Business and Economy

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Thousands of people across Iowa are starting their holiday shopping today, and many communities are hoping you’ll give locally-owned small businesses some attention tomorrow.  The annual “Small Business Saturday” campaign urges people to spend some of their shopping dollars in independent stores.  Jennifer Pruden of the Czech Village-New Bohemia Main Street District in Cedar Rapids says local businesses there are hoping a good holiday season will help them recover from September’s flood.

Iowa Home Prices Climb

Nov 18, 2016
Dan Moyle / Flicker

Home prices in Iowa are on the rise.

The monthly report from the Iowa Association of Realtors shows the median sale price in October was $145,000, 5.1 percent higher than a year ago.

Association president Cindy Miller says it’s a seller’s market at the moment.

“I think what we have right now is a lower inventory, which will drive supply-and-demand and drive the price up a little bit,” she says.

Miller sees that changing in the coming months.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Drivers of the high-dollar all-electric vehicle known as Tesla may be making their way across Iowa more often, now that some super-fast charging stations are available.   

Hy-Vee stores in West Des Moines, Coralville, and Davenport have installed the new so-called superchargers in their parking lots to benefit Tesla drivers only.   

Company spokesman Will Nicholas says it will speed up long-distance Midwestern travel.

“Our cars can come in here at no cost currently and charge up to 170 miles in 20 minutes,” Nicholas said.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Officials with Governor Branstad’s administration say they hope to double the number of registered apprenticeships with Iowa employers over the next five years, part of their goal to get more Iowans into post high-school training and education.   

Under the program, trainees are paid to learn a trade or other job skills.    

Eighteen-year-old Josh Smith is working for Mid-American Energy while learning welding at Central Campus High School in Des Moines. 

Michael Leland, Iowa Public Radio

A sociologist at Iowa State University has uncovered something that goes against common belief. He says income levels in rural areas of the state are higher than in the urban centers.

Extension rural sociologist David Peters has studied census data on income and poverty levels nationwide, and he has broken it down state-by-state. He finds the median household income in rural areas of Iowa is a bit more than $60,000, 11 percent higher than in cities. He says one reason may be three-quarters of Iowa farms are so-called “hobby farms.”

Heartland Financial USA

A Dubuque-based banking operation is merging with a similar group of banks in California. The deal is designed to expand the Iowa company’s position on the West Coast.

Heartland Financial USA is acquiring Founders Bancorp of San Luis Obispo, Calif., for around 29-million dollars in cash and stock. The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of 2017. Heartland Chairman and CEO Lynn Fuller says the market on the Pacific Ocean halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco is economically strong.

American Institute of Architects

A key indicator of future construction activity nationwide is down for a second straight month. The situation in Iowa and the Midwest is a bit more stable. Architects and builders say they are delaying plans until after the election.

Tony Webster / Flickr

In his Condition of the State, then-Governor Tom Vilsack declared that 2004 would be "The Year of the Arts, Culture and Recreation in Iowa." 

He continued, "Studies show that creativity spurs economic growth; breakthroughs in understanding are essential to the task of building a world of opportunity. Creative thinking, the hallmark of Iowa's success, will lead us to a more dynamic future."

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The Polk County Board of Supervisors gave approval to a second reading of a proposed hike in the minimum wage.

It is drawing resistance because of certain provisions.

The Board is attempting to raise the minimum wage in Polk County to $8.75 an hour by April of next year, which would climb to $10.75 at the start of 2019.

Teenage workers younger than 18, however, would receive 85 percent of the minimum wage.

Sixteen-year old Alexa Rodriguez says the lower wage for young people is not fair because she does the same work her older colleagues do.

CRST International

The latest addition to the Cedar Rapids skyline is the 11-story CRST Center located near the Cedar River downtown.

The $37 million building will be the corporate headquarters for the transportation company CRST International. The trucking firm will occupy two of the floors, with Bankers Trust, Holmes Murphy and RSM International renting office space. Company chairman John Smith says since CRST announced plans to move its corporate campus downtown from southwest Cedar Rapids, others are considering similar moves.

InfoCash / Flickr

Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Venmo -- the cutting-edge payment options of today are in our pockets, if not in our wallets. Before we had technological access to our bank accounts, there was a more rudimentary barrier to jump: getting money regardless of what bank or ATM was available. 

screenshot

Airbnb, a marketplace for people to list and rent vacation homes and rooms to stay, was founded in 2008 in San Francisco. Today, there are more than a million listings in more than 30,000 cities around the country. As the service grows in popularity in the state, cities in Iowa including Clear Lake, West Des Moines, Fairfield and Coralville are looking to regulate its use.

"There is a great demand for this type of service. It was founded as a means to accommodate people during large business conventions," explains Art Durnev, a professor of finance at the University of Iowa. 

Dean Borg/IPR

Linn County’s minimum wage increases to $8.25 an hour on January 1, and a dollar-an-hour more on each of the following two New Year’s Days. But municipalities may not follow, including Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second-largest city.

On a 4-1 vote, Linn’s Board of Supervisors approved the third reading of the ordinance incrementally raising the wage floor to three dollars above current Iowa law by 2019.

Blackbird Development

The 26-story apartment tower planned for the spot once occupied by Younkers Department Store in downtown Des Moines will include a swimming pool on its roof.

Blackbird Development is releasing details of the $85 million project it calls 701 Walnut.

The 300,000 square-foot tower will house 276 apartments and ground floor commercial space.

Blackbird is also renovating the Wilkins Building next door, home of the Younkers Tea Room.

A massive fire destroyed the Younkers Building in 2014, leaving an empty space in the heart of Des Moines’ downtown.

