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.

Peacock Information Center

The bird population at the nation’s largest producer of peacock hatching eggs is taking a hit from this long stretch of cold weather. It will take years for the numbers to come back.

Dennis Fett operates the Peacock Information Center in the Pottawattamie County town of Minden. He was beginning to recover from a tornado that hit two years ago and killed around 100 birds when the cold snap hit, sending temperatures below zero over the past two weeks.

Iowa Caregivers

A new report is praising Iowa as one of three states developing solutions to the problem of a shortage of direct care workers. Advocates for caregivers in the state say they need legislative support to enact them.

Emily Woodbury / Iowa Public Radio

A Johnson County-based nonprofit is joining with the Iowa Department of Corrections to produce an on-line resource guide for people who are being released from prison. The organization is trying to compile a complete list of support services available in the state.

The group Inside Out Reentry Community formed in 2015 to assist recently incarcerated men and women find jobs, housing, counseling services and even clothing after their release. Its director Mike Cervantes says there is plenty of support for these people, but it’s not always easy to find.

University of Iowa Health Care

Programs offered by the University of Iowa to draw more young people into the so-called STEM fields appear to be working. The number of students attending STEM-related workshops sponsored by the U of I during the past year increased substantially.

UnityPoint Health

UnityPoint Health is about to make available in Cedar Falls a medical clinic with dedicated service hours for LGBTQ patients. It will be a first-of-its-kind within the hospital chain.

Beginning right after the first of the year, the UnityPoint clinic on Prairie Parkway in Cedar Falls will offer evening hours for LGBTQ patients two Wednesdays a month. Dr. Eric Neverman, a specialist in pediatrics and internal medicine,  will help staff the clinic. He and the rest of the providers there have completed what’s called Safe Zone training.

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

What a difference a year makes for recreational vehicle maker Winnebago Industries. The Forest City-based manufacturer begins fiscal 2018 well ahead of its earnings for last year at this time.

Des Moines University

The osteopathic medical school Des Moines University is using grant money to launch a pilot project to address a shortage in Iowa of mental health professionals. It’s designed to train future primary-care doctors in treating psychiatric illness.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The president and CEO of the conservative advocacy group The Family Leader says Americans have a right to know if President Trump engaged in past sexual misconduct. Bob Vander Plaats says the allegations made by a number of women against the president should not be ignored simply because he says he’s innocent.

"A lot of these ladies came forth in the election, and for whatever reason, the American people said 'we're going to give the presidency to Donald Trump.' That doesn't mean their issue went away because he became president." 

Chatterkick

The Technology Association of Iowa is launching a first-of-its-kind podcast in the state highlighting women leaders in high-tech. The project is known as “Technically Iowa.”

The series of interviews for the podcast is hosted by a woman who is already at the forefront of using technology to start a business. Beth Trejo is CEO and founder of the Sioux City-based social media agency Chatterkick. She says the goal of the show is to develop a network of women techies.

Diocese of Des Moines

The Bishop of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese is joining Catholic Bishops across the country in calling for Congress to enact the so-called Dream Act.

Bishop Richard Pates spoke with reporters after meeting with some 25 inmates of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding cell at the Polk County Sheriff’s office.

He tells the story of one young man who was recently picked up on suspicion of being in the country illegally.

Lee Enterprises

Total operating revenue at the Davenport-based media company Lee Enterprises is down for the fiscal year. Digital advertising, however, shows strong improvement.

While overall revenue from advertising at the newspaper chain Lee Enterprises dropped by 10 percent for fiscal 2017, it was up nearly eight percent on the digital side. Company CEO Kevin Mowbray says this means Lee will continue to push content and ads to the web and mobile devices.

TSA

As one of the year’s busiest air travel periods heats up, the Transportation Security Administration is putting in place new procedures for screening electronics. The changes were announced earlier this year and are now reaching Iowa airports.

Passengers at TSA checkpoints will now be required to do with their e-readers, computer tablets and DVD players what they have long been doing with their laptops. Carrie Harmon is the regional public affairs manager for the TSA.

Mel Andringa, Legion Arts, Flickr

The photographer who documented life in a small eastern Iowa town in a book titled “The Oxford Project,” has died.

Peter Feldstein was a professor of photography at the University of Iowa in 1984 when he asked the 670 residents of Oxford, the Johnson County town in which he lived, if he could take their pictures. Twenty years later he reshot the photos of those who remained alive and in town, and with writer Stephen Bloom, published “The Oxford Project.” In it, they told the sometimes revealing stories of people growing up and growing old in a small Iowa town.

Mighty Earth

Environmental activists were at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Perry Thursday delivering a petition bearing more than 1,000 names. It was part of a nationwide drive calling for the company to purchase sustainable grains as a way to reduce water pollution.

A group calling itself Mighty Earth is delivering petitions at seven Tyson locations across the country, A field organizer for the Iowa chapter of Mighty Earth, Elise Peterson-Trujillo, says the environmentalists are asking the nation’s largest meat producer to live by its pledge to pursue sustainable practices.

Milken Family Foundation

A teacher in a small school district in southern Iowa is one of 44 teachers nationwide to receive a Milken Educator Award this year. It’s her job to train other teachers.

Joni Readout is an instructional coach at Central Decatur middle school and high school in Leon. She works with about 15 other district teachers to help improve their classroom work. Her efforts were noticed by the Milken Family Foundation, which honors teacher excellence each year.

Blank Park Zoo

One of the two female lions at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines has become the mother of three cubs. The births come as the lion population in the wild declines dramatically.

