Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds makes stop in Waukon during "Unleashing Opportunity" Tour throughout Iowa

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds addresses crowd at S&D Café ... Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Lt. Governor Adam Gregg addressed a capacity crowd assembled at S&D Café in Waukon Friday morning, March 2 as part of their "Unleashing Opportunity" Tour taking place across the state of Iowa since the new year began. Reynolds and Gregg both spoke to the crowd regarding developments within the past nine months since they were sworn into their respective offices following the appointment of former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the U.S. Ambassador to China, as well as future plans for their administration. Those in attendance were also able to ask questions that were fielded by the pair. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

As part of their Unleashing Opportunity Tour, an opportunity to hear directly from Iowans on how to build a better Iowa and how to increase opportunities throughout the state, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg hosted a capacity crowd at the S&D Café in Waukon Friday morning, March 2. The visit had not been well publicized, a question posed to Governor Reynolds' media relations office but not yet having an answer provided as of press time Tuesday morning, March 6.

Allamakee County Treasurer Lori Hesse introduced the Governor and Lt. Governor, with Governor Reynolds speaking about several topics before taking questions from those in attendance. Reynolds discussed recently attending the National Governors' Association meeting in Washington D.C. and being aware that Iowa is ranked as the number-one state in the country, as reported by U.S. News & World Report, but not being able to share that information until after the official announcement. Reynolds discussed that U.S. News & World Report's ranking used 70 metrics, with Iowa placing first in infrastructure, third in healthcare, fourth in opportunity and fifth in education to help lead the state to its number-one overall ranking.

Reynolds briefly discussed the top priorities of her administration, including jobs, education, tax reform, health care and strengthening Iowa through economic growth. Reynolds explained that tax reform has resulted in virtually every Iowan seeing an increase in take-home pay due to a reduction in taxes.

Concerning education, Reynolds indicated that it is important to prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Reynolds discussed that job creators and employers are optimistic about Iowa's future and are investing in their businesses and adding positions, but matching opportunities with skilled candidates can be a barrier as businesses expand. Reynolds discussed that over the past seven years, Iowa has invested $735 million in K-12 education and that a recent study has shown that only three other states have invested more in K-12 education during that time frame.

Gregg discussed the Governor's recent Condition of the State Address and the historical significance of Reynolds being the first woman to hold the office of Governor in Iowa. Later in the meeting, Gregg further discussed the importance of education and training in preparing students and job seekers to be part of the workforce of tomorrow. Gregg indicated that Iowa currently has a 2.8% unemployment rate with approximately 47,000 individuals seeking employment. Gregg discussed the multi-faceted issues and challenges from a workforce training perspective with approximately 63,000 job vacancies listed on the IowaWORKS website and 47,000 job seekers in the state currently, with training being beneficial in solving the mismatch in skills for the opportunities available.

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, Reynolds responded to several questions and topics from the public in attendance. A resident of rural Elkader discussed the need for increased funding to the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. In response, Reynolds talked about the first bill she signed as Governor dealing with water quality funding. Reynolds said that Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has done a phenomenal job using a nutrient reduction strategy based on science to improve water quality and that water and soil conservation are important to her and her family, with her husband, Kevin, working with communities and farmers for 36 years with his career in district soil conservation.

Reynolds addressed another comment regarding export markets for soybeans and corn being at a low, causing a ripple effect on the economy, with Reynolds indicating that she is aggressively working with the current administration on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and exports and that she recently co-sponsored a letter with Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, including the signatures of many state governors. Reynolds indicated that the letter illustrates agriculture's impact on the economy and that Iowa needs to maintain its existing footprint, with agriculture accounting for $112 million into the state's economy, and continuing to grow the market to take advantage of the 98% of purchasing power existing outside of the United States.

Bob Hager of rural Waukon discussed the lack of resources available for mental health treatment in rural Iowa, often requiring transportation by law enforcement. Hager questioned whether other privately-owned or faith-based options are being explored. Reynolds said that progress has been made with the regional network that is now in place, which ensures that every individual receives the same core services. Reynolds agreed that there are still gaps requiring law enforcement to transport those requiring mental health services over long distances but legislation is being worked on which will provide greater flexibility regarding services and to eliminate the cap on beds and type of services causing a bottleneck. Reynolds further indicated that six access centers across the state will allow individuals to be stabilized close to home, get treatment and return to their family and community.

Reynolds discussed being excited about the rural partnership between the Des Moines University medical hospital and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She indicated that primary doctors are being provided additional education to identify the signs of mental health problems and that these doctors are providing a good first line in identifying mental health issues, as many of these doctors locate within rural areas in Iowa's 99 counties.

Additional questions were posed in regard to managed care and the Luster Heights facility in Allamakee County. Those items did not generate much detail in response from the Governor.

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