News Archive

2017 Legislative Briefings & Legislative Priorities

As the Iowa Legislature begins the 1st Session of the 87th General Assembly on Monday, January 9th, the Washington Chamber of Commerce gets ready to host its annual series of monthly Legislative Briefings. These public meetings are held in the Courtroom at the Washington County Courthouse, 222 West Main St.

  • Saturday, January 21, 10:00am - Noon
  • Saturday, February 18, 10:00am - Noon
  • Saturday, March 18, 10:00am - Noon 

Washington County is part of two House districts and two Senate districts. The following four Legislators are invited to participate:

L-R, Rep. Jared Klein, Rep. Dave Heaton, Sen. Rich Taylor, Sen. Kevin Kinney

To help people get into the legislative mood, I'm including the Legislative agenda for the statewide economic development association (PDI - Professional Developers of Iowa), as well as links to legislative priorities for a number of other associations and organizations that post their priorities online.



Workforce / Housing / Workforce Housing

The most significant impediments to economic growth in Iowa are a tight labor market and inadequate housing. Together these challenges perpetuate a cycle: Businesses choose not to locate in areas of Iowa due to insufficient numbers of workers and a shortage of housing. In turn, communities are unable to build housing or draw new residents because of a lack of jobs. Solving the problem will require action on multiple fronts:

  • WORKFORCE HOUSING TAX CREDIT – The amount of credits available annually should be raised to$40 million and the credits should no longer count against the state’s business tax credit limit.Consideration should also be given to enacting a component of the program specifically assistingrural communities and excusing them from the obligation to conduct expensive housing marketneeds analyses prior to greenfield development.
  • WORKFORCE RECRUITMENT – While sustaining support for Home Base Iowa and ABI’s Elevate Iowa, the Governor and Legislature should explore other means of recruiting needed workers. These may include programs targeting specific professions, student loan forgiveness, income tax rebates, credits or deductions on student loan debt, and other incentives to keep people in Iowa and drive population growth. Recruitment efforts should be coordinated with economic development organizations throughout the state, much like business recruitment efforts have been for several decades.
  • WORKFORCE TRAINING – Ensuring access to innovative training programs and practices responsive to a rapidly changing workplace requires both adequate state funding and proper alignment of services. We look forward to the implementation of the Career and Technical Education bill from last session, a significant milestone for Iowa.
  • BROWNFIELD & GRAYFIELD – Given the tremendous power of the Brownfield & Grayfield program to encourage redevelopment in aged or blighted areas, the amount of credits available annually should be increased from its current level of $10 million. The program has been vastly oversubscribed in the last 5 years, which has an immediate and substantive impact on communities across Iowa.
  • As well, the Governor and Legislature should explore means of assisting communities in redeveloping abandoned buildings, potentially as housing. Current programs at IEDA and IDNR should be evaluated to gauge how the programs can complement one another to impact the greatest number of communities possible. 

STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT RESOURCES – Growth in jobs and wealth in Iowa is directly related to the reliability and sustainability of resources for use by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and Iowa Workforce Development. After many years without an upward adjustment in their budgets to support salary increases, both departments last year endured substantial funding cuts. To grow Iowa’s economy, we should devote MORE resources to these departments, not force them to lay off employees.

ENHANCE IOWA – Trails, parks and other quality‐of‐life amenities draw workers and businesses, yet last year the Legislature passed the Enhance Iowa legislation without funding. The Governor and Legislature should build on last year’s bill by establishing a funding mechanism for this program.

SCHOOL FUNDING – PDI understands the heavy burden school funding puts on the state budget; however, annual delays in setting allowable funding increases are damaging to schools and the entire education system. Policy are urged to resolve the funding debate early in the 2017 session and to strive for a less politicized process.

MINIMUM WAGE – County‐by‐county minimum wage thresholds are unworkable and will severely hinder business development and economic growth. Within the discussion about increasing the statewide minimum wage rate, lawmakers should take action to preempt local government from subsequently setting local rates.

