Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 8, 2016

New plant means jobs

By Bill Gray

By BILL GRAY

Mt. Pleasant News

Let’s hope this doesn’t raise a stink. You know, that’s what a lot of us think about when we talk about fertilizer.

This we presume won’t involve that kind of fertilizer. We refer to the announcement this week that an Egyptian company will build a $1.4 billion – yes, that’s a “b” there on the “illion” – fertilizer plant in the Green Bay Bottoms near Wever. That much money means more than gathering cow pies, that’s for certain.

It means 165 permanent jobs, state and company officials say. The construction run-up to the plant’s opening, which is projected for 2015, will involve 2,000 or more construction jobs, those same officials claim.

Great news for the area – which endures an unemployment rate routinely 3-5 points higher than the state average – is an understatement. It’s also a victory for Iowa’s economic development officials, who were in heavy competition with their neighbor across the Mississippi for this plant

Kiley Miller, top executive for the Mt. Pleasant Chamber Alliance, told this week’s “Alive After Five” chamber audience that the effect for Henry County might well eclipse the construction phases for the U.S. 34 and 218 four-lane bypasses. At that time, construction workers were filling all the local motels, Miller recalled.

“This will be more than that . . . combined,” he said.

Economic developers work with “multipliers” when looking at the impact of new jobs to an area. That’s because logically the addition of 165 jobs, or even 2,000 temporary jobs, will call for more burgers to be grilled for these folks, more vehicles to be sold and serviced, more housing to be erected and sold – you get the idea.

In fact, the CEO of this Egyptian company (Orascom Construction Industries), Nassef Siwiris, says a minimum of 1,000 jobs will be needed outside of the plant for transportation and other support.

All looking good so far? There is a price to pay, of course, beginning with the fact that a bunch of prime farmland will be taken out of production to provide a plant site. There also will be environmental concerns; however, this is an industry that domestically has an excellent record of cleaning up after itself.

I grew up starting more than half a century ago about two miles from a fertilizer plant in eastern Kansas. There have been countless environmental advancements since then, but even then its potential dangers never were a community concern. Local ownership (it originally was a farm cooperative operation) helped; responsible ownership will make the Lee County plant a good neighbor.

It will be years before Iowa and Lee County will be able to assess whether the more tangible price paid – a 20-year, 100 percent tax abatement – will be worth it. Lee County and Iowa essentially lowballed offers from five other locations. The Associated Press says Iowa will lose $110 million in taxes over this period, while Lee County is kicking in $130 million.

If it brings hundreds of jobs in exchange, officials hope, it will be worth it for the short run and the long haul. While there ís a bit of dice-rolling to this project, the positive potential clearly outweighs the negative.