Iowa Public Television

 

Mike Blouin

posted on July 11, 2005

Borg: GUIDING IOWA... MIKE BLOUIN CONSIDERS WHETHER HE CAN DO IT BETTER AS GOVERNOR, RATHER THAN DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR. WE'LL QUESTION HIM ON THIS EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS."

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS," THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996. ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS THE FRIDAY, JULY 8 EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS." HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: WHEN WE SCHEDULED MIKE BLOUIN FOR THIS EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS," WE WANTED TO QUESTION HIM ABOUT HIS VISION FOR IOWA AS THE STATE'S DIRECTOR OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. WE WERE ALSO CURIOUS ABOUT SPECULATION AT THAT TIME THAT HE MIGHT BE A CANDIDATE FOR THE DEMOCRATIC GUBERNATORIAL NOMINATION. WELL, THAT CHANGED THIS PAST WEDNESDAY WHEN MR. BLOUIN CALLED A NEWS CONFERENCE TO SAY THAT HE'S RESIGNING AS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR TO SPEND FULL TIME EXPLORING AND PRESUMABLY CAMPAIGNING FOR THE GUBERNATORIAL POSSIBILITY. MR. BLOUIN IS A FORMER STATE LEGISLATOR, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN, AND DIRECTED CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES IN CEDAR RAPIDS AND DES MOINES, AND HE'S ALSO A FORMER EDUCATOR. WELCOME BACK TO "IOWA PRESS."

Blouin: GOOD TO BE BACK, DEAN.

Borg: AND ACROSS THE "IOWA PRESS" TABLE: "DES MOINES REGISTER" POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN AND "ASSOCIATED PRESS" SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER MIKE GLOVER.

Glover: MR. BLOUIN, YOU'RE A WELL-KNOWN FIGURE TO MANY IOWANS. YOU'VE BEEN AT THIS TABLE MANY TIMES BEFORE. YOU'RE AT THIS TABLE NOW AS A POTENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR THE DEMOCRATIC GUBERNATORIAL NOMINATION. AS YOU SET ABOUT THE STATE EXPLORING THAT POSSIBILITY, WHAT IS IT THAT IOWANS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

Blouin: WELL, I THINK THE MORE THEY LEARN ABOUT MY BACKGROUND, THE MORE COMFORTABLE THEY'LL BECOME WITH ME. THE MORE THEY LEARN ABOUT HOW I MAKE DECISIONS, HOPEFULLY THE MORE COMFORTABLE THEY'LL BECOME WITH ME. I THINK IOWANS WANT TO FEEL THAT THEY CAN TRUST THEIR ELECTED OFFICIALS, AND THAT SEEMS TO BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN SPECIFIC POSITIONS ON SPECIFIC ISSUES WHICH PASS FROM MONTH TO MONTH. IT'S NOT THAT THE ISSUES AREN'T IMPORTANT. THERE HAS TO BE A SENSE OF COMFORT THERE. AND I'M GOING TO DO MY BEST TO TRY TO SEND THAT SENSE OF COMFORT TO PEOPLE.

Glover: AND WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOU THAT SHOULD GIVE PEOPLE THAT SENSE OF COMFORT? IS IT YOUR MATURITY, IN YOUR VIEW? IS IT YOUR EXPERIENCE? IS IT YOUR BACKGROUND?

Blouin: WELL, TIME WILL TELL HOW PEOPLE REACT TO IT, MIKE, BUT IT'S A LITTLE BIT OF ALL OF THOSE. I'VE BEEN OUT THERE A FEW YEARS. I WAS FIRST ELECTED -- AT THE AGE OF 22 IN 1968, AND I'VE HAD A WHOLE CAREER AFTER TEN YEARS IN ELECTIVE OFFICE THAT INVOLVED EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. I'VE LEARNED TO BE A COLLABORATOR AS TIME HAS GONE ON. I'M MUCH BETTER AT THAT THAN I STARTED AT IN THE EARLY YEARS. AS A YOUNG FELLA IN THE LEGISLATURE, SOME MIGHT SAY TOO YOUNG, EVERYTHING WAS BLACK AND WHITE TO ME. YOU HAD A YES BUTTON AND YOU HAD A NO BUTTON, AND IT WAS PRETTY EASY TO PICK WHICH ONE YOU OUGHT TO COME DOWN ON. THE OLDER I GET, THE GRAYER THINGS GET. LIFE HAS A WAY OF HELPING YOU SEE THE NUANCES OF PEOPLE AND THE NUANCES OF ISSUES, AND IT'S DEVELOPED A SENSE IN ME OF COLLABORATION AND A SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT MAKES PEOPLE TICK.

