Archive for the ‘Columnists’ Category

Huge severance amounts are not exception

June 27, 2006
Huge severance amounts are not exception
 
Date June 27, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
By Wendell Wendt  
 
Like many other persons, I was amazed when I learned that the CEO of Maytag would receive about $17 million in severance pay when Whirlpool completed its acquisition of Maytag. However, a look at some other mergers shows that huge severance amounts are not an exception.

For example, the telephone giants AT &T and Bell South are planning a merger. If the merger goes through as planned, the CEO of Bell South and seven of his assistants will share $32.5 million in severance rewards.

Undoubtedly, financial maneuvers like the above are part of the reason Mortimer B. Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, recently wrote an editorial with the title “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

In the editorial, Zuckerman says Americans still have faith that in this country a person can start out poor, work hard and become well off. We have that faith, he says, because as a people, we are natural optimists.

However, Zuckerman believes only a small minority now have the possibility of starting poor and becoming well off. This is a change, he says, that has occurred in the last 25 years and is an issue we must address with urgency. We must address it with urgency, not just for the sake of social justice, but “also to obtain the greatest benefits from the talents of our fellow citizens and maintain a cohesive community.”

Zuckerman backs up his contentions with statistics. As a nation, the U.S. experienced exceptional financial growth from 1980 to 2004. Our gross domestic product rose almost two-thirds, but during that period the wages of an average worker fell, once his income is adjusted for inflation.

Zuckerman gives three reasons for the decline in the probability of the American dream. They are: 1. Our tax system has become much less progressive. 2. “Globalization and technology have increased the rewards for intellectual skills, vastly increasing the value of a college degree.” 3. College-educated women tend to postpone having children, while at lower income levels women have children at a younger age, and more of them.

Zuckerman closes his editorial with these sentences, “We must make climbing the ladder of success a reality for more and more Americans, and begin reducing the gap between the rungs. This means that governments, at all levels, must give more of a helping hand to poorer qualified college students, expand preschool education and develop a tax system that no longer turns the American dream into an American nightmare.”

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Rebuilding a more solid Newton

May 18, 2006
Keeping In Touch: Rebuilding a more solid Newton
 
Date May 18, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
Brief  
 
By DENNIS BLACK

State Legislator

The ramifications of the closing of the Maytag operations in Newton are felt in many, many ways. Initially, we think of the families affected by the action, and the heartache and uncertainty that come with a life of anticipation of having a good job, and providing for the needs of their loved ones. Although transition occurs for many, there yet remains the anguish and concern, for the working men and women must move on to salvage their family’s future and well-being.

We have but one mortal life, and throughout that life decisions are made that affect many in addition to ourselves. There was no reason to think that the men and women who decided to work at Maytag were facing what since has come to pass. After all, many were fifth generation workers, and just a few years ago, the reputation of the company was solid, stock prices were high, and production was calling for multiple shifts and overtime. Never shall I understand how the poor and provincial decisions of those in corporate leadership resulted in their being awarded with riches that would take most of us a lifetime to spend.

Many things are in the works, and additional conversation from five meetings I had over the weekend point to the fact that the new focus on Newton’s future should not have most of the eggs placed in a single basket. Diversification is the key, and manufacturing a variety of products enhances sustained economic viability and community vitality. As a community, we have a great reputation, and Maytag‘s workers were known for their education, training and dedication. Theirs was pride in a product with nationwide exposure, and even my travels abroad for agricultural sales and trade resulted in many identifying their knowledge of the Maytag brand.

The sooner we approach decision makers regarding potential manufacturing opportunities, the sooner a sense of stability will return to our community and citizens. With the massive infrastructure that exists along with the buildings that served Maytag, a plethora of options must be pursued. One example would be that of wind-energy generators and blades. My Natural Resources Committee, in one of the last bills before session adjournment, passed a “Wind Energy Tax Credit” bill. This was intended to serve as an incentive for those seeking to invest in wind farms, with the sustainable, renewable wind energy electrical production sold into the grid of electric companies. Yet, if you order a wind generator with its tri-configured massive blades, you have to wait 18 months to receive it. Ironically, most are made in Germany, and Newton with its central location is perfect. Many other ideas are in the offing, but again it is essential for community leaders to pause, reflect on the past, and be innovative in their consideration of the future. With the Iowa Values Fund available to assist in a variety of ways, revitalization won’t happen overnight, but we can rebuild the city into something far more solid in view of this global economy that is consuming worker and family ambitions and values.

