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Jim Sayre to resign from North Liberty City Council, takes job out of state

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NORTH LIBERTY — North Liberty City Council member Jim Sayre will resign on Feb. 1.

Sayre has accepted a job at the University of Arizona in Tucson, he said in a resignation letter. Once Sayre leaves the council, members will have to decide whether to fill the vacancy through appointment or special election.

The term lasts through December of this year.

If someone is appointed to fill the seat, that person would serve through November’s city election. If a special election is held, the elected council member would serve through December.

The council is scheduled to discuss the vacancy and choose a possible course of action during Tuesday’s regular meeting. It’s scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council’s chambers at 1 Quail Creek Circle.

Choosing to appoint would save the city on election costs, between $2,000 and $3,000, according to council documents. However, residents could file a petition to trigger a special election.

That was the scenario during North Liberty’s last elected official vacancy, when then-mayor Amy Nielsen was elected to the state House of Representatives. Council member Terry Donahue was chosen as the city’s mayor and resident Sarah Madsen was elected to a council seat in April 2017.

Sayre, in his first term on the council, was elected in 2015. He previously served on the city’s planning and zoning commission, board of adjustment and transit advisory committee. He is also the associate director of parking and transportation at the University of Iowa.

“North Liberty has been incredible to me and my family, and we’re grateful for having had the opportunity to live, play and work in such a great place,” Sayre wrote in his letter.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Beno’s Flowers and Gifts wants to bring fun, happiness

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IOWA CITY — A new Iowa City business aims to spread happiness.

Benito Ocampo Campos opened Beno’s Flowers and Gifts on Nov. 15 in downtown Iowa City, realizing a longtime goal to own his own flower shop.

“Flowers bring happiness, with their smell and their colors, when people receive them,” Ocampo said. “Everyone loves flowers.”

Ocampo, who grew up in Mexico, opened his first business in that country at the age of 19.

“It was a small gift shop — only about 300 square feet,” he recalled. “I did decorations with balloons for parties and a few weddings with flowers but not much. I had no experience.”

A year or two later, Ocampo moved to Chicago, where his parents had lived for many years and where his older siblings had been born.

“I didn’t speak English, so I went to school and worked different places gaining knowledge about English and flowers,” he said of his five years in that city.

About three years ago, Ocampo relocated to Iowa City to be with his partner who works for the University of Iowa. He took a job in the hospitality industry, working for a hotel and conference center, and continued to take classes in flowers and wedding design.

“I’m still taking classes,” he said. “I never stop learning.”

About two years ago, he began searching for a location to open his flower shop.

“I looked at Iowa River Landing, I looked in Coralville,” he said. “Then I met Nancy Bird.”

Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District, told Ocampo about a new retail space being created inside the Iowa Book building, with an entrance on Iowa Avenue, around the corner from Iowa Book’s Clinton Street entrance.

“It’s the perfect location,” Ocampo said.

With views of the Old Capitol and lots of foot traffic outside, the bright space holds fragrant floral arrangements and an array of gift items and party favors, including balloons, sparklers shaped as numbers and letters, handmade items from Mexico and confetti chocolate bars.

“I look for unique items that bring fun and happiness,” Ocampo said.

He plans to add a flower bar for customers to create their own bouquets and host floral arrangement workshops.

l Know a business that’s been in operation for less than a year that could make for an entertaining “Ground Floor”? Let us know at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a Glance

l Owner: Benito Ocampo Campos

l Business: Beno’s Flowers and Gifts

l Address: 107 E. Iowa Ave., Iowa City

l Phone: (319) 499-7571

l Email: beno@benosflowers.com

l Website: www.benosflowers.com

l Facebook: Benos-Flowers-426967324380356

Farm out-building considered a “total loss” after Monday fire

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A farm out-building on Cottage Grove Parkway in Marion caught fire on Monday, Jan. 21.

According to a news release, the fire occurred on the property of Greg and Terry Churchill, at 1774 Cottage Grove Prkwy.

Linn County Sheriff’s Deputies, Linn County Sheriff’s Rescue, West Bertram Fire, Mt. Vernon Fire, Springville Fire, Marion Fire, State Patrol and Area Ambulance, responded to the fire at around 7:50 a.m. Monday.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Linn County Sheriff’s office. The building and hay are being considered a total loss.

According to the release, no one was on scene at the start of the fire and no one was injured in the incident.

Complaint: Man arrested after allegedly crashing stolen vehicle

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Johnson County deputies arrested a 34-year-old man Sunday night after he allegedly crashed a stolen vehicle while driving drunk.

According to the criminal complaint, Rogelio Rodriguez, of Columbus Junction, was driving a black 2013 Chevrolet Malibu south on Interstate 380 just north of the North Liberty exit when he was involved in a single-vehicle wreck.

Deputies said the vehicle Rodriguez was driving was reported stolen from Cedar Rapids. According to the complaint, Rodriguez told deputies that he “thought he was driving his car,” and that he had left from the same area that the vehicle was reported stolen from.

Deputies said Rodriguez smelled strongly of ingested alcohol and exhibited slurred speech, bloodshot watery eyes and poor balance. The criminal complaint states Rodriguez admitted to consuming alcohol and did poorly during field sobriety testing.

Rodriguez faces charges of first-degree theft and operating a vehicle while under the influence.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Kamala Harris enters 2020 presidential race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Sen. Kamala Harris of California joined the 2020 presidential contest on Monday, thrusting a daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India into the Democratic race two years after she arrived in the Senate.

Harris, a 54-year-old former prosecutor raised in a state that has been the crucible of the Trump resistance, expanded a growing field of candidates fighting for the nomination of a party that is increasingly non-white and fueled by women alienated by the president.

She made the announcement during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and in a video that her campaign posted online.

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values,” she said in the video. “That’s why I’m running for president of the United States.”

Harris plans a more formal campaign launch in Oakland, California, on Sunday, when she will give a speech outlining her candidacy.

As she weighed whether to enter the race, Harris spoke about the challenges of running a campaign that would attempt to break several barriers. If elected, she would be the first woman, the first woman of Asian heritage and the first African-American woman as president.

“Let’s be honest. It’s going to be ugly,” Harris told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski during a December conference in San Francisco. “When you break things, it is painful. And you get cut. And you bleed.”

Her announcement came on a day when the nation celebrates the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Her campaign noted that Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president in a major party, launched her campaign 47 years ago this week.