Glover: AND WHAT YOU ANNOUNCED THIS PAST WEEK WAS THAT YOU'RE EXPLORING THE POSSIBILITY OF RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR. WHAT IS YOUR TIME FRAME FOR GETTING BEYOND EXPLORING AND MAKING A DECISION?

Blouin: WE HAVE A 90- TO 120-DAY PLAN, THE SPECIFICS OF WHICH ARE PART OF OUR CAMPAIGN STRATEGY, SO I'D JUST AS SOON NOT GET INTO THEM. BUT IF WE COULD PULL THOSE THINGS OFF IN THAT KIND OF A TIME FRAME, WE'LL HAVE A PRETTY GOOD SENSE OF WHETHER THIS IS DOABLE.

Glover: MR. BLOUIN --

Blouin: AS I MENTIONED -- LET ME JUST FINISH UP QUICKLY. AS I MENTIONED AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE, THE ONLY WAY TO FIND OUT HOW SERIOUS PEOPLE ARE ABOUT THE COMMENTS THEY MAKE IS TO GET YOURSELF INTO A CAMPAIGN MODE AND START ASKING WILL YOU NOW DO "X," "Y," AND "Z." AND 90 TO 120 DAYS SHOULD GIVE ME A SENSE OF HOW REAL THAT IS.

Yepsen: MR. BLOUIN, IT STRIKES ME THAT AS A POTENTIAL DEMOCRATIC GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, YOU'VE GOT TWO PROBLEMS. ONE IS YOU'RE PERCEIVED AS PRO-LIFE, ANTIABORTION, AND SECOND IS YOU'RE TOO PRO-BUSINESS BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN WORKING FOR CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE AND STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR. SO LET'S TALK ABOUT BOTH OF THOSE THINGS.

Blouin: SURE.

Yepsen: WHAT DO YOU SAY TO A DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY VOTER WHO IS PRO-CHOICE ABOUT WHY THEY SHOULD VOTE FOR A PRO-LIFE GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE?

Blouin: I TAKE THOSE ISSUES TOGETHER, DAVID, AND I TELL PEOPLE TO LOOK AT THE TOTAL PICTURE, LOOK AT THE ELECTABILITY, LOOK AT THE ISSUES THAT WE ALL AGREE ON, LOOK AT MY VISION FOR THE FUTURE AND MY ABILITY TO IMPLEMENT THAT VISION, A VISION THAT WE HOPE TO BE LAYING OUT OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS. YES, WE AREN'T GOING TO FIND OURSELVES IN ABSOLUTE AGREEMENT ON EVERY ISSUE THAT COMES ACROSS THROUGHOUT THESE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS. WHAT I HOPE TO DO IS TO NOT DECEIVE PEOPLE, TO MAKE IT CLEAR WHO I AM, WHAT I AM, WHAT I'D LIKE TO DO, AND GIVE PEOPLE A CLEAR OPPORTUNITY TO UNDERSTAND WHETHER THAT FITS INTO THEIR VISION OR NOT. AND ON ISSUES OF THAT NATURE, THE JUDGMENTS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE AS TO WHETHER ISSUES THAT ACTUALLY HELP ME IN A GENERAL ELECTION CONTEXT ARE ONES THEY'RE WILLING TO GIVE SOME ADDITIONAL THOUGHT TO IN TERMS OF PRIMARY CONTEXT.

Borg: YOU'RE NO LONGER DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR. WE'VE ESTABLISHED THAT. BUT YOU'RE MOVING INTO A BROADER CONTEXT OF A VISION FOR IOWA. BUT FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, FROM WHERE YOU ARE TO WHERE YOU MAY BE GOING, WHAT'S YOUR ASSESSMENT RIGHT NOW OF THE IOWA ECONOMY?

