Rob Dillard

Correspondent

Rob Dillard is a Des Moines based correspondent for Iowa Public Radio. He joined IPR in 2001 as host of Morning Edition and moved to reporting in 2007.  He has been on special assignment for IPR since early 2011 reporting the ongoing series “Being in Iowa.” It has taken him around the state shining light on small segments of the population, including Muslims, military veterans, Latinos and the physically disabled. The series has won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and Northwest Broadcast News Association (NBNA).

Rob has extensive experience in radio, newspaper and media relations dating back more than 30 years. He has also taught news writing at Central College in Pella. Rob earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications at the University of Iowa.

Rob’s favorite public radio program is Morning Edition.

Ways to Connect

Rick Fredericksen, IPR

Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture is leading a delegation to Kosovo. The group includes representatives from business, education and sports.

Bill Northey is being joined by a number of representatives from higher education, including the presidents of Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa Central Community College. Northey says their work is of interest to educators in Kosovo.

Bravo Greater Des Moines

As the annual Des Moines Arts Festival gets underway, an arts support council is releasing an economic impact study. The results are meant to show the arts contribute to more than just the quality of life.

The study for the organization Bravo Greater Des Moines was conducted by the national group Americans for the Arts. It shows the arts are a $185 million industry in Central Iowa and employ nearly 5,700 full-time workers. The executive director of Bravo, Sally Dix, says the arts play a serious economic role.

AARP Iowa

On the day Senate Republicans unveiled their plan to revamp the nation’s healthcare system, AARP Iowa is releasing a survey of older Iowans’ attitudes on health policy. The organization is opposed to any plan that would weaken government programs already in place.

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

Winnebago Industries’ purchase of an Indiana company last fall is continuing to pay off for the Forest City-based manufacturer of recreational vehicles. Third quarter earnings are way up from a year ago.

Proposed budget cuts by the Trump administration have scientists at the Ames Laboratory on the campus of Iowa State University concerned. The smallest of the national laboratories receives 90 percent of its funding from the Department of Energy. The director of the Ames Lab, Adam Schwartz, says President Trump’s proposed budget would harm scientific research.

"If the President's budget is passed, there would be dramatic reductions in staff, not only at the Ames Laboratory, but all of the national laboratories," he says.

Office of Sen. Joni Ernst

Iowa’s junior U.S. Senator is describing the mood at the Capitol as somber following the shootings at a Republican Congressional baseball practice. But Joni Ernst is hesitant to call for security to accompany each member of Congress.

Capitol police were at the ball field in Alexandria, Virginia, because of the presence of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was shot. They have been praised for their quick action to prevent more casualties. Republican Senator Ernst says members of Congress need to be vigilant, but she’s uncertain if they need armed protection.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Drake University is officially opening a renovated building to house its occupational therapy doctorate program. It will be a place where students learn and patients are helped to recover.

A former bookstore has been converted into the home of Drake’s year-old doctorate program in occupational therapy. In addition to classrooms, it features a four-room apartment and a streetscape, complete with an automobile. A member of the first class of students in the program, Maddy Nave, says the caregivers of people with ALS recently came to the building for training.

Reid Chandlet, Trilix Group

Ten months after the announcement of its creation, the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has a permanent executive director. The incubator for start-up companies involved in agriculture also is bringing in its first class of five.

Coon Valley Cooperative Telephone Association

A rural telephone cooperative in western Iowa is receiving a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help upgrade its broadband capabilities. The money will enable it to replace copper wires with fiber.

The Coon Valley Cooperative Telephone Association in the Guthrie County town of Menlo is getting a $6.5 million loan from the USDA. It will use the money to lay more than 200 miles of fiber. Association general manager Jim Nelson says access to high-speed internet is increasingly important for the cooperative’s 700 members.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

For the last year, city planners have been studying traffic patterns in downtown Des Moines with the goal of making the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. They have now unveiled their early findings.