Harris also plans to travel to Columbia, South Carolina, on Friday to speak at the Pink Ice Gala, an event held by the local Gamma Nu Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the sorority Harris joined while at Howard University. South Carolina will hold the first primary in 2020 dominated by African-American voters.

In her announcement on “Good Morning America” Harris drew on history, saying it was “very important” to her to tie her campaign to Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. She said he had a realistic idea of America’s flaws, but remained “aspirational.””We know that we’ve not yet reached those ideals,” she said.

“Our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals.”

Harris is relatively unknown nationally — a CNN survey in September found that 51 percent of registered voters had never heard of her — and has recently tried to introduce herself through the requisite campaign book “The Truths We Hold,” which was released Jan. 8.

In the Senate she has earned a reputation for sharp questioning and a skeptical approach to Trump administration officials. From her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee she has been one of the body’s more pointed interrogators, particularly during high-profile moments such as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

During a tense exchange with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions over Trump campaign contacts with Russia, Sessions stopped her.

“I’m not able to be rushed this fast,” he said. “It makes me nervous.”

Harris’ rich mixture of heritage has led some supporters to refer to her as “the female Barack Obama.” The former Democratic president also launched his presidential campaign two years after joining the Senate.

As a child, Harris attended a Hindu temple and a black Baptist church. Her name Kamala (which she pronounces “comma-la” or “calm-ala”) comes from the Sanskrit word for lotus plant.

Harris’ late mother immigrated to the United States from India as an adult and became a physician specializing in breast cancer. Her father became an economics professor at Stanford University. They divorced when Harris was young, and her mother raised her and her younger sister, Maya.

Harris attended Howard University in Washington and the University of California Hastings College of the Law. She then set out on a career as a prosecutor.

Her motto, she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009, is a saying her mother had — “you may be the first, but make sure you’re not the last” — and her political career has been marked by firsts.

When she ran in 2003 and unseated her onetime boss, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, she became the first black woman to be elected district attorney in California. When she was elected attorney general of California in 2010, she became the state’s first female, the first African-American and first Asian-American to hold the position.

Her tenure as attorney general was marked by efforts to protect consumers and fight sexual trafficking. But she also came under fire for tough stances against felons whose guilt fell under question.

Some of that tenure is bound to come under scrutiny during her presidential campaign, but she nonetheless is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor. The campaign slogan in her announcement video is “For the People,” which campaign advisers said was a nod to her rising in court to say, “Kamala Harris, for the people.”

In her first remarks after announcing her presidential campaign, Harris described the criminal justice system as “horribly flawed” and in need of change. Yet, she said, all communities also support law enforcement.

“There is a lot of work to do, but to suggest it’s one or the other, I don’t buy that,” she said.

In 2014, she married Doug Emhoff, a media, entertainment and intellectual property partner with two children from his earlier marriage.

Harris’ Senate colleagues Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have announced presidential bids. Among those expected to join the race are Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Also pondering a run is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

In the weeks before the November elections, Harris made trips to Iowa and South Carolina, both early-voting states. She is also positioned to do well in her home state, which has moved its primary from June to March of 2020, as well as neighboring Nevada.

Harris has faced controversy: One of her senior advisers, Larry Wallace, resigned in December amid questions about a $400,000 lawsuit that was settled in 2017. The suit resulted from allegations that he sexually harassed a female assistant when they worked for Harris at the California Department of Justice.

Among several allegations in a lawsuit cited by the Sacramento Bee, Wallace placed a printer underneath his desk and forced his female assistant to replace ink or paper in it every day, even when she asked to move it to another location to avoid crawling under his desk in dresses or skirts.

Harris has played a prominent role as Washington confronted the #MeToo movement, and was among the first senators to call on Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to resign last year amid allegations of misconduct.

Harris is planning to base her presidential campaign in Baltimore, with a second office in Oakland. It will be led by Juan Rodriguez, who was the campaign manager of her 2016 Senate campaign and was also a senior adviser to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign.

The campaign chair will be Maya Harris, the candidate’s sister and a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Other members of her campaign team include prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias as general counsel, Angelique Cannon as national finance director; David Huynh as senior adviser; and Lily Adams as communications director.

Gun violence prevention campaign targets Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A gun violence prevention group is launching a digital campaign encouraging Iowans to tell legislators to oppose a constitutional amendment it believes would weaken state gun safety laws.

Giffords, the gun violence prevention group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, launched a digital campaign urging Iowans to stand against the proposal by pointing out to their legislators how this puts Iowa’s gun laws at risk.

According to gun rights supporters in the Iowa Legislature, the proposed amendment simply would add the right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment to the Iowa Constitution. It would say: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

In its 30-second online ad, https://youtu.be/duExsXouC8Y Giffords doesn’t address that language. Instead, Nico Bocour, Giffords’ state legislative director, said the intention is to inform and educate voters that legislators are trying to pass “a really dangerous amendment that would undermine Iowa gun laws, make it incredibly difficult and prohibitive to pass new gun laws in the future and we think really goes against what the Iowa public wants.”

Giffords warns that even background checks intended to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers could be challenged if the amendment is adopted.

Polling has shown Iowans support background checks, added Charlotte Eby, a lobbyist who represents Giffords at the Iowa Statehouse.

“This measure could put those in peril and make it easier for a court challenge of smart gun laws” because of the “strict scrutiny” language, she said.

Giffords calls that a “dangerous and radical policy that would constrain the discretion of Iowa’s legislature to regulate guns and force state judges to apply a legal standard under which laws evaluated are more frequently struck down.”

Iowa lawmakers have approved the amendment twice, as required by law, and the next step was for it to be put on the ballot for voters to approve or reject. But because of an error, it was not published before the November election. Lawmakers will have to restart the process of amending the constitution. That means it won’t be on the ballot before 2022.

“The amendment has been a priority for over a decade now,” according to Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, who led the effort to get the amendment on the ballot. “I believe this is a priority for Iowans. We will continue to do what is right, by Iowans, in giving them the opportunity to have this on the ballot and have their voices heard.”

Bocour acknowledged that the fact the language has been approved may make it more difficult to stop lawmakers from putting it on the ballot, but it also gives advocates for gun safety legislation another opportunity.

Giffords thinks the tide of public opinion is turning. Sixty-seven gun laws were adopted by 26 states and Washington, D.C., last year. She also pointed to NBC exit polling last year that found among Democrats, gun policies ranked as the second most important issue, behind health care and ahead of the economy. Guns were the fourth issue on voters’ minds regardless of party.