Blouin: IT'S STARTING TO COME BACK. TRADITIONALLY IOWA'S ECONOMY IS ONE OF THE LAST TO FEEL A RECESSION AND AMONG THE LAST TO RECOVER. I THINK THE RECOVERY IS JUST BEGINNING IN IOWA, AND IT'S HAPPENING BECAUSE MORE OF NEW ECONOMY KINDS OF SUCCESSES THAT ARE REPLACING SOME OF WHAT WE'VE LOST.

Borg: IF IT'S JUST BEGINNING, IS THAT RECOVERY FRAGILE?

Blouin: VERY FRAGILE. VERY FRAGILE, DEAN. WE'RE TRYING TO CONVERT OUR AG ECONOMY TO VALUE ADDED, AS AN EXAMPLE. THAT'S FRAGILE. WE'RE TRYING TO CREATE A TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY IN IOWA IN COMPETITION WITH VERY MANY PLACES WHO HAVE TWENTY, THIRTY YEARS OF LEAD ON US. VERY FRAGILE. WE'RE TRYING TO CREATE A TECH TRANSFER OPPORTUNITY IN IOWA FROM OUR UNIVERSITIES INTO THE PRIVATE SECTOR WITHOUT A LARGE VENTURE CAPITAL FUND TO FALL BACK ON. THAT'S VERY FRAGILE. IT'S GOING TO TAKE A GENERATION TO MAKE THIS CONVERSION.

Glover: MR. BLOUIN, A TWO-PART QUESTION: ONE, IF THE ECONOMY IS BEGINNING TO RECOVER, HOW MUCH CREDIT CAN WE GIVE TO GOVERNMENT, WHICH IS A VERY SMALL PART OF THIS STATE'S OVERALL GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT; AND WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING GOVERNMENT CAN DO TO INTERFERE WITH THAT RECOVERY?

Blouin: UMM, TWO QUESTIONS THAT ARE MAYBE SOMEWHAT CONTRADICTORY. GOVERNMENT PLAYS A ROLE AND GOVERNMENT PLAYS AN ESSENTIAL ROLE IN CREATING AN ATMOSPHERE WHERE BUSINESS HAS A CHANCE TO SUCCEED. GOVERNMENT CAN CHOOSE WHETHER THAT ROLE WILL BE USED FOR ANY KIND OF GROWTH OR FOR GROWTH THAT HAS MULTIPLIERS TO IT. IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, IOWA GOVERNMENT HAS CHOSEN TO TRY TO CREATE THE KIND OF ATMOSPHERE WHERE THE KINDS OF COMPANIES THAT SUCCEED WILL CREATE GOOD PAYING PROFESSIONS AND GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE REASONS TO STAY HERE. GOVERNMENT CAN DO THINGS IN TERMS OF CREATING AN EDUCATIONAL ATMOSPHERE, AS WE'VE DONE FOR 150 YEARS IN IOWA, THAT PRODUCES THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST IN THE WORLD. BUT IF WE DON'T PROVIDE THE OCCUPATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES, THOSE YOUNG FOLKS BECOME THE ECHO OF THE REFRAIN I HEAR ALL OVER THE WORLD: OUR EMPLOYEES FROM IOWA ARE THE BEST EMPLOYEES WE'VE GOT. I DON'T WANT THEM SAYING THAT. I WANT THEM SAYING THAT HERE IN THIS STATE. THE OTHER SIDE OF YOUR QUESTION HAD TO DO WITH --

Glover: WHAT CAN GOVERNMENT DO TO GET IN THE WAY --

Blouin: TO GET IN THE WAY. WE CAN TAKE IT FOR GRANTED. WE CAN GO BACK TO ESCALATING TAXES. WE CAN GO BACK TO A REGULATORY CLIMATE THAT'S PUNITIVE VERSUS CLIENT RELATED. WE DON'T HAVE TO WAIVE ANY STANDARDS. WE JUST CHANGE AN ATTITUDE THAT WE'VE BEGUN TO IMPROVE ON, AND YOU CAN GET IN THE WAY RATHER QUICKLY. YOU CAN ALSO GET IN THE WAY BY -- BY REFUSING TO COMPETE IN SOMETHING, AS DISTASTEFUL AS IT IS FOR A LOT OF IOWANS, THAT WILL RESULT IN GROWTH IN IOWA VERSUS OTHER PLACES.