A preliminary plan includes the conversion of one-way streets downtown into two-ways, the addition of much more street parking and buffered lanes for bicyclists to make travel for them safer. The author of the book “Walkable City,” Jeff Speck, is helping redesign Des Moines’ downtown.

City of Cedar Rapids

The latest report on existing industries in the Cedar Rapids area shows employers remain concerned about the number of available workers. The outlook, however, is more positive than a year ago.

Each year, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance surveys around 85 business executives and plant managers from a wide spectrum of industries to get their views on the area’s economic climate. The Alliance’s local business projects specialist, Mike Lukan, says workforce availability continues to be a challenge in Cedar Rapids. But things are looking up.

Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons

A new coalition of organizations in Iowa is working to keep young people who identify as LGBTQ out of the welfare and juvenile justice systems by finding them supportive places to live. The group calls itself AFFIRM, and it’s looking to include gender-neutral language in all paperwork required of potential foster and adoptive parents.

One of AFFIRM’s founders, Penny McGee, says such changes may not be as easy as they appear, possibly requiring legislative approval and some costs.

Casey's General Stores

Ankeny-based convenience store chain Casey’s General Stores is reporting it fell short of some of its goals for fiscal 2017. While in-store traffic was up almost three percent at the nearly 2,000-store chain, executives had hoped for 6.2 percent growth. Casey’s President and CEO Terry Handley says the company faced the same pressures in 2017 everyone in the grocery industry confronted.

UnityPoint Health

Heart surgeons at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids are beginning to use a revolutionary device in one of the most common heart procedures. The new technology is known as the “world’s smallest pacemaker.” Previously, pacemakers were inserted in the shoulder and required a long incision and wires leading to the heart. This device is put into the leg and carried to the heart by a vein. The director of the Arrhythmic Center at St. Luke’s, Dr. Mohit Chawla, says it makes a huge difference in how fast patients recover.

Amy Mayer, IPR

Iowa’s state park system is turning 100 years old this year. The anniversary comes as state budget cuts threaten their upkeep.

It was 1917 when the act to establish Iowa’s state parks passed the Legislature. An associate professor of landscape architecture at Iowa State, Heidi Hohmann, is studying the history of the parks. She says there was growing interest at the time in preserving the scenic beauty of the land. As a result, she says, state parks became popular recreation areas.

The Des Moines chapter of a national organization aimed at recruiting and training young leaders is intensifying efforts to diversify the group. It will begin with stronger outreach efforts into underrepresented parts of the community.

Wikimedia Commons

A recently formed nonprofit headed by Democrats is trying to get a handle on why Barack Obama supporters in rural Iowa went for Donald Trump in 2016. The group Focus on Rural America is led by former Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge. A political scientist at UNI, Chris Larimer, says rural voters should lean Democratic.

Iowa State University news service

A researcher at Iowa State University has been looking into the lasting effects traumatic events can have on children. The results from his study apply to the aftermath of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and terrorist attacks, such as the one this week in Manchester, England.

VictoryVR

Students at Davenport Assumption High School are discovering a new tool for exploring careers in the STEM fields. They can now take a virtual reality tour of sites where people in STEM-related professions work.

The phone-based virtual reality mobile app allows students to view interviews of people from around the country who are working at science, technology, engineering or math jobs. Assumption science teacher Wendy Martin says it’s not like watching television. She says when the students put on the special goggles, they join the action.

Urbandale and Des Moines police departments

The man charged in the ambush killings of two Des Moines-area police officers is withdrawing his not guilty pleas. Scott Greene now admits to killing Urbandale police officer Justin Martin and Des Moines sergeant Tony Beminio last November. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone says writings and drawings on Greene’s jail cell walls following his arrest tied him to the case.

“They are essentially admissions of his responsibility in this matter," he says. "He drew pictures of each officers face.”

Creighton University

The Rural Mainstreet Index compiled by Creighton University broke a string of 20 straight months of below neutral growth this month. The survey of bank CEOs in a 10-state region is at its highest point in nearly two years.

