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Cedar Falls Mayoral Candidate Forum Recap

The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber held a Cedar Falls Mayoral Candidates Forum on Friday, October 23st at the Cedar Falls Tourism Visitors Center to give investor businesses the opportunity to understand each candidate’s position on issues that affect the economy including business climate, workforce, and quality of life.

Specific topics raised included: University Avenue, the downtown waste water treatment facility, the use of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) as an economic development tool, a part-time vs. full-time mayor, and more.

“The Alliance & Chamber serves as the one voice for business in the region. We advocate for the concerns of business at the local, state, and national level. We provide opportunities for education on issues, interaction with officials, and encourage our investors to participate in the process,” says Steve Dust, CEO of the Alliance & Chamber.

All three candidates participated in the Cedar Falls Forum including: businessman Jim Brown, incumbent Mayor Jon Crews, and retired railroad management employee Dave Halterman.

Each of the mayoral candidates made a brief opening statement. Moderator Steve Firman, Director of Alliance & Chamber Government Relations, then directed questions from the audience to the candidates.

In his opening statement Jim Brown shared his three-point platform of business development, good communication, and strong leadership. He pointed to his success launching a technology startup and in talent recruitment for John Deere as valuable experience that will help him market the city to new business and talent. Brown noted that the University Avenue project will likely move forward as approved by the current council.

Jon Crews bases his campaign on ‘facts and real numbers.’ He points to reduced residential and industrial tax rates, and quality of life and amenities as hallmarks of his tenure as mayor. Crews believes the use of roundabouts on University Avenue will reduce accidents and save lives.

Dave Halterman was a critic of the University Avenue reconstruction plan and outlined seven ways he believes the project could be handled more efficiently. He sees University Avenue as the ‘present and future of tourism and business development in Cedar Falls.” He believes the opportunity to increase the tax base is ‘bleak.’

Brown did not comment on the issue of the downtown location of the waste water plant. Crews commended the water treatment department for their efforts to mitigate the odor issue and noted that new development has continued despite the location of the plant. Halterman criticized the way EPA requirements for run-off into sanitary sewers are being addressed.

Brown supports the use of TIF. He believes it puts the City in a position of strength when negotiating with prospective businesses. Crews cited the City’s successful use of TIF and believes it should not be restricted. Halterman pointed out that residents should benefit from development in lower taxes or increased services.

Crews would support a part-time mayor position if the people voted for it, but believes a balance between strong elected officials and professional staff is best. Brown sees no reason to reorganize the structure of Cedar Falls government and believes the council should decide if the position of mayor should be reduced to part-time . Halterman voiced opposition to  a city manager position saying that the people have no recourse from the ballot box. He believes the mayor is the ‘elected CEO’ of the community.

A forum participant asked the candidates how they would make decisions when their own convictions differ from the opinions of constituents.

“If I can see something that save lives, save injuries, and saves tax payers money, then I think the elected officials need to vote their conscience.” responded Crews, “If you do what you think is right and you can sleep at night then that is what you should do.”

Halterman believes leadership should concede to constituents. “Anything else,” he stated, “is arrogance.”

“There is a responsibility of a leader to lead, to communicate, to let folks know where you stand, “said Brown. “ But you also have to respect the process, which in our city is the council. The council is the power behind the process. The decision makers have to come to a consensus. Consensus means you don’t get what you want, but you are both moving the ball forward”

Listen to a recording of the forum here.

For more information on the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber and their Government Relations activities, go to www.cedarvalleyalliance.com or contact Steve Dust at sdust@cedarvalleyalliance.com or by calling 319-232-1156.

Legislative Update

Due to  myriad scheduling problems brought on by the relatively late date for ending the 2012 Legislative Session, the Alliance & Chamber decided not to hold our planned Post-Session Legislative Forum Breakfast.  In lieu of our breakfast, we sent two questions to all the members, eight in total, of our Cedar Valley Legislative delegation.  We received two responses and sent follow-up reminders to the other six area Legislators.  We believed their answers to each question would be of interest to you. Please take a few moments to review the answers given by Representative Bob Kressig and Senator Jeff Danielson below.  If we receive other responses, we will share them with you.

Thank you for your interest and support of our GCVAC Government Relations program.

Steve Firman, Director of Government Relations
Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber

 

Representative Bob Kressig

1. What observations would you share regarding this year’s Legislative activity and its impact on the business community in Iowa?

When the 2012 session began, our top priority was to work together to find common ground and create jobs to grow Iowa’s economy. While there is simply too much partisanship and focus on divisive issues today, we did make good progress this year when we put politics aside and worked together.

First, we took action to help Iowa businesses expand and find skilled workers. A new high quality jobs initiative will help businesses expand while encouraging new businesses to locate in Iowa. We continued the innovation fund to commercialize research at our universities and continued key initiatives at UNI to help entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Second, we took significant steps to build a skilled workforce for Iowa businesses. We expanded training at our community colleges and kept tuition affordable for middle class families. We created new tuition grants for students to fill job openings in shortage areas where businesses are looking for workers and kept local workforce centers open to help Iowans get training or find a job. We also took action to help under-employed Iowans who want to upgrade their skills get the training they need.