As a final note, Rep. Paul Bell and I will be introducing legislation this fall, which should be ready for consideration in January of 2007, that would specify that Newton and Fort Dodge be “held harmless” in FY 2007-09 with any reduced state-aid to their schools, resulting from the loss of students. Anticipating reduced enrollment, in many cases the costs of administration, utilities, transportation and other fixed expenditures of the Newton Community School District will remain fairly static. Our school’s administration needs the opportunity to evaluate the situation of enrollment adjustments, and plan accordingly. I would guess our colleagues, on a bipartisan basis, would agree with this approach, and thus we shall vigorously pursue that opportunity for our school and district property tax payers.

Guest Commentary: Schools will open their doors next fall

May 18, 2006
Guest Commentary: Schools will open their doors next fall
 
Date May 18, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
Brief  
 
By STEVE McDERMOTT

Newton Community School Superintendent

In response to both the recent Maytag news and to all the outside speculation of what will happen here, I feel the need to share a few facts related to our school district. Our Newton Community Schools will open their doors next fall, students will enter and teaching and learning will occur. No one is certain how many students will attend school here next August. I can assure you we will be staffed to serve at least as many students as were enrolled this school year.

Our budget has been built and certified for the next school year. Staff cuts or major budget alignment moves will not be made until we see where our enrollment lands next fall. The official count day is always the third Friday in September. If our enrollment drops dramatically, we’ll need to adjust our budget and staffing levels accordingly. If enrollment remains fairly steady, we may not need to make major adjustments beyond moves dictated by high fuel prices or various other factors. Of course we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

No matter what happens, we will keep the community informed. If significant changes in our community schools are ever proposed, community members and stakeholders will have opportunities to share their thoughts before decisions are made.

The fact is, after already losing approximately 2,600 jobs before last week’s news, our total enrollment has declined, but not as much as one would expect. We haven’t seen a direct correlation between the number of jobs lost and our enrollment decline. As I’ve told many people, we’ll have a nice town and quality schools here for a long time. What’s uncertain is how our community will evolve and how quickly it will rebound.

Sometimes we get too caught up in the numbers. What may be my biggest concern is the loss of so many quality individuals from Newton, Kellogg and surrounding areas. We stand to lose many leaders, dedicated volunteers, caring neighbors, dependable contributors and outstanding young people. We realize many are now making decisions that will change the course of their lives and those of their family members. Our hearts go out to everyone working through this time of adversity.

On the other hand, we all know the quality of life and many benefits this place has to offer. I’ve heard many encouraging stories of people finding ways to remain in Newton. New neighbors will join us in our community’s transition, as well.

What I have witnessed here in children and adults alike is a general resilient nature. There are many people in this community that have risen above tough times before and they’ll do it again. We here at school will continue to do our best to support children and families no matter what challenges arise. Of course, education is our primary focus and we believe the best way to support our students is to make certain they are learning every day in our schools.

If you have thoughts, ideas or suggestions related to our schools or the district’s future, please call me at 792-5809 or write to me at mcdermotts@newton.k12.ia.us.

We will survive and we will prosper

May 16, 2006
We will survive and we will prosper
 
Date May 16, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
By John Jennings  
 
Last Wednesday was truly an historic day in Newton. The announcement by Whirlpool on the fate of Maytag here was certainly not unexpected, yet still a shocker. There is no way to fully prepare for an announcement such as that, I guess.

The media descended on Newton like jackals on a wounded caribou, and local residents, both those directly and indirectly affected by the closure either ran for cover or prepared for an interview.

