King sees separating vision in Greene County
By DOUGLAS BURNS
With a planned $35.48 million schools modernization project, the pending arrival of a new software-development firm in Jefferson and Wild Rose Casino and Resort serving as a catalyst for growth in the region, Greene County leaders easily filled an hour-long meeting with Congressman Steve King Tuesday afternoon.
Unlike other struggling rural areas in Iowa, the Greene County narrative is an ascendent one — and one tied closely to involvement of younger people, the so-called millennial generation, in local issues, Greene County Development Corp. leaders Sid Jones and Ken Paxton told King.
The Republican congressman, now in his eighth term and seeking re-election, met with business and community leaders at Jefferson City Hall before touring Power Lift.
“I’m encouraged to hear the vision that you put together,” King said.
Jones, the president of the GCDC, told King about the well-chronicled Greene County Community School District project, highlighted by construction of a new high school and an Iowa Central Community College career academy on the south side of U.S. Highway 30, west of AAI.
“There’s a nice exposure for our schools and Iowa Central Community College,” Jones said.
A key for the connection with Iowa Central is tying local jobs of the present and future to K-12 education.
“The one big crown jewel in there is the school system,” Jones said.
The successful passage of the school referendum is the feature lure for Pillar Technology, which develops software for a mind-boggling variety of needs. Pillar recently announced it will be opening an office in Jefferson, a first-of-its-kind investment in rural Iowa for a high-tech company that will create as many as 30 jobs with starting salaries of $55,000 to $60,000.
Established in 1996 and based in the booming university town of Columbus, Ohio, Pillar, which has a presence in Des Moines, has additional offices — each site called a Forge — in Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan, and Palo Alto, Calif.
Paxton, executive director of the GCDC, said a big-picture growth plan, called Vision 2020, is designed to bring more business (restaurants and a local brew pub) and entertainment options to Greene County.
“We understand if we’re going to grow as a rural county we need to get millennials,” Paxton said. “They are looking for a fun, active community.”
Paxton said a “three-block project” in downtown Jefferson envisions bringing an aquatics center attachment to the community center, redevelopment of the middle school into apartments and expanded day care to the south.
“Our single, major need, aside from the school, is housing,” Paxton said.
Community and business leaders did express concerns about the effects of the Trump Administration trade policy on agriculture and manufacturing.
Scranton Manufacturing, a producer of refuse vehicles with an international market, said it is already experiencing a 25 percent hit to the bottom line because of higher demand for steel, the company’s vice president for operations, Jim Ober, told King.
Most of Scranton Manufacturing’s steel is procured domestically, but Trump’s steel tariffs have roiled the markets, Ober said.
“I would have not even opened up NAFTA, let alone put the tariff on steel and aluminum,” King said.
King, a Kiron Construction company owner with deep ties to agriculture and a vivid memory of the farm crisis of the 1980s, said he’s troubled by the effects on American ag markets of President’s Trump’s $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports. The Chinese quickly struck back on the U.S. ag economy.
“If you look at the map of where soybeans and pork come from, the 4th Congressional District is significantly the No. 1 producer of those products so we get hit harder than any other congressional district in America,” King said. “I make sure they (Trump officials) know that.”