“So the movement and momentum on this issue has been going toward gun safety,” Bocour said. “We saw the gun lobby’s efforts to pass these extreme and dangerous laws fail in states across the country.”

The November election showed the public is prioritizing gun safety legislation as one of their top voting issues, she said. Several candidates who back “smart” gun legislation were elected by voters “turning out to make their voices heard on this issue.”

Unfortunately, she added, “it does seem that Iowa lawmakers have been listening more to the gun lobby than people who elected them.”

“We’re hoping that with this additional information … lawmakers will hear those calls and understand that tide really has turned,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Ann Poe to seek re-election to Cedar Rapids City Council

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Ann Poe will seek her third term on the Cedar Rapids City Council, she announced Monday.

Poe, 66, executive director of Hawkeye Downs, holds one of three at-large seats on the nine-member council. The term is for four years.

“I love Cedar Rapids,” Poe said, who was first elected in 2011. “This is my hometown, and I want to keep the momentum going.”

Poe, who chairs the City Council’s development committee, identified securing federal aid for east-side flood protection, overhauling the zoning code, and economic development in Kingston Village and the NewBo District as highlights of her most recent term.

In many cases, more work remains, she said. She said she would like another term to push for flood protection on the west side, continue progress on street repairs particularly in older neighborhoods, growing affordable housing and a trained workforce, and bringing to life eight acres of prime downtown real estate once reserved for a casino that’s now being called First and First West.

“I feel like there’s still progress to make,” Poe said.

Gary Streit will be her campaign treasurer. Linda Seger, Mike Wyrick and Jim and Barbara Vancura are co-chairs of her committee.

Poe is the first candidate to declare intentions to run. Four Cedar Rapids City Council seats in total are up for election this year.

The terms of Susie Weinacht, who also holds an at-large seat, Scott Olson in District 4, and Scott Overland in District 2 also expire at the end of 2019.

Weinacht, Olson and Overland have not yet announced their intentions.

The filing period to run is Aug. 26 to Sept. 19. Voter preregistration deadline is Oct. 25, and the election will be Nov. 5.

In Cedar Rapids, candidates must receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win without a runoff. In the case where two seats are on the ballot in an at-large race, a candidate must receive at least 25 percent of the vote to win without a runoff.

The part-time council position pays $18,391 annually.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Transparency on the rocks in Iowa Senate?

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The 2019 session of the Iowa Legislature had a bumpy rollout last week thanks to some rules changes by Senate Republicans.

A week that in most legislative sessions is dominated by the session-opening leadership speeches became a little more intriguing when Senate Republicans changed the chamber’s rules in many of the committees to allow legislators to hold meetings without 24 hours’ notice and left out language requiring subcommittee meetings to be available to the public.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said the changes were made to give legislators more flexibility in scheduling committee meetings.

Whitver disagreed with the Democrats’ suggestion that Republicans made the rules changes to skirt transparency.

“I don’t believe that’s true at all,” Whitver told The Gazette. “I don’t know where they’re getting that.”

The rules changes still require Senate Republicans to provide notice of a committee meeting the day before; it just doesn’t have to be 24 hours. In other words, legislators can, at 4 p.m. Tuesday, announce a 9 a.m. committee meeting Wednesday.

Some committees also left out a rule that subcommittee meetings be open to the public.

But Senate Republicans said that rule was excluded only because it was superfluous. They said other Senate rules make clear that all subcommittee meetings must be made public.

Subcommittee meetings were not always public; the rules being ditched by Senate Republicans in some committees were put on the books in the mid-2000s. But with the requirement that they be open to the public, subcommittee hearings have become the stage of the legislative process that features the most public participation.

When a bill is working its way through the Legislature, the subcommittee hearings are when any interest group, lobbyist or individual can attend and express their feelings to legislators. By the time a bill reaches the next step, the full committee hearing, the public cannot weigh in.

Eliminating that public subcommittee hearing would remove a crucial step in the legislative process. It would remove the ability for the public to offer support for or express concern over a bill, and it would hamper the ability of reporters to provide a complete picture of the debate around a piece of legislation.

Senate Republicans insisted that will not happen, because it’s not their intention and because the Senate rules still require public subcommittee hearings.

That would be the best for all involved, because less transparency in government is almost never a good thing.


For a brief time, Iowa did not have representation on the Agriculture Committee in the U.S. House.

That happened last week when Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa’s 4th District, was stripped of his committee assignments after his latest round of racially charged comments.

Iowa lacking a House member on the agriculture committee was considered unsettling for obvious reasons, but it didn’t last.

New Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat from Iowa’s 3rd District, was appointed to the committee last week. As a bonus for Iowa agriculture, Axne’s party is in the majority.

“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve as a voice for Iowa farmers on the House agriculture committee,” Axne said in a statement.


King’s favorability rating in his district lags far behind other Republicans, and if the election were today, voters would choose J.D. Scholten or a generic Democrat over him, according to a poll released Friday.

The poll was published by a PAC created by Jim Mowrer, a Democrat who previously ran in the 4th District and for secretary of state.

The poll said 42 percent of 4th District voters have a favorable opinion of King, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion. That’s a far worse split than for fellow Republicans Kim Reynolds (61/31), Joni Ernst (59/30) and Donald Trump (57/42). It’s even worse than Democrat J.D. Scholten (35/18), who narrowly lost to King in 2018.

When asked whether voters would choose King or a generic Democratic candidate for Congress, King lost to the generic Democrat, 45 percent to 37 percent, with 18 percent saying they were unsure.

Poll respondents also chose Scholten over King, 44 percent to 39 percent.

The poll was conducted by 20-20 Insight, an Atlanta-based firm founded by Democrats. Insight polled 472 likely voters in the 4th District on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

l Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

Comfort Suites hotel in Coralville sold

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The owners of the Comfort Suites hotel sold the Coralville hotel they’ve owned since it was built in 2005 to the owner of a handful of other hotels in the area.

“It is definitely a bittersweet day,” Lincoln and Mary McIlravy said in a news release announcing the sale, which closed Wednesday. “... With supply in the market increasing rapidly, it was time to make some adjustments to ensure we continue to thrive and run a successful portfolio.

“The timing was right.”

Terms of the sale were undisclosed.

The hotel — the McIlravys’ first — was sold to Peter Patel, who owns the Mainstay Suites, Country Inn and Suites and Super 7, among other venues, according to Matt Traetow, operations director for Serve 20:28, a management company owned by the McIlravys.