2. What issues do you plan to focus on during the campaign season and into next year’s session?

My top priorities remain growing our economy and a skilled workforce. With a skilled worker shortage on the horizon, the state must do more to help businesses get skilled workers who can compete with workers from around the globe. With most jobs now requiring some education or training beyond high school, we have to improve education from pre-school through high school and keep tuition affordable at Hawkeye Community College and UNI.

I’ll continue to work to find common ground on several bills to help businesses that did not become law this year. Despite months of negotiations and $350 million on the table, the Legislature was unable to reach a final agreement on commercial property tax relief. I also supported other initiatives designed to grow our economy including: giving Iowa businesses first preference on state and local government contracts instead of sending our tax dollars out of state; leveling the playing field for small businesses on Main Street; helping local communities revitalize business districts and industrial parks; and encouraging more wind energy production. I’m hopeful we can find common ground on these initiatives next year.

 

Senator Jeff Danielson

1. What observations would you share regarding this year’s Legislative activity and its impact on the business community in Iowa?

One year does not an economy make. Iowa’s economy is performing better than most other states because we’ve cut state government costs beginning in 2009 and we’ve enjoyed a healthy agricultural export sector. Both have worked together to ensure a stable and positive business climate as evidenced by Iowa continuing to receive high marks from multiple sources for it’s efforts, including a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report placing Iowa in the top ten. As a result, Iowa has a balanced budget with a healthy surplus; in fact the largest since the early 1980’s and a lower unemployment rate than the national average. For these reasons, I’m proud of our efforts to encourage job growth and wealth creation during one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Considering Iowa also suffered its worst natural disaster in 2008, ranked #1 as measured by real dollar damage, the current “State of the State” is even more impressive.

2. What issues do you plan to focus on during the campaign season and into next year’s session?

Economies compete for capital investment, business location and customer base. No state can rest on its laurels and Iowa is no different. I will remain focused on pro-growth, progressive ideas that put Iowa in the best position to keep the businesses it already has, expand them and attract new businesses with responsible, sustainable incentives.

My top five job creation ideas are:

1. Lowering commercial property taxes (without shifting the burden to homeowners).

2. Protecting the ability of cities to use tax increment financing (TIF).

3. Funding Iowa Department of Economic Development initiatives (Debi Durham needs resources to leverage partnerships for business location decisions).

4. Supporting the Innovation Council to implement Battelle study ideas for growing Iowa jobs in advanced manufacturing, information solutions and value-added agriculture.

5. Investing in and improving education at every level, including job training at Community Colleges, increasing rigor, relevance and outcomes in local pre-K-12 schools and keeping tuition affordable at Universities, public and private.


I encourage Alliance Members to contact me directly anytime at 319-231-7192 or jeffdanielson@gmail.com. I work for you!

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Legislative Update of GCVAC/ICA

Eight weeks have passed this session.  The first funnel is behind us.  The Legislature has begun to focus on budget bills and cleaning up their debate calendars by moving smaller bills on the floor.  Often at this point in the session, some political distractions come into play.  This week that was very true.

In a dispute over how much notice was given prior to floor votes on a pair of gun laws, the House Democrats decided to leave the building in protest.  They were only gone for a few hours and business resumed later that day (the bills passed, but face an uncertain future in the Senate), but the spectacle did underscore some partisan tensions that have been simmering under the surface.  When one party has decisive control of a chamber (as is true in the House with Republicans holding 60 seats to the Democrats’ 40), it can be a frustrating experience to the minority party.  Sometimes those frustrations spill out into the public.  It’s a good reminder that partisan politics are unavoidable at the Capitol.

Otherwise, the most movement in the legislature was arguably the House passing three budget bills, including the appropriation for the Iowa Economic Development Authority.  There is some movement on the level of funding for economic development incentives in the House – they’re at the $10 million mark.  The Senate will likely come in with $20-25 million, with about $5 million flowing through to other programs.  The Alliance & Chamber strongly supports the $25 million request by the Governor to properly equip the new Iowa Economic Development Authority with the resources it needs to help Iowa compete for new development.

Tax Increment Financing continues to be discussed in the House, with the dialogue beginning to focus on time limits for TIF districts, further transparency and auditing of TIFs, and anti-piracy policies.  The Senate passed a shell bill to keep its TIF legislation alive through the funnel.  The House Ways & Means Subcommittee continues to meet and has indicated TIF would follow property tax reform action.

There were no material developments on the property tax front this week.  The Alliance continues to press for action on the issue in the Senate so that a meaningful compromise can be achieved yet this session.

As the session rolls on, it is imperative that legislators hear from the business community.  It is our responsibility to be fierce advocates for polices that promote economic growth.  This year, we have to play offense (property taxes & economic development incentives) and defense (TIF – and economic development incentives!).  Please make sure to take time this week to let your legislators know how critically important these issues are for Iowa’s economic progress.

For more information, please contact Steve Firman at SFirman@CedarValleyAlliance.com or 319- 239-6067.

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Be part of something greater - The Cedar Valley of Iowa

The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber is a regional economic community development corporation working to increase economic vitality and wealth in the Waterloo / Cedar Falls area and surrounding economic region. The Alliance & Chamber has approximately 800 members that represents over 40,000 employees