Borg: WHAT'S THAT? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING OF THERE?

Blouin: WELL, THE INCENTIVE PACKAGES THAT ARE OUT THERE TODAY, THAT'S WHAT I'M THINKING OF. IF THAT'S STOPPED, THE MOMENTUM -- MUCH OF THE MOMENTUM THAT'S BEEN BUILT UP WILL GO AWAY.

Yepsen: MR. BLOUIN, YOU TALK ABOUT GROSS STATE PRODUCT AND ALL THESE ECONOMIC CONCEPTS AND TERMS, AND I THINK A LOT OF TIMES IT GETS LOST. PER CAPITA INCOME IN IOWA IS STILL BELOW THE NATIONAL AVERAGE. OUR GROSS STATE PRODUCT MAY BE GROWING AT 8 PERCENT. PER CAPITA INCOME ISN'T. WE MAY HAVE HAD A NICE WONDERFUL GROWTH IN OUR STATE ECONOMY, BUT THE AVERAGE IOWAN DOESN'T SEEM TO BE FEELING THAT. HOW LONG IS IT GOING TO TAKE BEFORE IOWA PER CAPITA INCOME IS AT THE NATIONAL AVERAGE?

Blouin: WELL, IF WE KEEP THE GROWTH THAT WE HAD THE LAST FULL YEAR THAT IT WAS COUNTED, 2004, IT WILL ONLY TAKE THREE OR FOUR MORE YEARS. WE HAD AN INCREASE OF 7.8 PERCENT IN PER CAPITA INCOME ON THE WHOLE STATE OF IOWA'S BASIS IN 2004, THE SECOND LARGEST INCREASE IN THE COUNTRY. WE MOVED UP THREE OR FOUR RUNGS, AND WE'RE RUNNING AROUND 31ST. BUT THERE'S ONLY 34-, $3,500 DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IOWA'S PER CAPITA INCOME TODAY AND THE OVERALL NATIONAL PER CAPITA INCOME. THAT KIND OF GROWTH THAT WE EXPERIENCE IN 2004 FOR THREE OR FOUR MORE YEARS WILL PUT US ABOVE THE AVERAGE.

Yepsen: BUT REALISTICALLY, THAT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN; IS IT?

Blouin: I DON'T KNOW.

Yepsen: ARE YOU EXPECTING 8-PERCENT GROWTH IN IOWA'S ECONOMY FOR THE NEXT FOR YEARS?

Blouin: IF THE NATIONAL ECONOMY DOESN'T COLLAPSE, I THINK IT'S VERY POSSIBLE.

Yepsen: WELL, HOW CAN IOWA'S ECONOMY OR EVEN THE NATIONAL ECONOMY, FOR THAT MATTER, SUSTAIN THE KIND OF GROWTH RATE IT HAD IN 2004 WHEN OIL IS AT $61 A BARREL?

Blouin: WELL, THAT'S A BIG IF, AND WE DON'T HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER THAT, DAVID. REALISTICALLY, YOU'RE PROBABLY LOOKING AT GROWTH RATES IN THE 4- OR 5-PERCENT RANGE. FOR IOWA THAT WOULD BE GOOD, ESPECIALLY IF THAT, IN CONTEXT WITH THE NATIONAL TREND OF SOMEWHAT LESS THAN THAT, IOWA WILL CATCH UP. THE POINT IS WE'RE GROWING. OUR ECONOMY IS ON THE MEND. INCOMES ARE UP. THE NUMBER OF COLLEGE GRADUATES IN THE WORK FORCE IS UP BY 50,000 PEOPLE IN THE LAST THREE YEARS. THEY AREN'T HERE BECAUSE THEY LIKE TO TAKE THE LOW PAYING JOBS; THEY'RE HERE BECAUSE THE CAREERS THEY'VE JUST SPENT SIXTEEN YEARS EDUCATING THEMSELVES TO GET ARE BEGINNING TO DEVELOP IN IOWA.

Borg: ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU TALKED ABOUT $61 OIL MAYBE IMPEDING IOWA'S RECOVERY. COULD IT ALSO BE A PLUS? IOWA HAS ETHANOL AND ALSO WIND ENERGY. MIGHT IOWA REAP THE BENEFITS OF THAT?

