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Federal project at one-yard line

Robinson and his group gained support from Sen. Ernst for Dept. of Defense manufacturing project in Estherville

September 3, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Labor Day weekend created another opportunity for a federal government project that is set to bring over 40 high-paying jobs to Estherville.

Jeff Robinson said, "Our group that came down from Minneapolis accomplished the objective we were looking for." That objective was gaining Senator Ernst's verbal support for the project and arranging a sit-down meeting with Ernst and her staff to solidify a plan on which she would work with Senator Charles Grassley and the development company of the Department of Defense project slated to come to Estherville.

Robinson, economic development director Lyle Hevern, and a team working with Robinson met with Senator Ernst just before her town hall meeting at Estherville Lincoln Central High School Saturday morning.

Article Photos

Senator Joni Ernst, right, in purple, listens as Jeff Robinson, left, tells her about the federal project slated for Estherville. Ernst said she and her office would lend support to the project.
Photo by Amy H.?Peterson

Ernst said, "We will be supportive of those efforts. We will work in conjunction with Senator Grassley's team as well as the governor's team."

Robinson said having Ernst's support and assistance is key as Ernst is a combat veteran who serves on the Senate Armed Forces Committee and has relationships with key officials in the Department of Defense.

Ernst expressed her approval of a list of 29 communities throughout Iowa who could get similar federal manufacturing projects in their communities. Robinson said, as he has since announcing the project in Estherville last June, that Estherville will be the first project.

"We are at the one yard line ready to bring it home," Robinson said.

Ernst put the project into the context of the minimum wage and wage stagnation, one of several themes that peppered her one-hour town hall.

"What we want to do is support free enterprise and not have overly heavy-handed federal regulation. We see the hourly wage as a great tool for employers to work with their employees and try to get employees through the door. There is a lot of competition in the labor pool right now, and naturally you are going to see those wages come up," Senator Ernst said.

The wages of the federal project will include an average salary of about $60,000 per year plus federal benefits, with the top managers earning twice that. The project will bring about 75 percent new residents to the Estherville area with 25 percent offering jobs to current residents. One factor in the employability of workers at the facility is the ability to pass a security clearance and other federal requirements for government work.

Senator Ernst said, "A partnership like this federal project could be a way for the market to raise wages in the community without a government rubber stamp just bearing down on it."

Ernst is also on the Senate Rural Development Committee, and said she supports a market approach to raising wages and standards decided by the states, instead of an increase in the federal minimum wage. Ernst and Grassley have consistently opposed measures to raise the minimum wage on the federal level.

Ernst said, "I have heard from small businesses all across Iowa that [raising the minimum wage to $15] would literally kill their businesses. They would not be able to sustain that wage. So a $15 minimum wage might be great for California where the cost of living is much higher, but in the state of Iowa, it's probably not the right way to go. I do believe every state should be able to set their own minimum wage because every state is so different."

The federal project will include a 75,000 square foot building in Estherville's industrial park south of Iowa Lakes Community College. There are a planned 47 parking spaces for the facility, and Robinson said he feels comfortable saying there will be approximately 47 jobs created.

This would break down to 35 jobs for workers transferring from other places to become residents of Estherville and 12 jobs for local residents, approximately.

Senator Ernst is the junior senator from Iowa, first elected in 2014. She is currently running for a second senate term. So far, Democrats Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield and Eddie Mauro have declared their candidacy for their party's nomination to oppose Ernst.



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