Branstad, Durham hope trade mission to Europe pays dividends

Some concerns raised about labor force, education, regulatory issues

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Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday he is hopeful a just-completed trade mission to Europe will reap economic benefits for Iowa in the near future.

“We had I think a very successful trade mission,” said Branstad, who arrived back in Iowa Monday night after making stops in Italy, Kosovo, Germany and Switzerland. “We had a number of really good calls. We feel real good about.”

During the trip, Branstad officially signed the agreement establishing Iowa’s ninth sister state with the Republic of Kosovo.

Debi Durham, director of the state’s Economic Development Authority, who accompanied the governor on the nine-day trip, said she was especially hopeful that contacts in Germany with about 60 companies and trade organizations will pay dividends for Iowa.

“Obviously, Germany is looking for new markets. That’s a great opportunity for us,” Durham told members of the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress board Tuesday. Her conservative guess was that the companies they called upon would “deploy about $600 million” in capital assets within the next year and create at least 250 high-skill jobs in research, development, manufacturing and processing areas.

“The opportunities are really immense that we saw there,” she said.

Branstad told IPEP board members that Iowa’s public-private approach to economic development is working but officials have to keep the momentum going by further improving the state’s business and tax climates after a 2013 legislative session that produced the largest tax cut in state history.

“Despite the fact that we’re doing well, we know that we can do even better,” the governor said, noting that Iowa broke the record “time and time again in this past year for record investment culminating with MidAmerican Energy’s announcement last May of a $1.9 billion plan to add up to 1,050 megawatts of wind generation with the addition of up to 656 new wind turbines in Iowa by 2015.

“No pressure here,” deadpanned Durham.

Board members discussed plans to complete a second phase of a Battelle study to gauge Iowa’s targeted approach to pursue jobs and development in bioscience, advanced manufacturing and information systems clusters. The study is expected to cost about $500,000 and be funded with public and private sources, to be completed some time next year, officials said.

IPEP board members generally were upbeat about Iowa’s economic future. although there were concerns raised about labor force, education and regulatory issues. Clayton Jones, retiring CEO of Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids, said his company expects its growth to come from international arenas because the U.S. economy “seems to be stuck in low gear” and defense funding is in “no gear.”

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