Linn County supervisors have approved the first reading of an ordinance raising the minimum wage above state law.  It’s an action that involves Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second-largest city.

Linn’s ordinance hikes the wage minimum by a dollar an hour to $8.25 on January 1, 2017.  There would also be increased on the two following New Year’s Days, to $10.25 in 2019.

Supervisor John Harris objected to the built-in future increases, and voted no.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller chided the supervisors for having no plan to enforce the ordinance.

City of West Des Moines

Officials in West Des Moines are touting what the news of a third data center from Microsoft means for development in the southwest corner of the city. 

The computer giant is announcing plans to build a one-point-seven million square foot data center in an area straddling Warren and Madison counties within West Des Moines city limits. It will be built in four phases, with the initial investment at $417 million. West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer says the project will pay for the infrastructure needed to open thousands of acres to commercial and residential development.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with four young professionals from Sub-Saharan Africa in Iowa this summer as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. 

This summer, each of the fellows is developing business skills they will be able to take back home, and they are also forming connections with one another - an important aspect of the program, according to Dimy Doresca, director of the UI Institute for International Business.

JFK Presidential Library and Museum / Wikimedia Commons

While she was pregnant with her first child, Libby Buchmeier had been banking her vacation in anticipation of taking time off after the birth. When Buchmeier's daughter arrived 10 weeks early, she had to use the four weeks of paid maternity leave offered by her employer and much of that accumulated vacation time while her baby girl was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Drake University

Some of the African continent’s most promising young professionals are in Iowa for the next several weeks picking up tips on how to run businesses. They are part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program run by the U.S. State Department.

The founder of Kemin Industries, R.W. Nelson, recently greeted the 25 young people from 19 countries at his corporate headquarters in southeast Des Moines.

PeteLinforth/Pixabay.com

A new study by the United Way says 31-percent of Iowa households are struggling to afford their basic needs.

The finding is part of a United Way-sponsored ALICE report. It stands for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed.

The report says 12-percent of Iowans live in poverty and 19-percent cannot afford the basic cost of living in their areas, forcing them to make concessions in areas like food and health care.

Deann Cook of the United Ways of Iowa says many of those struggling are in service sector jobs.

Linn County’s Board of Supervisors wants more information before deciding whether to raise the minimum wage in Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities.

That’s after the supervisors study committee recommended $8.25-an-hour, a dollar more than state law requires, but a dollar less than neighboring Johnson County.

Cedar Rapids mayor, Republican Ron Corbett, says the committee’s $8.25 recommendation is palatable, but warned that delays invited power struggles. But supervisors chairman, Democrat Ben Rogers, says ‘not so fast’.

A Linn County study commission is recommending increasing the county’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour by January 1st.

The county board of supervisors convened the study commission. Linn Supervisors chairman Ben Rogers says he’ll take the commission’s recommendation to the supervisors’ meeting tomorrow.

The study commission supports Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s motion for increasing Linn County’s minimum wage. Corbett says it’s needed to help workers and to prod Iowa legislators.

Dakota Access map

The Iowa Utilities Board deliberated Wednesday on whether to allow Dakota Access to begin pipeline construction in areas where it does not need eminent domain or special permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Though board members indicated they were not opposed to Dakota Access starting construction, they worried they lacked the jurisdiction to grant permission, in light of current lawsuits pending in district court.

WIKICOMMONS / Iowahwyman

The Polk County community stands to lose millions in taxes, revenue sharing, and charitable donations now that IRS wants to pull the tax exempt status of a Des Moines-area casino. 

Between Polk County’s lease and revenue sharing agreements with Prairie Meadows, the hotel, casino, and racetrack contributes roughly $26 million annually the county.

Iowa economic development leaders are rolling out a new loan program to help communities spruce up, especially small towns.

Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham says low interest loans are available to communities through the Nuisance Property and Abandoned Building Remediation to get rid of eyesore properties. 

FLICKR / 401(K) 2012

If you still haven’t completed your 2015 state income taxes, today is the filing deadline. If you're late filing, be prepared to pay a penalty of an extra ten-percent on top of whatever you owe.

"I will say that typically there is a very slight grace period," says Victoria Daniels of the Iowa Department of Revenue, "but I encourage people strongly to get their returns in and file them electronically and make their payments no later than 11:59 pm."

WIKICOMMONS / Billwhittaker

Conventional wisdom says city-living is expensive. But a new report from an Iowa public policy group finds that's not always the case.

The Iowa Policy Project's 2016 "Cost of Living in Iowa" report finds that even though Iowa cities have higher rents and childcare costs, health insurance and long commutes eat up bigger portions of rural household budgets.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The country's top attorney on national security issues told Iowans Wednesday that all Internet-connected computers are potentially vulnerable to outside attacks.

John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, visited central Iowa to share with business leaders what the government sees as threats, and how companies can protect themselves.

Payton Chung, Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

When filmmaker Ronit Bezalel first arrived in Chicago as a film student in 1994, all she knew about Cabrini Green was its reputation. "I could see Cabrini from the windows of the 'L,' and people told me to avoid it at all costs. I wanted to know why I couldn't go there."

Linn County’s Supervisors are considering possibly raising the minimum wage in the region including Iowa’s second largest city, and have formed a study committee. Supervisors’ Chairman Ben Rogers says Linn County will thoroughly study increasing the Cedar Rapids area minimum wage.

“Many of us feel, like providers and community groups, felt that Johnson County rushed their discussion and implementation of the minimum wage,” he says.

Linn’s study committee includes small and large businesses, and hasn’t met yet.  Rogers says it could even recommend wage increase exemptions.

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