ARTICLE

Branstad defends fertilizer plant amid layoffs

Iowa City senator said Orascom incentives 'the worst economic deal ever'

(File Photo) State Senator Joe Bolkcom speaks about cracking down on wage theft at a press conference at the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa in Iowa City on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. Members of the Center for Worker Justice are filing a request to the Federal Dept. of Labor for an investigation of RockTenn, as well as staffing agencies Sedona Staffing and CFA staffing, alleging these companies are violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
(File Photo) State Senator Joe Bolkcom speaks about cracking down on wage theft at a press conference at the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa in Iowa City on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. Members of the Center for Worker Justice are filing a request to the Federal Dept. of Labor for an investigation of RockTenn, as well as staffing agencies Sedona Staffing and CFA staffing, alleging these companies are violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — As one Democratic state legislator railed against layoffs during construction of a $1.8 billion fertilizer plant in Lee County, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday defended the project, which was awarded a half-billion dollars in local, state and federal tax breaks.

Egypt-based Orascom Construction Industries is building a plant in Wever that will produce 2 million tons of fertilizer per year, according to the company. The plant is slated to be up and running late this year.

The company in April changed contractors on the project and laid off workers. Recently, the company has advertised for workers in other states.

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, on Tuesday criticized the latest developments at the fertilizer plant.

“Most of the fired workers are Iowans. These Iowans helped pay for these jobs on the front end by providing the tax incentives Gov. Branstad handed over to Orascom in the worst economic deal ever,” Bolkcom said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “And now they are paying again on the back end by finding themselves in Lee County without a job.”

But Branstad’s office defended the fertilizer plant, saying it has a payroll of $25 million per month and has reduced Lee County’s unemployment by 44 percent.

“This project, which was named the best investment in the world in 2013 by Site Selection magazine, has brought thousands of jobs to Iowa and increased Iowans’ family incomes,” Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said in a statement. “When it comes to high-quality careers and increased family incomes for Lee County residents, Sen. Joe Bolkcom and Iowa Senate Democrats have consistently been the ‘party of no.’”

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Orascom issued a statement saying a portion of the construction has been reassigned to three contractors already working at the site, including Davenport-based Ryan & Associates.

“Throughout the project, Iowa Fertilizer has committed to hiring subcontractors based on safety record, skill, ability to meet the construction schedule, and price,” the statement said. “We fully expect the subcontractors to hire the best workers available who meet that criteria.”

On Monday, Senate Democrats expressed concerns about the fertilizer plant to Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham. Durham told legislators she would work with the company to help allay those concerns.

“I will be the honest broker here,” Durham said during the meeting, according to a Radio Iowa report online. “I will go to the company and say, ‘There’s a lot of unrest. There’s a lot of misinformation,’ and encourage them to meet with you and resolve that.”

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