We will be assessing the effects of Maytag‘s closing here in Newton long after the other media hounds have gone home, and we here in Newton will be the ones who will experience firsthand what those effects will be. Many Maytag employees will no doubt be moving, some to Benton Harbor, some to other parts of Iowa, and some perhaps just to other parts of Jasper County as they find work close to home.

But it will take a while for the true meaning of a Newton without Maytag to sink in. Perhaps a couple of years down the road, or maybe five or 10 years will pass before we can truly look back and say the ripple effect is over. Still, no matter what happens in the future, Maytag will always be a memorable part of our history, and those who worked there will share the Maytag legacy with family and friends and co-workers.

Perhaps there was something that could have been done to change what seems now like an inevitable closure. Maybe more upgrades could have been implemented 10 or 20 years ago, or perhaps upper management lost sight of the issues of dependability and quality that the Maytag Company became synonymous with for so many years. Maybe the company became too diverse. Or perhaps global forces out of anyone’s control just caught up with them. Perhaps it was a combination of all those forces working together that spelled Maytag‘s doom.

Whatever the reason, the decisions have been made and the doors will close at the end of next year. What’s done is done. It’s history. As a community, we must certainly never forget our Maytag heritage, but after a sufficient period of mourning (someone said the closing of Maytag was like a death in the family), we must look to the future and ways to keep Newton a viable, vibrant and economically healthy community.

How do we do that? The Iowa Speedway, while definitely not a replacement for Maytag, can be a means to transition us into another era of prosperity. The speedway will serve as a tourist-draw that can power further economic development in the area and boost Newton in the eyes of other types of business, including manufacturing. Businesses looking to locate elsewhere will surely consider the vitality in a community made possible by a variety of entertainment options, right? Got to keep those workers satisfied, and what better way than an exciting racetrack and a happy waterpark nearby? And the draw is just beginning. Without a doubt, the track will attract more businesses, and while they will not offer high-paying manufacturing wages, they may eventually attract such jobs.

The trick for Newton and Jasper County leaders now is to prepare the area for the growth that is needed here. That will take cooperation, forward thinking and innovation. The track, the hotel and waterpark, the biodiesel plant now under construction, are all signs that Newton is not ready to commit itself to obsolescence after Maytag. We will survive the transition, and we will prosper.

May 16, 2006
Benevolence breeds good self-esteem
 
Date May 16, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
By Wendell Wendt  
 
As we write this, several thousand Maytag employees are trying to decide where they will look for a new job and what level of wages they are willing to accept.

Two we know of have reached tentative decisions. One has turned down a Whirlpool offer to relocate. When her layoff comes, she expects to continue to have a Newton address and will look for a job in Des Moines. The other person lacks a few years of being retirement age. She will look for a satisfactory local position and, if she does not find it, will move to a major Midwestern city where family members live.

We hope most Maytag employees will start out looking for a new job with reasonably high expectations and only lower their hopes when it is apparent that this is necessary.

The United States is in somewhat the same position as Maytag workers. We are bogged down in a war no one knows how to end. We are obviously ruining the environment of our world as a fit place for humans to live. Our health care system is an abomination and population growth is out of control.

It would be easy to give up and accept that the world is rapidly descending to a figurative Hell.

But I have hopes for humanity and admire organizations and individuals who keep striving to better conditions in this world.

An organization that has high goals is the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The goals of this organization are listed on a card I recently received and reads:

“We seek a world free of war and the threat of war.

We seek a society with equity and justice for all.

We seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled.

We seek an earth restored.”

Maytagers — even as you seek a new job and feel sorry for yourself, you will encounter people who need help worse than you do. Pause a little bit to give that assistance. There are many benevolent organizations in Newton that can use some volunteer help. If you give that help, you will feel good about yourself, and that feeling will help when you interview for a new job.

City of Newton’s future is certain

April 3, 2006
City of Newton’s future is certain
 
Date April 03, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
Brief  
 
By KIM DIDIER

Newton Development Corp.