“A number of associates continued to stay on with our company, working at our Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites by Hilton or within our management office — Serve 20:28 — but all other employees stayed on at the hotel and joined Mr. Patel’s ownership group,” Traetow wrote in an email.

Comfort Suites employs 25 to 35 at this time of year, he said.

Iowa community college enrollment dips as tuition rises

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Iowa’s community college enrollment is down while the cost to attend is up. But the institutions collectively still serve more than half of all Iowans pursuing postsecondary education, and they’ve increased their reach to the state’s growing minority population.

The Annual Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges report released this week — recounting highlights from 2018 — shows combined credit enrollment in Iowa’s 15 community colleges dipped 1.2 percent, to 131,144 students, taking nearly 1.8 million credits.

But minority enrollment ticked up to a record high 22.4 percent of that total — meeting demographic demand in this state as data indicates Iowa’s minority population is young and growing.

Minorities in Iowa’s public school districts reached an all-time high of 113,076 — or 24 percent of the student body — in the 2016-17 school year, according to a 2018 report on the condition of higher education in Iowa. That data revealed the percent of white-only Iowans under 18 fell from 87 percent in 2005 to 79 percent in 2016.

“As a result, Iowa now has more minority students than ever in the pool of potential college graduates,” according to Iowa College Aid’s Condition of Higher Education report.

According to this week’s report on community colleges, the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017 estimated 12.3 percent of Iowans over age 15 were non-white, and of that group 8.1 percent were enrolled in Iowa’s community colleges, “representing the highest penetration rate of minority students in community colleges nationally.”

The new report also highlighted a 2.3 percent increase in “joint enrollment” students — those taking community college courses while in high school — with 51,001 high schoolers accounting for nearly 39 percent of total community college enrollees and 24.1 percent of the total credits.

Of those students, 183 earned associate degrees simultaneously with their high school diploma.

High school efforts to better prepare students, along with streamlined collegiate efforts around academic skill building, could be paying off as developmental education enrollment in the community colleges — undergraduate courses designed to help underprepared students — decreased 11.4 percent in one year.

Community colleges also saw noncredit enrollment decrease about 5 percent — with 204,233 students taking 5.9 million hours of skill-enhancement and training contact hours.

Administrators across the community college spectrum have said while they like to see enrollment upticks rather than dips, the downward trend since a spike around the 2008 recession — and the years that immediately followed — makes sense.

And even with the enrollment drops and leveling in Iowa, community college advocates are stressing the paramount role the institutions play in supporting the state’s economy and helping it reach a goal of getting 70 percent of its workforce some form of postsecondary education by 2025 — a level economists have projected will become necessary to fill the jobs being created.

In reporting that Iowa’s 15 community colleges educate 50.6 percent of all residents enrolled in public or private two- and four-year postsecondary institutions, the new community college assessment notes this state has a nearly 10-percentage-point edge over the national average of 41 percent, as reported by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Echoing community college advocacy for diversity in education and training — beyond traditional four-year university degrees — and the state funding to support it, the new report spells out the community college return on investment.

Collectively, they contributed $5.4 billion to the state’s economy and supported 107,170 jobs — or 6 percent of the total in Iowa — during the 2014-15 budget year, the most recent data available.

In addition, the assessment reports taxpayers receive on average $3.50 over the working lives of students for every $1 of public money spent on educating students at Iowa’s community colleges.

“In return for every dollar students invest in the form of out-of-pocket expenses and forgone time and money, they receive a cumulative of $6.50 in higher future earnings,” according to the report. “Over a working lifetime, the average associate degree completer will see an increase in earnings amounting to an undiscounted value of approximately $418,000.”

The Annual Condition of Iowa’s Community Colleges report can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2CtNNwX.

But getting more state aid has been a hard sell in recent years — as budget woes and revenue hits have prompted lawmakers and the governor to approve midyear cuts and deappropriations for public universities and community colleges.

That had the consequential effect of driving up tuition rates for all Iowa’s community colleges — with average tuition and fees per credit hour for in-state students rising from about $176 in the 2017-18 year to more than $182 in the 2018-19 term.

That amounts to an average 3.7 percent bump, with many reporting in that range for annual increases.

Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College, with its $7 in-state tuition bump, reports a 4.3 percent increase — but that doesn’t include its $25 flat fee raise. When adding that in, based on a 15-credit-hour semester, Kirkwood’s cost to attend is going up about 5.3 percent.

Kirkwood spokesman Justin Hoehn said the college still is assessing rates for next year — depending on state appropriations and enrollment figures. But if Gov. Kim Reynolds’ budget recommendation earlier this week is any indication, increases could be smaller.

Reynolds is proposing for community colleges nearly $5 million more than they requested in general aid in the 2020 budget year and more than $9 million more for 2021.

• Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

University of Iowa researcher prepares area seniors for disaster

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IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa researcher has undertaken an effort to help prepare seniors in the community in the event of a disaster, a move that has gained the attention of aging service providers across the state.

In 2013, University of Iowa College of Public Health Associate Professor Sato Ashida began an effort to understand how well-prepared elderly Iowans are in case of a natural disaster.

More than 514,000 people aged 65 and older were living in Iowa in 2016, accounting for 16.4 percent of the state’s population, according to the State Data Center of Iowa.

The number of Iowans aged of 65 and older is expected to reach more than 677,000 people by 2050, according to projections from the State Data Center. By that time, older Iowans will make up at least 20 percent of the majority of the state’s 99 counties.

Research indicates elderly are most at risk in the event of a natural disaster, compounded by mobility issues, chronic health conditions and other factors limiting access to emergency services.

Ashida points to the wildfire in Paradise, Calif., which swept through the region in November, as an example. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, more than 60 percent of those killed as a result of the fire were in their 70s, 80s or 90s.

Ashida started developing a project called PrepWise, an informational guide designed to help individuals through planning the next steps after an emergency, which she said gives participants a much better opportunity to cope with and recover from a natural disaster.

Steps include identifying three people to overcome a scenario, such as a person to help with shelter or transportation.

It also asks participants to list any health care issues first responders should be aware of, and to provide contact information of their health care provider.

“The big part is getting that person an emergency support network,” she said.

Ashida currently is moving forward with developing the project further after a follow-up study determined seniors want a web-based version of the PrepWise guide. Currently, it’s a printed booklet — something that could be lost in a flood or tornado.

