Governor names Greene County lead Home Base Iowa community
By DOUGLAS BURNS
Gov. Terry Branstad’s designation Thursday of Greene County as the state’s first Home Base Iowa community distinguishes the county as one of the one more friendly locations for returning military veterans in the United States, said Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Orr.
Orr, adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard and a former East Greene teacher and coach, joined the governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds in formally declaring Greene County as the lead locale for the ambitious statewide initiative aimed at providing careers in the Hawkeye State to America’s former military men and women.
“This state is proud of our veterans, and this community is demonstrating that firsthand today,” Orr said before introducing Branstad and Reynolds during an event at AAI/Spalding attended by about 200 people.
Greene County elected officials and economic-development leaders have constructed a raft of incentives and benefits for veterans at the local level to support Branstad’s statewide program.
“Home Base Iowa is a special program, special for the state of Iowa,” Orr said. “It’s not just about the military or veterans. Home Base Iowa is about Iowa. And it’s about communities like Greene County.”
Greene County expects to have between 500 and 1,000 new jobs available in the next five years and views veterans as having the tools to meet that demand.
“These individuals that will be leaving active duty are loyal,” Orr said. “They’re disciplined. They’re physically fit. They’re mission-focused. They’ve demonstrated leadership time and time again.”
A White House report says each year the military separates between 240,000 and 360,000 service members — and that the services are “expected to separate a million service members over the next several years.”
Branstad said Iowans have a responsibility to those veterans — professionals who also have the training to make enormous contributions in the state.
That considered, Branstad has made the veterans-recruitment package “the centerpiece” of his 2014 legislative agenda. He sees bipartisan support for: eliminating taxes on military pensions; allowing private employers to give preferences in hiring to veterans just as the government does; and allowing certain military training to count toward licensing in private-sector ventures.
What’s more, the National Guard and state officials will work aggressively to connect veterans from all over the United States with job opportunities and benefits in the state through House Base Iowa.
Dozens of military veterans and local business leaders greeted the governor, who entered AAI on a green carpet and shook hands with well-wishers on both sides of the center aisle.
James O. Andrew, a Vietnam War-era veteran of the U.S. Army who retired as a captain, served as master of ceremonies. Andrew, an active ag-businessman in Greene County, has known Branstad since their days at the University of Iowa in the late 1960s.
Branstad recalled Andrew’s nickname was “The Rock” because of his steadfastness and reliability. Andrew remembered Branstad telling a group of friends in college that he fully expected to be governor of Iowa someday.
Andrew met with his old friend last fall at Camp Dodge following the governor’s rollout of Home Base Iowa. Andrew asked what it would take to earn the inaugural designation in the program.
“Jim Andrew said, ‘We want to be first,’ and now you have achieved that,” Branstad said.
Andrew said his personal motivation for supporting the project is rooted in memories of the Vietnam War.
“Many of the Vietnam War veterans in this room were greeted with spittle and curses by flower children of that era during their service and upon return to civilian life,” Andrew said. “I and others took a silent vow that we would never again allow our fellow brothers and sisters in arms to be treated that way again. Today is a small down payment on the part of those of us who suffered that treatment to make civilian life better for today’s returnees from active duty.”
There’s also a major economic-development component, Andrew said.
Greene County already has signed up 31 businesses to participate in the Home Base Iowa program. Collectively, those businesses plan to hire 321 veterans.
So far, 53 Iowa businesses have pledged to hire 2,900 veterans as part of Home Base Iowa.
“Home Base Iowa is off to an incredible start,” Reynolds said.
The governor credited Ken Paxton, executive director of the Greene County Development Corp., with outstanding follow-through in adding substance to the Greene County plan.
“It’s the whole county that’s being recognized as the Home Base community,” Branstad said
Greene County’s incentives for veterans under Home Base Iowa include:
• County banks have instigated a program that eliminates closing costs for veterans applying for certain financing.
• County businesses offer a $2,000 relocation-support package to help move the employee’s family to the community.
• To make relocation easier the county has a central housing site on its economic-development website — greenecountyiowadevelopment.org — that lists all available properties for sale/rent/lease.
• County leaders offer a pre-application job form on the local development website that can be completed online and then sent to any of the list of employers provided on the site. The employers will then contact the applicant for the next step.
• For veterans’ families looking to purchase a home in the community Greene County offers a 100 percent, three-year property-tax abatement.
• Greene County plans to publicize its efforts to recruit veterans in national military and veterans’ publications.
“Greene County is certainly setting itself apart as a very welcoming and supportive community for returning veterans,” Branstad said.
In his remarks, Andrew extended special thanks to the members of the joint VFW/American Legion Color Guard and Duane Mosher who organized the governor’s Greene County Patriot Guard motorcycle escort while in Jefferson.
Andrew also thanked the following people and organizations:
• Mark Lane, general manager of AAI/Spalding and Fruit of the Loom, the parent company of that Jefferson business for providing the setting.
• Greene County mayors, city council members, and county supervisors.
• The Labor Task Force who put together Greene County’s Home Base Iowa application.
• Veterans Bill Kendall, Bruce Chaffee, Shane Olson, and VFW Post Commander Don Ihnken.
• Jeremy Davis, of Congressman Steve King’s Ames office.
• Morey Hill, board member of the Farmer Veterans Coalition.
• State Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.
• Greene County’s full-time Veterans Affairs officer, retired Marine Tracie Perez.
Following the ceremony at AAI, Branstad and Reynolds visited the Mahanay Bell Tower where Pat Gorman Richards, tour guide coordinator for the landmark, talked with Branstad about developments in Jefferson and other areas of the county visible from the tower.