in outlining what the future has in store for the community in the wake of Whirlpool’s earth-shattering announcement in May that they would cease all Maytag operations here in 2007.

Friedman has made a habit out of using colorful metaphors when addressing council, whether it be an apple held over his head to demonstrate “Newton’s” law of gravity (to attract development) or the unlikely quote from rapper Eminem that he used Monday.

“We only got one shot. Do not miss our chance or blow this opportunity. It comes once in a lifetime. Yo,” Friedman said to chuckles from the audience.

While a future hip-hop career might be out of the question for Friedman, his never-say-die positive attitude underscores his central message: Newton should focus not just on surviving but also on thriving in the wake of the loss of the largest employer it ever had.

“Even when you see it coming, it still hurts to get socked in the gut,” Friedman said, Monday. “Twenty-six days ago we were socked in the gut, so to speak. when we got that jarring news.”

Before council, Friedman highlighted some of the things that are already occurring in Newton since Whirlpool handed down news of Maytag‘s departure.

Already, there is a job center set up in DMACC facilities — a joint effort between Whirlpool, DMACC and Iowa Workforce Development.

“This center provides a resource for workers who are losing their jobs and provides access to a full array of services from unemployment benefits all the way to retraining information and job fairs,” Friedman said.

He noted that Mayor Chaz Allen was in Washington this week to meet with federal officials about more aid for Newton.

The Newton transformation council has been meeting since October to plan a response to the Whirlpool/Maytag situation. The group consists of officials from Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Department of Economic Development, Newton Development Corporation, the city, utility companies, congressional officials and Whirlpool officials.

“This group has an ambitious agenda,” Friedman said. “It’s to provide a unified response to mobilize resources to help better the futures of the workers affected by the Maytag pull out, to really focus on the best reuse for the Maytag facilities and to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to be fully supported in starting and accelerating new business opportunities.”

The community is diversifying the economy with the Prairie Fire development area taking shape around the Iowa Speedway. Friedman said the city fields daily calls from around the country inquiring into the development in Newton, including the old Maytag facilities.

“There are some fantastic spaces there,” he said, noting that getting companies to move into those spaces would cost money.

One way to overcome that, he said, is Iowa Values Fund, which last month earmarked $10 million to attract new business to Newton over the next three years.

“With this set aside, special attention has been spotlighted on Newton and I think it will hopefully draw more interest from interested parties for projects,” Friedman said.

To be eligible for those funds, a business must meet Iowa Values Fund criteria, which includes being fully collateralized and meeting a wage threshold of 130 percent of the average county wage. In Jasper County, that is in the $20-an-hour range, Friedman said, but would fall closer to $16 without the inclusion of Maytag jobs. The state also requires a 20 percent local match to access these funds.

Friedman suggested the city start a “Gravity Fund” for the local match dollars and to fund other community investments like infrastructure. And with Newton’s sesquicentennial coming up next year, Friedman likes the idea of forming a committee to hold a showcase celebration for the community.

“It would be fitting to have that milestone year also be a turning point in establishing a new community identity,” he said.

Friedman closed his presentation by calling for the community to stay confident and positive. People should hold family reunions here to show off Newton and attend local events like the Iowa Sculpture Festival at Maytag Park this weekend.

“The last thing we need to do is pull back in fear — back into our shell like a frightened turtle,” he said. “These extraordinary times call for some bold action. If necessity is the mother of invention, then this is a big mother.”

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