Blouin: WE ALREADY ARE. THE FIRST 15 ETHANOL PLANTS IN IOWA, ACCORDING TO IOWA STATE'S ECONOMIC STUDY, HAVE A $3.8-BILLION ANNUAL ECONOMIC IMPACT IN IOWA, JUST THOSE 15 ETHANOL PLANTS. AND I WOULD ANTICIPATE THAT THAT NUMBER WILL COME CLOSE TO DOUBLING IN THE NOT TOO MANY YEARS IN THE FUTURE. WE'RE BEGINNING TO GROW BIODIESEL AT A RATHER RAPID PACE IN IOWA, PROBABLY AT A FASTER TREND THAN ETHANOL STARTED OUT AT. BIOMASS IS BECOMING FINANCIALLY FEASIBLE. WE'RE THE SECOND OR THIRD LARGEST PRODUCER OF WIND ENERGY IN THE COUNTRY, AND IT'S JUST BEGINNING. WIND FARMS ARE POPPING UP EVERYWHERE, ADDING INCOME TO FARMERS AND CREATING ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF ENERGY THAT DON'T REQUIRE DEPENDING ON LIMITED NATURAL RESOURCES OR POLLUTING TYPES OF TRADITIONAL FORMS OF ENERGY. SO, YEAH, WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE PART OF THE SOLUTION TO OIL PRICES. YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DO IT AT 10 OR 15 PERCENT ETHANOL BLEND. YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO IT BY MOVING CLOSER TO 85 PERCENT OVER A NUMBER OF YEARS, AND THIS STATE HAS TAKEN A FEW STEPS TO BEGIN THAT. MINNESOTA HAS TAKEN SOME BIGGER STEPS. THEY'VE GONE TO 30-PERCENT BLEND THROUGH LEGISLATION LAST YEAR, AND WE OUGHT TO -- WE OUGHT TO JOIN WITH THEM. AS A MATTER OF FACT, I BELIEVE THE UPPER MIDWEST STATES, THE CORN BELT OF AMERICA OUGHT TO JOIN HANDS AND FIND SOME WAY TOGETHER TO REBUILD THAT WHOLE INDUSTRY, BASED ON ETHANOL WITH A LITTLE OIL VERSUS A LITTLE ETHANOL AND A LOT OF OIL.

Glover: WELL, HOW WOULD THAT BE STRUCTURED? DO YOU THINK -- WHAT MIDWESTERN STATES OUGHT TO GO TOGETHER? WHAT SHOULD THEY DO? JOINT LEGISLATION? COMPACT AGREEMENTS?

Blouin: YES, I THINK ALL OF THAT. ALL OF THAT SHOULD BE PART OF IT. HOW YOU GET THERE IS NOT AN EASY QUESTION. HOW YOU PULL THOSE PIECES TOGETHER AND GET STATES TO LOOK AT IT IN OUR BEST INTEREST IS A DIFFICULT QUESTION. WHETHER YOU CAN -- WHETHER YOU CAN GET SIMULTANEOUS LEGISLATION THAT LINKS TOGETHER, WHETHER YOU CAN DO IT CONSTITUTIONALLY UNDER FEDERAL LAWS, UNDER THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, ALL OF THOSE THINGS NEED TO BE FLUSHED OUT. AND IT'S PROBABLY A GENERATIONAL PROCESS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN, BUT IT'S SOMETHING WE OUGHT TO BE LOOKING AT.

Glover: AND WE'VE TALKED A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LURING NEW BUSINESSES TO THE STATE, ECONOMIC INCENTIVES FOR NEW BUSINESSES. LET'S STEP BACK JUST A SECOND AND LOOK AT A LONG-TERM PICTURE FOR WHERE IOWA OUGHT TO BE. YOU TOUCHED ON IT A LITTLE BIT EARLIER. WHAT'S YOUR VISION FOR WHERE THIS STATE'S ECONOMY OUGHT TO BE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION THAT'S COMING ALONG?