The events of the last week and a half have created more certainty for Newton’s economic future than it has experienced for quite some time. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that it would not oppose the merger of the Maytag Corporation with the Whirlpool Corporation. The announcement and the subsequent closure of the merger on Friday ended almost a year of speculation on the future of the appliance company. The Newton Development Corporation is pleased that the transaction has proceeded. We stand ready to do whatever we can to welcome the Whirlpool Corporation to Newton.

We believe in Newton and the positive business environment that exists in our community. In February, we had a brief opportunity to share with Whirlpool leadership the reasons we believe in Newton. Now with the merger complete, we look forward to showing Whirlpool how our community and skilled work force helped build an internationally known brand for quality and dependability. This same positive business environment and skilled workforce is why other large companies and corporations are choosing to invest in Newton.

A week ago Friday, the Newton Development Corporation announced that Skjodt Thomas & Associates of Indianapolis, Ind., had entered into a purchase agreement to acquire approximately 85 acres on the southwest corner of Interstate 80 Exit 168. Skjodt Thomas will act as master developer on the site that will include a 300 room hotel/waterpark and conference center, a national retailer and the development of 15-20 out lots for nationally franchised restaurants. Furthermore, Love’s Corporation of Oklahoma City, Okla., has made application for the necessary permits to open its first Iowa travel center at Exit 168. The total investment in the community from these two developments alone could top $80 million. Add to these investments, the multi-million dollar investments in the Iowa Speedway and in the new biodiesel plant and you begin to understand why we believe so strongly in Newton’s future.

The Newton Development Corporation is a private, not-for-profit organization made up of Newton business leaders many in the manufacturing business too. We are acutely aware of the impact of globalization and the pressure it creates for manufacturers like Whirlpool. Therefore, we expect that there may be some tough decisions made as a consequence of this merger. Nevertheless, we know that whatever the long-term decisions with the Maytag headquarters and plant will be, the community will pull together and continue to grow and thrive.

The community demonstrated their solidarity and foresight last Tuesday when it overwhelmingly supported the adoption of the local option tax on sales and services. The new revenue source will lower property taxes, reinstate city services, and help us continue to make meaningful investments in economic development.Newton’s positive business environment will get only stronger as a result.

It is with this positive momentum and vibrant economic growth that we welcome the Whirlpool Corporation to our home.We sincerely believe that you will find that our community is unlike any other community that you have entered. We think that you will find many compelling business reasons as to why you will want to continue to have a presence in Newton. What other community are you located in that would promise to invest in its children the resources needed to give each one of them a 4-year tuition scholarship to attend college and has the tenacity to get it done?

Welcome Whirlpool … we saved a place for you!

Best bet for saving jobs at Maytag

February 13, 2006
Best bet for saving jobs at Maytag
 
Date February 13, 2006
Section(s) Business
Brief  
 
By Sen. Tom Harkin

and Rep. Leonard Boswell

rom the moment that Maytag announced its decision to be sold to an outside purchaser, we have had one overriding concern: protecting good jobs in the Newton community. In the wake of the August announcement that Whirlpool would be the purchaser, we studied the facts and looked at multiple analyses in an effort to determine whether this purchase would be good for Newton and good for Iowa. Unfortunately, the evidence that we have seen points to the opposite conclusion. Indeed, there is ample reason to fear that Whirlpool would likely move to eliminate the jobs at both the plant and headquarters in Newton. That is the major reason why we urged the U.S. Department of Justice to block Whirlpool’s proposed takeover.

We believe that Whirlpool’s silence, to date, is not a good sign. The company has pointedly refused to say that it would work to keep jobs in Newton. Bear in mind that Whirlpool already has a headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich., and it owns other plants that can perform the same manufacturing functions currently performed in Newton. Whirlpool’s silence stands in sharp contrast to a previous bidder, which did not have competing manufacturing facilities and which forthrightly indicated that it would take steps to preserve Newton jobs. That bidder remains interested in Maytag if the Whirlpool offer is rejected by the Justice Department.

If the Whirlpool merger is ultimately approved, we stand ready to go to bat with Whirlpool on behalf of the Newton community. We will do everything in our power to persuade Whirlpool that Iowa’s workers are the most productive in the world and that keeping production in Iowa is the best business decision.

