DES MOINES — Fred Hubbell, a scion of a foundational Iowa family tied to a raft of prominent businesses and enterprises in early Des Moines that remain influential today, says he wants to see rural Iowa flourish as much as its capital city.
Hubbell, if elected governor in 2018, says he would return to Terrace Hill, a home his family donated to the state in 1971, with a central mission: Boosting employment and business opportunities in all of Iowa, extending growth outside of the cities, with business-education partnerships aimed at filling modern jobs.
Hubbell, 66, a Democrat, has served as president of Younkers and Equitable of Iowa. He also chaired the Iowa Power Fund, and served for a time as interim director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.
“I’ve got a lot of actual hardworking business experience in all parts of the state,” Hubbell said. “That’s what’s always interested me, is the economics, the growth, the success of the state.”
In an interview in his offices in Des Moines, Hubbell said there is no getting away from the fact that most new jobs in the U.S. are created in a handful of cities.
“We have some of that same thing going on in Iowa — Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Ames, Des Moines,” Hubbell said. “But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. And it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way.”
Hubbell said Gov. Kim Reynolds and former Gov. Terry Branstad talked a good game about rural Iowa, but never delivered.
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Economic-development leaders as well as city council members and county supervisors have some terrific plans for growth in rural Iowa, he said.
“When they have good ideas like that, I think that’s where the state should be putting its economic-development money, in all these small places around the state,” Hubbell said.
Hubbell says when companies like Facebook and Google and Microsoft want to connect with Iowa for data centers and other structures on key tracts of land, and locate here because of the attraction of renewable-energy portfolios, they should provide more jobs to Iowans.
“They should have been giving us 50 or 100 jobs each around our state, where people work online where they live,” Hubbell said.
On the jobs front, Hubbell said Iowa needs to prepare more people for careers that are in high demand like plumbing and mechanics. Not all of those demand a four-year college degree, Hubbell said.
People in those positions can make $60,000 a year or more with no college debt, he said.
“Those are good quality jobs that provide wonderful living wages, provide great benefits, and you can go home and sleep at night, and you don’t have to worry about the stress of your job, and you’re sitting on your phone or you’re sitting on your internet at night for your job,” Hubbell said. “We don’t promote that so that’s why we have a lot of those jobs open.”
Hubbell said those jobs are available around Iowa, not just in concentrated urban corridors.
With regard to education, Hubbell said teachers are leaving places like Fort Dodge for Minnesota, a state he says shows more respect to professional educators.
More aggressive student-debt forgiveness is one potential solution for teachers who work in areas for at least five years, Hubbell said.
“There are lots of ways that we can get jobs out all across the state,” Hubbell said.
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On transportation, the newspaper asked Hubbell if he preferred to invest in rural highway projects, like the full four-laning of Highway 30 or the development of more lanes on interstates that connect urban areas.
Hubbell said he would need to study traffic counts and economic-development potential before he could speak about specific projects.
“I’m not a fan of putting roads out there just to have roads,” Hubbell said, adding that he’ll bring a statewide eye to all decisions.
“I don’t have any special interests in Des Moines or your town telling me that I should do this versus that,” Hubbell said. “I don’t have any contributors telling me I have to do that or this.”
So what does he think about getting the family keys back to the governor’s mansion, Terrace Hill?
“I don’t think the voters are going to give me the keys back — they might rent the keys back,” Hubbell said. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. We still have to go through a primary and a general election first. But it’s an interesting story, and it’s a beautiful home. And the state and all the private people that have supported it have done a great job.”
l Douglas Burns is co-owner of the Carroll Daily Times Herald. More of his work can be found at carrollspaper.com