Blouin: TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW OUR ECONOMY NEEDS TO BE PRIMARILY DRIVEN BY 21ST-CENTURY COMPANIES, LIFE SCIENCES AND A BROAD CROSS SECTION OF UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THAT MEANS. IT'S NOT JUST VALUE ADD, ALTHOUGH THAT'S AN INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT PIECE OF IT IN IOWA AND IT'S SUCH AN EASY PIECE FOR US. BUT IT GETS INTO PLANT AND ANIMAL GENETICS, PROTEIN EXTRACTIONS. IT GETS INTO THE STRENGTHS THAT THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA HAVE, THE VARIOUS STRENGTHS THAT THEY HAVE ON THE HUMAN SIDE, ADVANCED MANUFACTURING, HELPING OUR COMPANIES BECOME 21ST-CENTURY PRODUCERS OF PRODUCTS THAT HAVE WORLD DEMAND AND THAT HAVE A REASON TO BE BUILT IN IOWA. BUILD ON OUR INSURANCE AND FINANCIAL SERVICES STRENGTHS. WE'RE ONE OF THE LEADERS IN THE WORLD, AND WE NEED TO BUILD ON THAT AND TECHNOLOGY AS WELL. IF WE DON'T HAVE THAT DONE OVER THE NEXT FIFTEEN TO TWENTY YEARS, IOWA HAS THE POTENTIAL TO CONDEMN ITSELF TO A DYING ECONOMY WITH AN EVER-DECREASING POPULATION. AND I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT HAPPEN.

Yepsen: MR. BLOUIN, A LOT OF SMALL TOWNS IN IOWA ARE DYING. SOME ARE DEAD. SOME ARE ON LIFE SUPPORT. WHAT CAN PEOPLE IN THOSE COMMUNITIES DO TO HELP THEMSELVES? WRITE ME SOME PRESCRIPTIONS ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO TO GET A SICK TOWN IN IOWA OFF THE MAT.

Blouin: YOU KNOW, WE STARTED TO TALK ABOUT THAT IN ONE OF OUR LAST PROGRAMS SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, AND I THINK IT'S A TOPIC THAT'S ON THE MINDS OF A LOT OF SMALL-TOWN PEOPLE, SMALL-TOWN MAYORS, CITY COUNCIL FOLKS, SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS. WE'VE GOT TO GET PEOPLE OUT OF THE SILO MENTALITY OF EACH TOWN TRYING TO GO IT ALONE AND THINK IN TERMS OF THE MUTUAL STRENGTHS THAT A COLLECTIVE GROUP OF COMMUNITIES BRING TO THE TABLE AS THEY DEFINE WHAT THAT COLLECTIVE GROUP IS AND AS THEY DEFINE MUTUAL STRENGTHS.

Yepsen: OKAY, BUT ONCE YOU GET A GROUP OF TOWNS TOGETHER, THEN WHAT ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO DO?

Blouin: WELL, THEY FIND WHAT EACH OTHER'S STRENGTHS ARE. MAYBE ONE OR TWO ARE MANUFACTURING. MAYBE A COUPLE ARE RESIDENTIAL. MAYBE A COUPLE HAVE THE ABILITY TO BE MASSIVE TOURISM CENTERS OR EVEN SMALL TOURISM CENTERS. THEY START TO PLAN INFRASTRUCTURE THAT TIES THEM TOGETHER. THEY START TO FIND WAYS, WITH THE HELP OF THE STATE CHANGING OUR LAWS, TO REDIRECT DOLLARS TO USE AS A GROUP OF COMMUNITIES AS OPPOSED TO INDIVIDUAL TOWNS TRYING TO FIND A WAY TO SAVE THEMSELVES. THE THING THAT WE ALL ACCEPT IS THAT 950 TOWNS IN IOWA STARTED AS FARM COMMUNITIES. THEY STARTED AS SHOPPING CENTERS FOR A FARM COMMUNITY. AND THOSE THAT WERE ABLE TO TRANSITION THEMSELVES INTO SOMETHING OTHER THAN THAT HAVE DONE REASONABLY WELL. THOSE THAT COULDN'T OR DIDN'T ARE RELYING ON A POPULATION BASE, A CUSTOMER BASE THAT NO LONGER EXISTS. SO WE'VE GOT TO GET SMARTER. I DON'T THINK YOU DO IT WITH A BULLWHIP. I DON'T THINK YOU PENALIZE THEM. I THINK YOU INCENTIVIZE THE SYSTEM IN A WAY THAT WILL GET IOWANS TO DO WHAT THEY DO BEST, AND THAT'S THINK AND PLAN AND DREAM TOGETHER.