Now, agencies and providers who work with those aged 65 and older are joining the conversation on disaster management in Iowa — a conversation that has led Ashida to being named as a policy fellow for the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy.

Agency officials believe if emergency management agencies had certain information about older Iowans, disaster response and recovery could be vastly improved for these individuals. However, there are barriers.

“For it to be useful for other agencies, they need access to that data. But it comes down to the issue of whether agencies can share personal information (of clients),” Ashida said.

Ashida said the project is “in its infancy.” The UI researcher plans to gather key stakeholders for a discussion on the best way to approach this data-sharing initiative.

“The way I was first doing this, I would maybe help 30 people. Now, we’re talking about thousands of people in Iowa,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

MLK Day speaker, granddaughter of Percy and Lileah Harris, encourages hard conversations

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Evelyn Carter knows conversations about race can be difficult, but she wants more people to have them.

“People are very apprehensive about speaking about race in general,” she said during a phone interview on Thursday. “But that conversation is how we’re going to start to break down inequities.”

Carter, who has a doctorate in social psychology, has studied racial bias and writes and speaks about confronting bias. She will be the keynote speaker at three Martin Luther King Jr. events in Cedar Rapids today, including a talk at Coe College at 9 a.m., a workshop at the Cedar Rapids Public Library at 2 p.m. with her mother, Anne Harris Carter, and an address during a community celebration at 6:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

“The overarching theme I’m really excited to be talking about is colorblindness, why colorblindness is not an ideology we need to be embracing when we talk about diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It’s only recently that we’ve started to understand that celebrating and embracing diversity and recognizing differences is really the way to go.”

Though she lives in Los Angeles, Carter has roots in Cedar Rapids — her grandparents were local luminaries Percy and Lileah Harris. Percy Harris was the Linn County medical examiner for 40 years, and both he and Lileah held numerous leadership positions in the community.

Among other activities, he served as the first black member of the Iowa Board of Regents, was president of the NAACP Cedar Rapids Chapter and was medical staff president at St. Luke’s Hospital, while she served on the board of the NAACP and the Cedar Rapids Human Rights Commission, among other positions.

The under-construction the Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services center, the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building, will be named for the couple.

The celebration at St. Paul’s will include presentation of the annual Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris “Who is My Neighbor” Award, given to an individual recognized for working of justice in Linn County.

“I think they impacted me because they impacted my mother. My mom has basically been working in diversity and inclusion almost as long as I can remember,” Carter said of her grandparents.

“In middle school and high school we referred to her as Ms. Diversity. She was always talking about being inclusive, always encouraging us to think about including people from all different kinds of groups.”

Yet she said it wasn’t until she was in college at Northwestern University that she started to fully understand the effect of race on her life. She later received her master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Ph.D. from Indiana University.

“Race wasn’t something that was talked about very much outside my house, outside my church,” she said. “In high school, all my friends were white. In college, I saw the vast array of what blackness can look like.”

She said once she started learning about the structural barriers of racism in American society, she wanted to find ways to break down those barriers.

“If you can’t talk about it, you can’t recognize it, you can’t fix it,” she said.

She said many white people grew up being told talking about race was rude, but that people sometimes use that as an excuse to not engage with racism. She said colorblindness also can be used to erase the experiences of people of color.

Yet she cautioned people who want to start engaging with questions about race and structural racism to not rely on the people of color around them to do the mental and emotional work for them.

“There has to be some recognition that these conversations are difficult for people in different ways. My expectation is not for people of color to be a resource for white people all the time,” she said. “It takes a mental toll for people of color.”

Rather, white people who want to learn more should start with things such as books, podcasts and articles, she recommended, as well as attending public lectures and workshops. And then, she said, they should talk to other white people about these topics, what she calls “active allyship.”

“Part of my mantra is getting people to talk about race, but also to recognize there are conversations that have been happening for literally hundreds of years,” she said.

Carter is senior consultant at Paradigm Strategy Inc., co-founder of Illuminate Diversity Consuliting and served as director of translational research and anti-bias training in UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: 60 Years Later: Why Colorblindness Falls Short

• Where: Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday

• Details: Musical performance by Kevin “B.F.” Burt and lecture Evelyn Carter, followed by workshops.

• What: Roots of the Past, Fruit of the Future workshop with Anne Harris Carter and Evelyn Carter

• Where: Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 2 p.m. Monday

• What: Dr. MLK Jr. Day Celebration and community meal

• Where: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 5:30 p.m. meal, 6:30 p.m. service, Monday

• Details: A freewill offering community meal will be followed by music from area choirs, keynote speaker Evelyn Carter and presentation of the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris “Who is My Neighbor?” Award.

• More information: stpaulsumc.org/mlk-jr--celebration

Research: Large number of CAFOs in Western Iowa increases nitrate in streams

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Landowners in two Western Iowa watersheds are applying nitrogen fertilizer — in the forms of commercial fertilizer and livestock manure — at more than double the recommended rate, causing higher nitrate levels in streams there, according to new research by the University of Iowa.

The paper, published Dec. 19 in “Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment,” attempts to quantify on a large scale how animal feeding operations are affecting water quality.

“It’s pretty clear in these watersheds in Western Iowa, the ones with the highest concentration of livestock are the ones with the highest stream nitrate,” said Chris Jones, a UI research engineer and lead author of the paper.

The Floyd and Rock watersheds, thousands of square miles in northwest Iowa ultimately draining into the Missouri River, have the highest density of animal feeding operations in the state.

Sioux County, in the Floyd and Rock watersheds, had the largest number of medium and large feeding operations in the state, with 472 last spring, Iowa Department of Natural Resources data show. Lyon County, the next highest with 313 animal feeding operations, also is in the Floyd watershed.

To determine how much nitrogen is being applied to fields in these watersheds, Jones and his colleagues, including two DNR researchers, combined county-level commercial fertilizer sales data with the amount of nitrogen in manure generated by animals at feeding operations in those watersheds.

The total nitrogen input in the Floyd watershed is 337 pounds per corn acre, more than double Iowa State University Extension’s recommended application rates of an average 134 pounds per acre for corn, according to the paper. The Rock watershed nitrogen input is 328 pounds per acre, the paper states.

So although farmers in these watersheds have vast resources for manure application, sales of commercial fertilizer remain high.

These numbers are important because, while some nitrogen applied to fields is taken up by crops and some evaporates, excess nitrogen washes into nearby streams and rivers, where it can pollute the water supply and hurt the environment.

