Mark Lane, vice president of operations at AAI in Jefferson, gives Gov. Kim Reynolds a tour of the production facility. DOUGLAS BURNS | JEFFERSON HERALDWilliam Howell (right), general manager of POET Biorefining in Coon Rapids, talks with Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg during a tour of the plant last Tuesday afternoon. The plant is posting strong production numbers this fall, Howell told the state leaders.

Reynolds: Future is now for Greene, Carroll counties

By DOUGLAS BURNS
d.burns@carrollspaper.com

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has battled the Trump administration for robust renewable fuel mixes, delivered an ethanol-boosting message — and one of optimism for rural Iowa manufacturing — locally with an ambitious schedule of business tours last Tuesday afternoon in Coon Rapids and Jefferson.

Reynolds, joined by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, visited POET Biorefinery east of Coon Rapids before talking with Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative officials at the utility’s developing solar field on the other side of town.

Earlier, Reynolds toured AAI/Spalding’s vast manufacturing complex in Jefferson, a facility that churns out equipment for top-level gymnastics and NBA and NCAA basketball, among other endeavors.

“We are building equipment for the smallest athletes in the world and the largest athletes in the world,” said Mark Lane, vice president for operations at AAI.

After watching a video of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, a Des Moines athlete, compete on AAI’s uneven bars, Reynolds said she’d be watching for the Jefferson-manufactured sports equipment during future TV broadcasts.

“I can’t hardly wait to look for it,” Reynolds said.

Throughout the west-central Iowa swing, Reynolds kept a focus on the next generation of workers, promoting stronger connections between local high schools and community colleges and the businesses of west-central Iowa.

AAI, for example, has little turnover and a roster of long-tenured employees, some with decades of service. Right now, there are no job openings at AAI, which employs 102 people, but as those workers cycle out of the production process, challenges will arise to fill positions, said Kristin Russell, human resources manager at AAI.

“We hear that without fail,” Reynolds said. “It’s workforce, workforce, workforce.”

At POET, Reynolds heard about strong production resulting from good corn yields.

“We are doing well,” POET General Manager William Howell said. “We are at 15 percent above capacity.”

Courtney Clawson, an agriculture teacher at Coon Rapids-Bayard School District, brought some of her students to the plant to visit with Reynolds.

“I had my students out here a week ago,” Clawson said.

She added, “We went back to the classroom and burned some ethanol.”

Reynolds is a longtime advocate of STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) that tie students directly to potential career opportunities in Iowa businesses.

“Would you rather be lectured to or get your hands in there?” Reynolds asked the students.

On the western reaches of Coon Rapids, just north of Highway 141, Reynolds saw firsthand the early infrastructure work for Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative’s solar field, one that will allow members of the utility to invest in renewable energy.

Reynolds started the event by thanking RVEC CEO Jim Gossett for being part of her Iowa energy advisory council when she was lieutenant governor.

Gossett served on the working group that formulated the recently released Iowa Energy Plan aimed at boosting the economy and taking advantage of emerging power sources.

Stephanie Wiese of Denison-based Western Iowa Power Cooperative, which is building the solar array, says it will have 584 panels.

The system will generate enough electricity to power eight to 10 homes.

Project completion is expected by the end of the year, at which point RVEC members will have investment opportunities in the ground-mounted solar project, Gossett said.

Raccoon Valley expects to have another solar field online near Wall Lake in 2017 as well, Gossett said.

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