WATER QUALITY – Within the vigorous discussion about water quality, the Governor and legislature should also address the critical need for funding for local infrastructure. Last year’s proposal to devote a water excise tax to this purpose was laudable. Without funding, more rural cities will be forced to surrender their incorporation, taking with them a large part of Iowa’s history.

CORPORATE INCOME TAX ‐ Strong consideration should be given to simplification of Iowa’s corporate Income tax structure. The current structure is complex to investors from outside the state and country. The simplification and reduction of the corporate income tax will entice industrial and commercial investment, which will create new job growth. For example, the elimination of federal deductibility for corporate income taxes coupled with lower brackets could accomplish a tax reduction greater than what federal deductibility currently offers.

SMALL BUSINESS & ENTREPRENEURSHIP SUPPORT – Direct technical assistance to entrepreneurs and start‐up companies is a key component to growing Iowa’s economy. The Legislature should provide adequate funding for small business development and economic gardening programs to foster entrepreneurial endeavors.

TAX INCREMENT FINANCING – Local governments rely on the flexibility of TIF to address community growth challenges, from workforce and housing shortages to aging infrastructure to redevelopment to partnering with the States. PDI supports TIF and opposes efforts to weaken this important and flexible local economic development tool. New TIF reporting requirements adopted by the legislature in 2012 provide the public sufficient information about local use of TIF.


Washington County's Employment Trajectory

2016 ended on a sad note in Washington County with the final closure of the Washington plant of Modine Manufacturing, a publically traded, international corporation. Originally a local start-up that was eventually purchased by Wisconsin-based Modine, the plant was a preferred employer and workforce leader for many decades.

The Modine plant in Washington generally employed between 150 and 180. That swelled to 240 in the past few years after Modine brought new work lines to Washington after closing other Midwestern plants. Modine Manufacturing has actually off-shoared work from many of their American manufacturing plants. Most of the work from Modine's Washington plant is being off-shored to Mexico, with some of it going to plants in Missouri.

Modine closed the Washington plant over the past 18 months. Employees left for other opportunities or were laid off gradually, with the last 70 employees staying through the closure in December. 

Unemployment Remains Low

Even with the slow leak of employees from Modine over the past 18 months, Washington County's unemployment rate, and the number of unemployed people has remained very low. In November, it was 2.5% with 300 unemployed persons, which is almost an all-time low.

Washington County's laborforce has hit all-time record highs this fall. This Summer and Fall, the laborforce hit 12,900 which is a demonstration that Washington County's population is growing. In November, the laborforce contracted slightly to 12,700, which is a typical trend over the winter.

Jobs at an All-Time High

The past 3-4 years have seen Washington County reach its historical peak for non-farm jobs. In fact, compared to the beginning of this century, there are 1,500 more jobs in Washington County in 2016, or about a 20% increase from 2001. In 2001, Washington County had about 7,100 total jobs. In 2016, the jobs total had reached 8,500. Because of our unique livestock farming sector which employs many hundreds, the all inclusive job total is much higher.

Not every Southeast Iowa County has enjoyed the same job growth. Henry County started 2001 with 10,600 jobs. By 2016, that number had dropped to 9,300, or a decrease of 12%. Jefferson County started 2001 with 8,000 jobs (down from 9,000 in 1998). In 2016, Jefferson County's job total was 7,500, or a 6% decrease. Similarly, Louisa County had a decrease from 3,500 jobs in 2001 down to 2,300 in 2016, a 34% drop. Keokuk County has been relatively stable with a decrease from 2,500 jobs in 2001 down to 2,300 jobs in 2016, still an 8% decrease.

Employment by Sector

A lot of Washington County's job growth has come from other sectors besides Manufacturing. The Construction sector has more than doubled from 440 in 2001 to 900 in 2016. These additional 400+ jobs pay at the top of the wage scale, about $100 per week more than the average Manufacturing job in Washington County. 