Nitrate in drinking water has been linked to health problems, including colorectal cancer, thyroid disease and infant methemoglobinemia — often called blue baby syndrome — a life-threatening condition reducing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

The UI used its network of water sensors on Iowa streams and rivers to measure nitrate levels on the Floyd and Rock rivers.

Nitrate levels on the rivers in 2017 consistently were over the 10 milligram-per-liter standard for drinking water, with the Floyd River averaging 16 milligrams per liter and the Rock at 11.5 milligrams per liter, the paper reported.

No cities are drawing their water supply directly from the Floyd River, Jones said, but rising nitrate levels in some municipal wells in northwest Iowa have caused concern.

While these effects are more pronounced in northwest Iowa, researchers have seen similar correlations with livestock concentration in other parts of the state, Jones said.

Dan Andersen, an ISU associate professor of manure management and water quality, said the research overestimates nitrogen from manure by using the amount of manure an animal can excrete versus the amount of nitrogen left after storage and application. But he acknowledges the challenges of avoiding nutrient runoff from manure.

“As with any fertilizer there are challenges with manure. Things like timing, consistency of the manure, and uniformity of our application can all be challenging when using manure as a fertilizer,” Andersen wrote in an email. “But we continue to see equipment development that leads to improvement in these areas.”

Greg McIsaac, a University of Illinois emeritus professor in environmental sciences, said the new UI paper refines previous research. “I think their earlier paper on nitrate trends only suggested that livestock might be an important source, but this paper provides a detailed quantitative assessment for the connection,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Iowa City designer’s Humanize My Hoodie campaign spreads important message on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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IOWA CITY — Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and in a nod to King’s work, Andre Wright is spreading empowerment and activism through fashion design.

On Friday, Wright was at City High in Iowa City for the school’s annual MLK Day events, a day where the normal class schedule is replaced by about 150 sessions for students, including discussion groups, movies and workshops that focus on King’s legacy, the civil rights movement, activism and more. School is out Monday for the holiday, so the event is held the Friday before.

“For me it’s a day of service to the community. That’s truly what Dr. King’s legacy is,” Wright said about the annual holiday to observe King’s birthday.

King would have been 90 years old on Jan. 15. The civil rights leader was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis.

Friday’s sessions included Wright’s Humanize My Hoodie workshop, hosted by the 40-year-old activist and fashion designer who hopes to de-stigmatize hoodies through what he calls “fashion empowerment” and show the community black men like him don’t lose their humanity when they put their hoods up, he said.

The Humanize My Hoodie campaign includes workshops like Friday’s event at City High, where students learn about the movement and get to screen print their own hoodie or T-shirt.

It’s also part of Wright’s fashion line — Born Leaders United — and includes a traveling interactive art exhibit that provides discussion and training for white allies. The exhibit has traveled to cities around the country and will be at the University of Northern Iowa starting Tuesday.

“It’s bigger than just a sweatshirt,” said Wright, an Iowa City resident. “We just hope that we are able to have more conversations about what’s happening to specifically black and brown people in our country. We’re just wanting to change the hearts and minds of people who might not see it the way we see it.”

Began as an experiment

The idea for Humanize My Hoodie began in 2017 after Wright’s friend, Jason Sole, a criminal justice professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., began an experiment of wearing a hoodie in class every day while teaching his students.

“The idea was to change the perception of how black men were looked at when they wear hoodies,” Wright said.

When he saw Sole’s experiment shared on Facebook, Wright was inspired to use his background in fashion to share the idea with a bigger audience.

“I was like, ‘Let me see if I can help him from a branding standpoint and not just make it academic. How can we activate the world with this hoodie?’” Wright said.

Why hoodies?

The Humanize My Hoodie movement came about five years after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager, was wearing a hoodie and walking to his father’s home from a convenience store when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting that gained national attention and led to the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, which aims to bring attention to violence against black people.

Hoodies become a symbol of support for Martin and of the movement as a stance against negative assumptions made of black men.

“There’s a million Trayvon Martins out there. He’s not the only person that we’re talking about when we say ‘Humanize My Hoodie.’ What we’re saying is like, ‘Humanize me before I die. I’ve got a family. I’m a professional,’” Wright said. “Don’t just look at me as some negative person or have a perception that I’m some kind of criminal.”

Making a mark on students

During Friday’s workshop, Wright said he hoped to show the City High students examples of people having positive impacts on their communities. His talks with students focused on sharing his story as an entrepreneur and what sparked his call to incorporate fashion with activism.

Keith Murray II, a 15-year-old sophomore at City High who attended Friday’s workshop, said he was intrigued by Wright’s back story about how he came to be a designer and activist.

“I really like his message. I really like what he had to offer,” Murray said.

Julia Coelho, a 17 year-old senior, said she heard Wright speak before and appreciated his efforts to inspire young people. Coelho said she hopes to help children, too, one day by becoming a math teacher.

“I’m not very artistic, so I’ve never really thought about” fashion empowerment, Coelho said. “In the hallway, I see there are some kids who wear the sweatshirts, with these hoodies, and it just reminds you of the privilege that I have and that all white people have.

“I think it’s important to remember that privilege.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Hawkeye athletics seeks dedicated travel agency

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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Athletics Department is looking to hire a firm to handle all its travel arrangements — from booking last-minute flights to transporting hard-to-ship pole vaults to wrangling large-group restaurant reservations.

The department, seeking to streamline the process and save money, issued a request for proposals from prospective travel agencies last October, asking for pitches through mid-November. The university has not yet announced a selection, and UI officials didn’t provide The Gazette with the number of agencies that responded.

According to the UI request, the department had planned to sign a contract by Jan. 1, leading up a June 1 start.

Travel expenses account for a hefty chunk of athletics costs annually, with the department spending nearly $7 million in the 2017 budget year — the most recent data provided by UI — on things like air and ground travel, lodging and meals for competition in the preseason, regular season and non-bowl game postseason.

That total includes use of airplanes, UI-owned vehicles and the “in-kind value” of donated transportation. The $7 million doesn’t include expenses for postseason bowls or recruiting travel.

UI athletics in 2017 spent another $1.6 million on recruiting-related transportation, lodging and meals. Its nearly $2 million “bowl expenses” for 2017 covered travel, lodging and meals.

The request stressed that although the chosen agency will coordinate travel for athletics-associated conferences, student and faculty recruitment, and competition, it won’t be booking leisure travel or trips for general campus faculty, staff and student travel.