On that score, we applaud the governor’s office, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, state legislators from the Newton area, Mayor Allen’s office and the Newton Economic Development Corporation, as well as other local groups, who are collaborating on a package of incentives that might help persuade Whirlpool not to close the Newton facility. Because Whirlpool’s offer has been accepted by Maytag shareholders, this step is entirely appropriate and necessary. Unfortunately, if the merger is completed, we are concerned that these efforts will be unsuccessful.

That is why we wrote to the Department of Justice recommending against the merger. In our letter to Justice, we outlined our belief that the acquisition would be anti-competitive, inasmuch as the combined corporation would control nearly 50 percent of the appliance marketplace and would dominate the washer-dryer business. We suggested that, if the merger ends up winning approval, Justice should consider requiring Whirlpool to divest the washer-dryer division of the company to another entity “able and willing” to operate it. Spinning off the most anti-competitive division to a buyer able and willing to operate it is an option that federal regulators have often used in the past. There is an established procedure for requiring the sale of a part of a company to a viable purchaser who has the ability to continue production and preserve jobs. We are pleased by indications that Justice is taking those concerns seriously.

Some Maytag executives, who stand to gain golden parachutes from a merger with Whirlpool, have argued that the choice is either Whirlpool or nothing. This is not the case. As we noted, there continues to be at least one U.S. company that is interested in purchasing Maytag if the Whirlpool offer is not approved, and that would-be purchaser has indicated that it is inclined to keep the production and headquarters jobs in Newton. We believe a new buyer is the best bet for preserving jobs in Newton over the long term.

We appreciate that this is an extremely difficult time for people in the Newton community. Many in the community believe that a quick resolution is essential because uncertainty itself is damaging. We respect this point of view. But we believe it is best to work for a long-term outcome that has the best chance of maintaining jobs in Newton and elsewhere in Iowa, even if this may add some months to the process.

We cannot guarantee a successful outcome. We cannot magically sweep away the cloud of risk and uncertainty that has settled over the Newton community. But we pledge that we will continue to work diligently and in good faith to produce the best possible outcome for Maytag‘s employees and for the Newton community.

Let’s do what’s best for Maytag workers

January 20, 2006
Let’s do what’s best for Maytag workers
 
Date January 20, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
Brief  
 
By Sen. JEFF LAMBERTI

Guest Commentary

As the co-president of the Iowa Senate and a candidate for U.S. Congress, I get the opportunity to hear from a lot of Iowans about what is on their mind. One of the biggest concerns I hear is how we keep good paying jobs, like the jobs at the Maytag plant in Newton, here in Iowa.

This issue is fresh in all our minds because of the announcement last year that Maytag would be purchased by Whirlpool, putting in doubt the future of Maytag‘s manufacturing facility in Newton, along with the numerous hard-working Iowans employed there.

The current workers at the Newton plant are among the hardest working, highest skilled workers in the entire world. Despite that, economic pressures beyond the control of the workers and their families have changed the dynamics of the industry, leading to the decline of profitability of Maytag.

Needless to say, there is not a single person in Iowa who wanted to see Maytag purchased by another company. Maytag has not only been a staple in Newton but an icon for other Iowa businesses. Therefore, when Maytag began the process of looking for bidders for the company, it goes without saying that the best possible outcome would be for a purchaser who had the potential to maintain the plant in Newton.

There were others who considered purchasing Maytag. One bid came from a group of east coast investors with no experience in the appliance industry, and whose commitment to the Newton plant was unclear. Another company mentioned as a potential bidder was controlled by the Chinese government. In the end, Whirlpool, an American-based company with a distinguished history in the appliance industry, prevailed and purchased Maytag.

It is my hope that Whirlpool will see the potential and value of the Newton plant and will maintain production capabilities at the site. That is why I wrote to the leadership of Whirlpool last week, urging them to recognize what a great asset they have in the Maytag workers located in Newton. As an American-based company with a long tradition in the appliance industry, I believe that by reaching out to Whirlpool, we have an opportunity to save good paying jobs in Iowa.