Source: Iowa Workforce Development, Labor Market Information bureau

The Healthcare and Local Government (mostly schools) sectors have also grown slowly over the past 15 years in tandem with our population, becoming extremely stable and good paying foundations of our economy.

There has also been small increases in service sector employment, like Retail which employs over 1,000. The Leisure and Hospitality sector has grown dramatically to over 1,200 with the addition of the Riverside Casino in 2006.

Manufacturing has been the most volatile employment sector. Forces outside the local economy have both brought new jobs and taken them away, temporarily and sometimes permanently. That up and down trend is likely to continue into the future.

State and federal statistics do not track Farm jobs, but Washington County has one of the most unique Ag sectors in Iowa and the Midwest. There a hundreds of livestock based farm jobs in Washington County that don't appear in the data.

Who is Growing?

Fortunately, Washington County is an interesting place for entrepreneurs with numerous niches to fill locally, as well as companies that have grown to fill regional, national, and even international markets.

While many larger companies in Washington County have maintained their employment level since the 2008 recession, a number of employers have achieved significant employment growth. This is not a complete list, but just a selection of companies with recent growth. I hope this makes you think of other businesses that are growing. With a little thought, you'll have an even longer list of businesses that make Washington County a thriving place to live and work.

We are looking forward to helping these and other aggressive businesses and entrepreneurs as they work to grow and innovate. It is what makes Washington County such an interesting place, full of opportunity.



Spreading Washington County's Message

The 2nd Annual Washington County Luncheon for the Iowa City Area Association of Realtors is Wednesday, Nov. 9th, 11:30-1:00 at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort's Event Center.

This casual mixer event, hosted by WEDG, is a way to build professional networks across Johnson and Washington Counties. Anyone related to real estate, land development, mortgage lending, legal & abstracting, and home construction is encouraged to attend. Realtors eat free, everyone else is $20. But its a great lasagna buffet with two salads, so its worth it. Maybe 120 people.

What will you learn?

Hear 8-minute updates from the City Administrators of KalonaRiversideWashington and Wellman. Plus get our education picture from the Superintendents of HighlandMid-Prairie, and Washington Schools, and the 3-year old Kirkwood Washington Regional Center.

We all think that Washington County is a great opportunity for growth, for families, for innovative businesses, and an impressive list of Quality of Life amenities.

Want to know what was covered last year? Click here.

This isn't the only event to raise awareness about the opportunities around the fringe of the Creative Corridor. Last weekend, Jones County Development hosted their 2nd Tours of Opportunity in downtown Anamosa. Deals were made. People were impressed.

Thanks to our Sponsors!

City of Kalona
City of Riverside
City of Washington
City of Wellman
Highland Community School District
Mid-Prairie Community School District
Washington Community School District
Kirkwood Washington Regional Center
Elliott Realty Group
Golden Crest Realty
Home Team Advantage Realtors
Integrity Abstract Company
Washington Title & Guaranty Co.
Riverside Casino & Golf Resort
CBI Bank & Trust
Community 1st Credit Union
Federation Bank
Hills Bank and Trust
Washington State Bank


Healthcare leadership 

There are a number of great news bits and projects going on in Washington County. Here are a few of them.

Washington County Hospital & Clinics is tops

In July, the National Rural Health Association named Washington County Hospital & Clinics as one of the Top 100 Critical Access hospitals out of 1,300 nationwide. That is top 8% nationally. About 25% of all hospitals in the nation are Critical Access hospitals.

In addition, the Washington County Hospital was ranked in the Top 20 nationally for Quality.

The NRHA evaluation criteria are:

  1. Inpatient market share
  2. Outpatient market share
  3. Population risk
  4. Charge
  5. Quality ** Top 20 Nationally!
  6. Outcomes
  7. Patient perspectives
  8. Financial stability

The Iowa Hospital Association recently reported that the Washington County Hospital has an $18.7 Million annual impact on the Washington County economy.