Yepsen: ONE THING I HEAR PEOPLE IN GOVERNMENT ALWAYS SAY IS WE HAVE TO HAVE A GOOD EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM. ALL RIGHT, WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING TO IMPROVE OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM EITHER AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL, AS YOU'VE JUST MENTIONED, OR AT THE STATE LEVEL? SPECIFICALLY, IS IT TIME FOR IOWA TO HAVE STATEWIDE STANDARDS FOR OUR SCHOOLS TO FORCE THEM TO BE BETTER THAN THEY ARE?

Blouin: WELL, THE FEDERAL SYSTEM, AS LONG AS IT STAYS IN PLACE, IS GOING TO DO THE FORCING. AND WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO REACT TO IT IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION IS A MAJOR STEP, AND I COMMEND THE LEGISLATURE FOR RESPONDING TO THE GOVERNOR'S CALL THIS YEAR TO BEGIN THAT PROCESS. IT'S JUST BEGUN. THE DATA IS IRREFUTABLE. THOSE FIRST YEARS ARE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO SOMEONE -- NOT JUST SOMEONE'S EDUCATIONAL POTENTIAL, BUT THEIR LIFELONG ECONOMIC POTENTIAL. LIFELONG LEARNING, CRITICAL IN TERMS OF ACCESS TO THE TOOLS NEEDED TO KEEP YOURSELF UP TO DATE, TO KEEP YOURSELF VIABLE IN A CHANGING WORLD OF WORK.

Yepsen: AND LASTLY, MR. BLOUIN, WE HEAR PEOPLE SAY IOWANS ARE NOT RISK TAKERS, THAT IT'S HARD TO START A BUSINESS HERE, ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS DIFFICULT. WHAT SPECIFICALLY SHOULD IOWANS BE DOING TO ENCOURAGE MORE RISK TAKING?

Blouin: WELL, IOWANS ARE THE BEST RISK TAKERS IN THE WORLD. EVERY SPRING WE PUT SOME SEEDS IN THE GROUND, AND WE EXPECT TO FEED THE WORLD BY FALL.

Yepsen: BUT THAT DOESN'T DO ANYTHING FOR YOUR BUSINESS --

Blouin: NO, IT DOESN'T. BUT IT TELLS YOU A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT THE MINDSET OF PEOPLE. IOWANS I THINK GET A BUM RAP WHEN WE'RE TOLD WE'RE NOT RISK TAKERS. WE ARE. WE JUST NEED TO TRANSFER THAT MINDSET OF RISK ON THE FARM INTO THE WAY WE TRY TO REBUILD OUR ECONOMY. WE NEED TO RISK IN VENTURE CAPITAL. OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT IF WE'RE GOING TO BUILD A NEW ECONOMY IN HAND WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR, WE'VE GOT TO BE WILLING TO FAIL ONCE IN A WHILE JUST LIKE THEY'RE WILLING TO DO WITH THEIR MONEY. AND WE CAN'T PULL THE PLUG WHEN A FEW OF THESE COMPANIES GO DOWN THE DRAIN. THAT'S A MINDSET CHANGE. FARMERS DON'T STOP FARMING WHEN THEY HAVE A BAD YEAR. THEY JUST SUCK IT UP AND FIND A WAY TO SURVIVE TILL SPRING AND START ALL OVER AGAIN. WE'VE GOT TO TAKE THAT MINDSET AND THAT LONG-TERM TRADITION AND TRANSLATE IT INTO THE WAY WE BUILD AN ECONOMY.

Glover: MR. BLOUIN, YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE AROUND THE STATEHOUSE VERY LONG UNTIL YOU BEGIN TO HEAR A COUPLE OF COMPETING ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHAT THE STATE OUGHT TO DO TO HELP THE ECONOMY. YOU HEAR ONE CAMP, PRIMARILY DEMOCRATS, SAY WE NEED A POOL OF MONEY TO GO OUT AND LURE NEW BUSINESSES TO COME TO IOWA. YOU HEAR ANOTHER CAMP SAY, NO, NO, NO, NO, WE OUGHT NOT TO BE PICKING WINNERS AND LOSERS; WE OUGHT TO BE CHANGING THE TAX CODE AND LET COMPANIES DECIDE WHERE THEY WANT TO COME OUT. WHERE DO YOU FALL DOWN IN THAT DEBATE?