As for athletics, though, the expectation is the agency will establish a firm grasp of the department’s “unique needs” and maintain profiles of all its travelers and their specific needs.

Although UI athletics is open to alternatives, it expressed interest in housing an on-site travel representative. It also expressed interest in an online portal for “easy access to make travel reservations, view travel reservations, obtain copies of itineraries, maintain traveler profiles, and obtain detailed reporting.”

Even with an online component, the department expected the agency to be available at all hours to answer questions within 30 minutes.

The request highlights the challenges that come with booking travel for large teams, including moving athletic gear.

“Many travelers want complete control over making their own travel arrangements or having their support staff do so. Others want a very high level of personal service and assistance with making their travel arrangements,” according to the university request. “These individuals expect a live person who is easily accessible, who they feel ‘knows’ them, and will accommodate their personal travel preferences.”

In response to questions from prospective agencies, UI athletics officials reported the department’s current arrangement is piecemeal.

They said the department has no on-site travel representative or service team despite buying about 3,470 airline tickets in the most recent budget year.

Athletic donations include limo and bus rides

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Athletic boosters have donated limo rides and bus trips to University of Iowa and Iowa State University sports programs in recent years.

LimoLink Incorporated, a chauffeur service headquartered in Marion, donated $48,442 worth of rides to various UI sports from Aug. 1, 2016, through July 30, 2018, UI records show.

Most of the LimoLink records provided by the UI include a range of dates, such as from March 1, 2018, to March 30, 2018, and list “car service/various cities” with the rides used by “various sports,” which makes it impossible to tell which teams benefited from the donations, how often and where the services were provided.

Interactive: University of Iowa coaches fly where?

One record says the company provided $160 in services in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 27, 2016. That time coincides with the run-up to the 2017 Outback Bowl, where the Iowa Hawkeyes played the Florida Gators.

LimoLink’s website says it works with chauffeurs in more than “300 markets in 65 countries and six continents.” The company did not return calls for comment.

Windstar Lines, a charter bus service based in Carroll, donated bus service worth $28,133, to take ISU coaches, student-athletes and spirit squad members on Tailgate Tours in 2017 and 2018, records show.

The 2018 tour was scheduled for May 14-16 and May 21-23 and stopped in Ottumwa, Bettendorf, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Grinnell, Waterloo, Templeton, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Okoboji, Humboldt and Clear Lake, according to ISU.

As with all in-kind gifts, these donations are tax deductible.

• Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Cold lingers as snow is cleared off Eastern Iowa roads

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The state unleashed 468 snowplows early Saturday to clear blowing snow off Iowa’s roads, but there is no brushing aside another aspect of the winter storm that hit this weekend — a cycle of bitter wind chills.

By Saturday morning, the Burlington area had recorded the state’s heaviest snowfall at 7 inches, according to the National Weather Service. But other parts of Eastern Iowa were not far behind.

Calamus reported 6.8 inches, Bertram 6.5, Independence 6.3 and Coggon 6.2 inches.

Outside Iowa’s top five — but not by much — were parts of Iowa City with 6 and parts of Cedar Rapids with 5.4 inches.

The Iowa DOT estimated its cost for dealing statewide with the storm for a 48-hour period ending Saturday afternoon was nearly $1.7 million — most for materials (about $890,000) and labor (about $435,000).

In the Cedar Rapids region alone, its costs were estimated at nearly $70,000 for work on interstates 80, 380, Highway 100 and others.

That estimate does not include the city of Cedar Rapid’s costs. In a tweet, the city said it was out in “full force,” deploying about 90 pieces of snow removal equipment.

Blustery winds were expected to calm Sunday, the weather service said, but would still be enough to drop wind chill readings to “the single digits to teens below zero” both Sunday and Monday mornings.

There is about a 40 percent chance of snow Sunday, with the possibility of some accumulation — though that’s more likely in Southeast Iowa.

Monday is forecast to be mostly cloudy and cold — about 18 degrees for a high — and Tuesday brings a 90 percent chance of a “wintry mix” of precipitation — with freezing rain possible for both the morning ane evening commutes.

Interactive: University of Iowa coaches fly where?

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Charter flights take college coaches across state lines or across the country exactly when they need to fly, allowing them to see recruits play and make it back to their own teams’ practices.

This interactive allows you to explore 84 charter flights taken by University of Iowa coaches from football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, and wrestling from Aug. 1, 2016, through July 30, 2018.

Explore where the coaches flew, how expensive the flights were, and whether the University of Iowa or a donor covered the full expense.

For more context and coverage of this topic, read Erin Jordan's full story regarding the cost breakdown of these flights, and how the donated flights disproportionately benefit the coaches of male sports. 

American factories brace for sting of 2019 trade war

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Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

America’s manufacturers are scrambling to change the way they do business — from finding new suppliers to shifting more finishing work overseas — as the sting of tariffs begins to take a bigger toll on their bottom lines.

A range of recent reports have underscored fault lines in what had been a growing part of the economy. They all point to waning optimism because of a tight labor market, uncertainty over the stock market, rising interest rates — and especially trade issues.

Ben Bidwell, director of U.S. customs at C.H. Robinson, said clients have been swarming to the Eden Prairie-based logistics giant for help. They are hiring trade attorneys, renegotiating with custom brokers and hiring consultants in record numbers to mitigate the damage of trade tariffs.

“Collectively, our customs and trade policy group have never been busier than they are today,” Bidwell said. “They are inundated with calls from clients (seeking help) with tariff classification processes and looking at things like alternative importing sources, foreign trade zone options and import duty drawbacks. All those things are happening at such large numbers — and, yes, this is certainly costing importers money.”

Both the export and import measures in Creighton University’s nine-state Mid-America Business Conditions Index have been showing slower growth in recent months and actually fell in December for the first time in years. That was directly attributable to the tariff issues, said Ernie Goss, director of Creighton University Economic Forecasting Group.

The Institute for Supply Management found similar results for December, with imports across the United States slowing to levels not seen since May 2017.

The Dallas Federal Reserve’s factory index unexpectedly contracted this month, falling to a two-year low and showing the steepest decline since 2013, Bloomberg reported. The report follows other weakening Fed factory gauges in the New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and Kansas City districts, just the sixth time that’s happened during the economic expansion that is now in its 10th year, a Bloomberg analysis of Fed data showed.

Moody’s this month downgraded its outlook for the global manufacturing industry due to “trade tensions” that it said are expected to negatively impact product demand and profits in 2019.