The index is the work of Creighton economist Ernie Goss. He says the overall numbers for states dependent on the agriculture and energy economies are still weak. But they did break the growth neutral mark of 50 with a 50.1 reading. Goss credits an uptick in the farm economy.

Mercy Medical Center

Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines is receiving the go-ahead to start a psychiatric residency program. The hospital hopes to fill the void of behavioral health providers in the state.

Mercy has been approved to begin a four-year residency program in psychiatry, and is recruiting the first class of four doctors to begin in 2018. Iowa ranks 47th among states in the number of practicing psychiatrists per capita. The medical director of behavioral health at Mercy, Dr. Sasha Khosravi, estimates there are more than 120,000 Iowans with serious mental illness.

GEICO

The auto insurance company GEICO is planning to move its Midwest regional office from Coralville to a new building going up in North Liberty. This is another piece of development news for one of Iowa’s fastest growing towns.

GEICO has been in Coralville since 1997. By April of next year, the auto insurer will be in a 50,000-square-foot office building just east of I-380 in North Liberty. That town’s mayor, Terry Donahue, says GEICO was looking to expand.

Drake University

Drake University in Des Moines is entering into an arrangement it hopes will increase diversity at the private school. Drake is signing an agreement with three historically black colleges and universities.

Graduates of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, Lincoln University outside Philadelphia, and Kentucky State University in Frankfort, will be guaranteed scholarships upon admission to Drake’s Law School and doctor of pharmacy program. Drake’s provost, Sue Mattison, says the university is intent on drawing more minority students to campus.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio / Iowa Public Radio

A 200-person delegation representing the Greater Des Moines Partnership is in Washington this week lobbying on behalf of business and economic interests. This year, the focus is on a major project at the airport.

The Partnership is made up of 23 chambers of commerce representing 6,000 Central Iowa businesses. It has organized lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., for 38 years. The senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the group, Joe Murphy, says each year the agenda includes a transportation related concern. He says this year it involves air travel

Iowa Department on Aging

It’s estimated some 81,000 Iowans older than 60 are food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. A gathering in Des Moines is examining this issue.

The day-long hunger summit is co-sponsored by a coalition of groups working on food issues within Iowa’s older population called Growing Bolder, and AARP. The event’s coordinator, Linda Gobberdiel, says among the state’s seniors there’s a stigma attached to asking for help, which brings challenges to making sure they’re eating properly.

John Pemble, Iowa Public Radio

As the plan to replace Obamacare moves from the U.S. House to the Senate, Iowa’s Republican Senator Joni Ernst says it’s becoming increasingly urgent to enact a final bill. She says these are tough times for Iowans who are at risk of losing coverage as companies pull away from providing individual policies through the state’s insurance exchange.

“Knowing that very shortly we could have many families who have absolutely no options for insurance is worrisome, and so we know we have to address it,” she says.

EntreFest

An event billed as the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in Iowa returns this week after a year off. EntreFest is coming back to downtown Iowa City Thursday and Friday.

The conference for start-up business owners was launched in 2008 and managed for several years by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation. But EntreFest went dark last year as operation of the event switched to Cedar Rapids-based New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative. Its events director, Jill Wilkins, says she’s glad to see Entrefest return.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The alternative high school in Des Moines is using grant money to become a safer place for students who are experiencing trauma at home. The money will help make staff more aware of how troubles outside the class are linked to behavior inside.

Scavo High School is planning to use $23,000 from the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation to become what’s known as a “trauma sensitive school.” The community schools coordinator for Scavo, Lyn Marchant, says the money will help teachers and students recognize the connection between strife at home and performance in school.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

On almost every college campus, there are dining halls and cafeterias filled to the brim with food. Students have their pick of practically anything they want. And yet, a surprisingly high percentage of these young people are hungry.

Grand View University senior Shannon Kaster is not your typical undergraduate college student. To begin, the Boone-native is 33-years-old.

“I’m married, I have a four-year-old son at home and I’m pregnant with another one due in July,” she says.

But she is experiencing something that is becoming all too common on campuses nationwide.

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