Washington a top Retirement town in Iowa

SmartAsset, a personal finance website, recently named Washington as the #5 top retirement community in Iowa. SmartAsset looked at:

  1. Local & state income and sales tax rates
  2. Number of doctor's offices
  3. Recreation centers
  4. Retirement centers


The other top ten towns to retire to included Algona (1), Cherokee (2), Manchester (3), Carroll (4), Spencer (6), Clive (7), Sheldon (8), Decorah (9), and West Des Moines (10).

Healthcare is Top Employment Sector 

Healthcare has also steadily climbed to become the biggest employment sector in Washington County, with 1,300 healthcare jobs. Other major employment sectors, like manufacturing, have experienced significant volatility over the years, while Healthcare has been much more consistent and growing.

The 2016 Healthcare Laborshed Characteristics report is available on the WEDG web site.


Halcyon House completes $10.5 M Expansion

Halcyon House retirement community in Washington is almost complete with a expansion/renovation project that builds 3 new 18-room skilled nursing households. The three "households" have different purposes:

  • Secure memory support household
  • Short-term stay household for rehabilitation therapy
  • Long-term care/hospice care household

In addition, the project includes significant renovations to existing parts of the community.

United Presbyterian Home plans expansion

The UP Home is also getting ready to break ground on its own $4 Million expansion project.

"The Expansion of Quality First campaign includes a two-story building addition on to the south hall of the current Health Center. The addition will include 17 private rooms along with converting existing semi-private rooms to private rooms, the development of a dementia specific area and the expansion of our current wellness and fitness area to include a 12’ x 20’ warm water therapy pool."


Pleasantview Home in Kalona makes campus plans

In Kalona, Pleasantview Home retirement community is making plans for a significant expansion and renovation project as well. US Rep. David Loebsack toured Pleasantview Home today to learn more about their plans. More details to come.



Not all healthcare enterprises are retirement communities and the Hospital. Local entrepreneurs like Todd Thompson have started several companies, including SmartScripts, Reliant Long Term Care Pharmacy, and TelePharm (with son Roby Miller).

This fast growing family of companies, located all or in part in Washington, are charting a new course for delivering pharmaceuticals and supplements.


Iowa City #3 City in Nation

Outdoor Magazine readers also recently named Iowa City as the #3 best city in the Nation to live

Washington County is a part of the Iowa City MSA (Metro Statistical Area). Certainly all the major outdoor recreation improvements at Marr Park, Lake Darling State Park, and upcoming improvements to the Kewash Nature Trail help make Washington County a real contributor to the outdoor ideals for Outdoor Magazine.


Washington County Laborshed 2016

Several weeks ago, Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) presented our 2016 Laborshed Analysis for Washington and communities around Washington County. This is some great info for employers.

A Laborshed Analysis measurers several factors. First, IWD survey private and public employers to find out what zip code their employees live in. This helps to show the zip codes where people live and where they work. Second, IWD surveys households in the zip codes about their employment status, wages, education, and willingness to change employment. IWD has more information about method and statistics about Laborsheds on their web site.

If you're an employer, this is some great info to review to better understand the employment scene in greater Washington County and Southeast Iowa. Some of the exciting topics include:

  • Education attainment
  • Education fields
  • Commuting time
  • Age profiles by employment status
  • Insurance & Benefits
  • Reasons for considering a job change, or staying put
  • Profile of Underemployed, Not Employed, Homemakers, & Retired
  • Laborshed maps by community

 Laborshed Documents to view or download:



This information and documents is also available on WEDG's web site in the Data & Demographics page.

If you'd like a hard copy of the full Laborshed Analysis report, or any of the other reports, contact WEDG and we can help!

If you'd like assistance in understanding or interpreting the Laborshed data and maps, contact WEDG and we can help (along with IWD staff)!

Lastly, thanks to these partners for helping local economic development groups like WEDG to fund the Laborshed Analysis reports in Washington County and in the other 6 counties in Iowa's Creative Corridor - Washington County Riverboat Foundation, Alliant Energy, Kirkwood Community College, CIPCO, and Mid-American Energy.