Economists have been warning of more disruption for months. President Donald Trump leveled his administration’s first tariffs against Chinese steel and aluminum imports in March 2018 and followed with levies on products from Europe, Mexico and Canada.

Soon retaliatory tariffs followed, and the United States has been negotiating with countries ever since.

For months, factory heads said they scrambled behind the scenes to contain the fallout, without dumping overseas suppliers and trying to keep international customers.

While many Minnesota manufacturers were able to keep stability in 2018, they are worried about global logistics for this year, said Gabrielle Gerbaud, executive director of the Minnesota Trade Office.

“If you look at the import of industrial parts, most of our manufacturers had a stockpile of parts so they could function at their old (costs) before their inventory wore down,” Gerbaud said. Now the cushion is gone.

For Minnesota’s trade office, it’s the small and medium-sized manufacturers that are most at risk, though, Gerbaud said. They don’t have the order volumes to request tariff waivers from the U.S. government.

“They are not big or strong enough and they are always the ones who are affected by instability,” she said. “This unstable environment is hurting them.”

The implications could be substantial. Minnesota companies import and export $50 billion worth of goods each year, she said.

Packaging equipment maker Delkor Systems, based in Arden Hills, said it faced declining orders from Canada and Mexico as those countries were caught in the trade skirmishes. Now Delkor and other companies are waiting for NAFTA’s replacement to be approved by Congress.

Monticello-based precision machine shop Ultra Machining Co. simply “ate the extra costs” when the aluminum metal it imported to make medical devices faced U.S. tariffs last summer, said Ultra Machining President Eric Gibson. He faced bills several thousand dollars higher that he had not anticipated in the 2018 budget.

Plymouth-based Banner Engineering, which makes industrial sensors with supplies purchased from 12 countries, saw its component costs from overseas suppliers jump by double-digit percentages.

“Banner is directly affected by the tariff situation going on right now,” said Andy Barnauskas, the company’s vice president of operations.

Banner is now trying to find new trading partners, possibly in different countries, and in the meantime has passed some of the costs on to customers.

The trade tensions prompted many of accounting firm Baker Tilly’s 4,500 midsize manufacturing clients to switch gears. Instead of searching for ways to sell more products overseas, clients now want help mitigating trade tariffs, said Brian Simpson, an international growth specialist for Baker Tilly.

Many are rerouting component parts that previously shipped from China into the United States. Those parts are now sent from China to the clients’ other plants in Europe or Canada. There, components are altered, embedded into larger systems and then shipped into the United States.

“Right now, the ones who are doing this are not being public about it,” Simpson said. “But what they are doing is legal and is vetted by law firms. We have had dozens of companies come to us in the last 90 days about this. Companies that have large exposures are investing in ways to mitigate their risk. They are not waiting because there are millions of dollars on the line.”

The industrial robotics maker PaR Systems in Shoreview — which sources steel and high-tech parts from around the globe — is considering switching from Canadian to U.S. suppliers. It is also redesigning some robotic products so they use less steel.

“We are trying to source as effectively as we can and to mitigate the price impact from tariffs,” said PaR spokesman Ray Goodwin.

Behemoths such as 3M Co. in Maplewood and industrial sprayer manufacturer Graco in Minneapolis have boosted their product prices to compensate for the extra trade levies.

Other large companies, such as Medina-based Polaris Industries and Milwaukee-based Harley Davidson, moved some U.S. vehicle and parts production overseas to Poland, India or Thailand to avoid retaliatory trade tariffs by U.S. trading partners. Yet others are selling more of their products made overseas to other countries.

For Banner Engineering, it also means shifting work to its international operations, said Barnauskas, the operations head. “Before we would (import) and consolidate everything in the United States and then mail it out,” he said. Now, products are put together overseas.

New supervisor’s insights could help keep children secure

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A drawing of a dog, colored in with a brown marker, hung on the third-grade classroom’s door. Above it, a glass panel provided a view inside Mr. Patterson’s room.

Eric Werling peeked through it, surveying the Jackson Elementary classroom through a grim perspective.

If someone wanted to harm the children inside, what could they see?

“There’s bookshelves, bookcases, stuff in the room that we could move around” that would block an intruder’s view, he told the principal. “... Better than having to mash kids into a corner.”

As the first person to hold the title of School Security and Crisis Response Supervisor in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, Werling, 38, has been assessing security at each of the district’s 31 schools.

Three months into the job, he said he is focused on revamping the district’s crisis response plan, expanding de-escalation methods to prevent incidents and creating a districtwide threat assessment program.

Small tweaks, such as providing principals and teachers with recommendations about how to make their classroom layouts safer, also are underway.

“We don’t want to be saying, ‘We wish we had thought of this before,’” Jackson Elementary Principal Nick Duffy said, as he and Werling reviewed another classroom. “We want to be proactive.”

A district safety and security task force recommended the creation of Werling’s position to the Cedar Rapids school board in July, after multiple shootings took place at schools across the country, including the massacre in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.

The task force additionally asked that “Run, Hide, Fight” drills begin for students and staff this spring. Werling, who started at the district in October with an annual salary of $70,000, said those likely will be rolled out next school year.

The trainings will change the way Cedar Rapids students and staff are taught to respond to crises, which historically has been only to shelter in place. The new protocol will give students and staff additional options than only to hide, Werling said.

Other Iowa districts have adopted ALICE protocol — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evaluate — and conduct lifelike shooter drills with staff and students.

Under Werling, the Cedar Rapids district is carefully evaluating its next steps and the psychological impact they could have on students.

“Even fire alarms are traumatic for some kids — because we’ve got kids that are refugees, kids that don’t speak English as a first language, kids that come from domestic abuse,” he said. “So anything that’s out of the ordinary or out of the norm causes trauma.”

It’s a balancing act preparing students to protect themselves while not hurting them in the process, he said.

And it’s an adjustment to prepare children for such attacks, Werling said, after his career protecting adults as a University of Iowa police officer and as the director of public safety at Mount Mercy University.

But he takes an empathetic approach to the work — something he’s done since he worked at a nursing home in high school and tried to treat every patient like his own grandparent.

Becoming a parent — he has a 3-year-old son, Everett — has also softened his perspective.

“I think that what I want (parents) to know is ... we’re trying to make it more safe for their kids,” he said of the district’s crisis measures. “We’re really trying to gear this toward making it safer for their kids, not inducing any unneeded trauma, so that the kids can get this training, understand it, and use it as a skill to hopefully keep themselves safe.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com


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