The zoo’s lioness Neema gave birth Nov. 14 to two female cubs and one male. Neema arrived in Des Moines in June. The father, Deuce, has lived at Blank Park since 2012. They are part of a Species Survival Plan zoos have put in place to protect the great cats. Zoo CEO Mark Vukovich says the past 20 years have seen a steep decline in the number of wild lions.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Des Moines-based media company Meredith Corporation is buying publishing giant Time Incorporated. Meredith is receiving financing help from the conservative Koch brothers.

Meredith’s deal to buy Time Inc. comes to around $2.8 billion, including the New York-based publisher’s debt. Koch Equity Development is provided $650 million of that amount. Meredith chairman and CEO Steve Lacy says the arrangement with the politically conservative Kochs does not include editorial influence.

Ames Economic Development Commission

More than 700 acres on the east side of Ames is opening up for development as an industrial park. City leaders hope to attract some large-scale manufacturing operations.

The Ames Economic Development Commission and Alliant Energy are jointly working to develop the mostly farm land east of I-35 and north of Highway 30 stretching to the Nevada city limits. The 730 acres will be broken into five lots and sell for $25,000 an acre. The president of the economic development commission, Dan Culhane, says easy access to the interstate and rail lines makes the area attractive.

Stanley Consultants

The chairman emeritus of Iowa’s largest engineering firm has died. Richard Stanley joined Muscatine-based Stanley Consultants, the company co-founded by his father, in 1955. He became its president in 1971 and served as its chairman of the board beginning in 1984. He retired as chair emeritus in 2013. He was perhaps better known internationally as leader of the Stanley Foundation. It promotes global citizenship through policy analysis, conferences and outreach efforts.

Des Moines city government

A major link between downtown Des Moines’s East Village and Western Gateway is reopening to traffic. While cars are again crossing the Grand Avenue Bridge, construction on it will continue until next summer.

The 100-year-old bridge spanning the Des Moines River was closed in September of 2016. The structure was demolished and crews have been working to rebuild it since.

The partially finished job is now allowing one-way traffic in each direction. Pedestrians can also now cross it on one sidewalk.

Patricia Izbicki

The Technology Association of Iowa is handing out its annual Women of Innovation Awards this week. One of the recipients is exploring the connection between music and the brain.

A doctoral student at Iowa State is being recognized for her research into how music impacts the nervous system. Patricia Izbicki has an undergraduate degree in music performance and is now applying it to her scientific studies in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at ISU. She says she hopes the results of her work lead to more support for music programs.

Heartland Financial

Dubuque-based Heartland Financial USA is continuing its aggressive expansion plans with the purchase of a Minnesota chain of banks. The deal marks Heartland’s 20th acquisition since 1994.

The bank holding company is buying Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Signature Bancshares for an estimated $53.4 million.

As part of the deal, Signature will merge into Heartland’s other Minnesota-based subsidiary, Minnesota Bank and Trust.

In a statement, Heartland president and CEO Lynn Fuller says he sees the purchase as a great opportunity to expand in the Twin Cities market.

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa is participating in what researchers are calling the largest-ever genetic study of autism. They’re looking for 50,000 participants nationwide.

The study is being conducted by the New York-based Simons Foundation, which funds scientific research. The UI Carver College of Medicine is one of 25 sites across the country recruiting families to participate. An assistant professor of psychiatry, Jacob Michaelson, is the lead investigator in Iowa and says the project aims to gather genetic samples to help determine the causes of autism.

ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Iowa State University’s new president is Wendy Wintersteen.

She’s been in various roles at Iowa State for nearly 40-years. She is currently Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences on the Ames campus.

Wintersteen, 61, becomes the first woman to hold Iowa State’s  presidency.

Iowa’s Board of Regents interviewed the three finalists  in closed sessions Monday, then in open session it voted unanimously to make Wintersteen Iowa State’s sixteenth president.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa’s junior U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she now has it in writing from the Environmental Protection Agency it will uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard. She got the news late Thursday night.

The Republican says she received a letter from EPA administrator Scott Pruitt pledging to support the RFS, which mandates the use of biofuels in gasoline. The Trump administration became the target of a heavy lobbying effort from Iowa elected officials and farm groups after it was reported the EPA would scale back the RFS. Ernst says she’s relieved.

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles

Forest City-based Winnebago Industries is reporting strong revenue growth for fiscal 2017. The results are driven mostly by profits from its towable recreational vehicle division.

Revenue and income at Winnebago are up substantially from a year ago. The manufacturer of RVs brought in more than $1.5 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ending August 26. That’s a nearly 59 percent increase from 2016. Operating income for the year improved by 90 percent to $125 million. Company president and CEO Michael Happe credits robust sales of its Grand Design towable division.

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The West Des Moines shopping district known as Valley Junction is officially joining the National Register of Historic Places. The designation makes buildings in the neighborhood eligible for various preservation tax credits.

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

Houses on the near east side of Des Moines, within sight of the Capitol dome, are among the city’s oldest. They are also among the most in disrepair. Some changes are afoot to freshen the look of three low-income neighborhoods.

Stacie Phillips works amidst a whir of construction activity in the shell of a house built in 1907 from a kit popular at the time.

“It’s a wonderful old house with the original trim, the conference ceilings," she says. "It has the original, beautiful swing-out casement windows we have rehabbed. Just a beautiful plan.”

One Iowa

The state’s largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning residents is staging a first-time event in Des Moines. The full-day summit is aimed at workplace culture.

One Iowa says the first annual gathering to be held at Principal Financial Group is designed to show employers how to improve their policies toward LGBTQ workers. The executive director of the organization, Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, says it makes sense to focus on the office because that’s where people spend much of their time.

Des Moines Area Community College

Des Moines Area Community College and the University of Iowa are entering into an agreement to help nurses earn bachelor’s degrees. It’s another joint effort to attract more nurses to the field.

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