My beliefs appear to be shared by many in the Newton area — many Maytag workers and retirees voted as shareholders to overwhelmingly support Whirlpool’s purchase. It appeared that the Newton community was coming together putting their hope and faith behind the belief that Whirlpool would see the value that the Newton factory and its workers could provide.

But then, Congressman Leonard Boswell, along with fellow Democrat Senator Tom Harkin, announced that they would ask the U.S. Department of Justice to block Maytag‘s sale to Whirlpool.

This action by Leonard Boswell is a shortsighted partisan political ploy that could damage the future of the Maytag plant and the City of Newton. Now is not the time to play these Washington political games with the future of Maytag workers.

It is impossible to tell what, if any, positive development could result from Congressman Boswell’s actions. It became quite clear last year that Maytag needed dynamic change and new direction — surviving as a stand-alone company was not an option.

I find it hard to believe that Congressman Boswell thinks having Maytag purchased by a company controlled by the Chinese government would be good for workers in Newton, let alone a group of east-coast investors with no experience in the appliance industry.

Bottom line: Leonard Boswell has lost touch with what is truly in the best interests of the Newton workers.

I hope Congressman Boswell will recognize that he has taken the wrong approach to saving these good paying jobs in Newton. I hope he will work with me so that we can illustrate to Whirlpool that this is not a political issue but an issue of keeping hard-working, high-skilled workers doing what they do best in Newton. Side by side, Republican and Democrat, we can offer a united front to Whirlpool showcasing the talents of these employees.

This year has been a heartbreaking time in Newton with the sale of Maytag and I share the concerns of the community. With this in mind, I am certain that the heart of this city will return, and I offer my sincere pledge that I will do whatever I can to help retain the Maytag plant and the jobs associated with it.

Jeff Lamberti is a State Senator from Ankeny, currently serving as the co-president of the Iowa Senate, and is a candidate for Congress in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District

Giving it a ‘Whirl’

November 30, 2005
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

Brainstorming Newton’s future

September 30, 2005
Brainstorming Newton’s future
 
Date September 30, 2005
Section(s) Columnists
By Sen. Dennis Black  
 
Location, location, location! I heard that again this week while speaking to a business forum in Altoona, where an Altoona businessman commented about the prime location of Newton in regard to population and business expansion. Along with Jasper, my Senate District covers eastern Polk County, 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. Frankly, 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. Builders seeking more open spaces are moving into Jasper, and commuting to their jobs in Des Moines.

I lament the fact that state government has invested big bucks – literally untold millions, in projects and programs for economic development that just plain didn’t work. I voted for some; voted against others. Yet, many did succeed, and what is interesting is the fact that some of the greatest success stories come from the state participating in projects related to leisure-time pursuits and tourism. A great example would be that of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. Newton’s own Mark Wagner is the Museum Director at the facility and it brings thousands and thousands of tourists into the city.

During the past decade state government financial involvement has failed in several projects that sponsors virtually guaranteed would succeed. 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 didn’t succeed, such as a Laser Building at the University of Iowa and nearly a half-billion dollars to a statewide fiber-optic system that is on the verge of antiquity. 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.” I was correct.

The process for eventually 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, 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 great example of a new small business is that of Multi-Packaging, located in the Meisner Center. Franchette Braaksma and her husband are endeavoring to fill a regional void in assembly-line packaging. The couple is committed to the success of the business, and is innovative in their choice and use of equipment in an expanding market of on-site packaging of hard goods and food products.

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 honored to know his humble beginnings having become one of the top 500 industries in America.

The Newton Daily News, by way of Pete Hussmann’s research, is doing a remarkable job of not only keeping the community informed about potential transitions in our major industry, but also provides some insight into the positive assets of the county and region. Attitude is everything, and thus the critical aspect of all working together for the good of the whole is essential. Brain-storming is occurring and all citizens should feel compelled to step forward with their ideas of making the area progress and prosper.

I have yet to hear back from Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig, to whom I made the case that Iowa has much to offer, and the bottom-line of that corporation would well enhanced by the preservation of “Washer City.” I urged him to “come check us out.”

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