Blouin: IN THE IDEAL WORLD, THERE WOULDN'T BE ANY INCENTIVES. IN THE IDEAL WORLD, STATES WOULDN'T BE COMPETING WITH EACH OTHER, GIVING AWAY THEIR TAX STRUCTURE AND THEIR TAX BASE TO ATTRACT A COMPANY AND HAVE NO NET SUM GAIN TO THE NATION AS A WHOLE. WE DON'T LIVE IN THE IDEAL WORLD, SO WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING TO PROTECT OURSELVES. I DON'T THINK YOU CAN JUST DO THAT IN A FRAME THAT ATTRACTS NEW COMPANIES. SIXTY-SEVEN PERCENT OF THE COMPANIES THAT WE'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN HELPING THE LAST TWO AND A HALF YEARS HAVE BEEN EXISTING COMPANIES IN IOWA OR BRAND-NEW -- BRAND-NEW BORN COMPANIES IN IOWA; 84 OF THOSE 369 COMPANIES HAVE JUST BEEN BORN IN THE STATE AT ONE PLACE OR ANOTHER. SO LESS THAN A THIRD ARE OUT-OF-STATE COMPANIES. IT'S GREAT TO BRING THEM IN BUT IT'S NOT THE WHOLE EQUATION. IT'S NEW COMPANIES. IT'S EXPANDING BASE. IT'S GIVING BIRTH TO NEW IDEAS. IT'S ALL THREE IN TARGETED WAYS FOR A PROLONGED PERIOD OF TIME THAT GIVES US A CHANCE TO GROW THE ECONOMY, AND THAT INVOLVES A TAX ATMOSPHERE, A REGULATORY CLIMATE, AND SOME TEMPORARY INCENTIVES WITH CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATIONS IN ORDER TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Glover: IF YOU COULD PICK ONE CHANGE IN THE STATE'S TAX STRUCTURE TO MAKE -- TO LURE BUSINESSES HERE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Blouin: WELL, I WOULD -- I'D PROBABLY PICK WHAT I'VE TALKED ABOUT THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS. FEDERAL DEDUCTABILITY IS THE BIGGEST BARRIER TO ATTRACTING EXECUTIVES AND CORPORATE LEADERS THAN ANYTHING I KNOW. NOTHING COMES UP MORE FREQUENTLY, AND YOU'VE GOT TO EXPLAIN IT. YOU KNOW, ALL WE DO IS CHARGE A HIGHER TAX RATE FOR PEOPLE AND THEN ALLOW THEM TO DEDUCT THEIR FEDERAL TAXES AGAINST THAT LOAD AND EFFECTIVELY REDUCE THE RATE. WHY NOT JUST START OUT WITH THE LOWER RATE LIKE MOST STATES DO AND GET AWAY FROM THE CONFUSION OF HAVING TO EXPLAIN IT? WE DO IT FOR PERSONAL AND FOR CORPORATE. AND IF YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN THE ISSUE, YOU'VE LOST THE BATTLE TO BEGIN WITH.

Yepsen: MR. BLOUIN, I WANT TO GO BACK TO THIS QUESTION OF WHAT LOCAL COMMUNITIES CAN DO TO HELP THEMSELVES. ISN'T THIS REALLY DARWINIAN THAT THERE IS A SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST OUT THERE? IF A LOCAL COMMUNITY WANTS TO HELP ITSELF AND DO THINGS, TAKE RISKS, FIX ITS SCHOOLS, AND HUSTLE AND LOOK GOOD AND ALL THAT, THEY MAY HAVE A CHANCE SURVIVING. IF THEY DON'T WANT TO DO THAT, THEY'RE NOT GOING TO SURVIVE. IS THAT FAIR TO SAY?

Blouin: NOT EXACTLY. IF TWO TOWNS RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER HAD THE SAME MINDSET YOU'VE JUST MENTIONED AND THEY BOTH CREATE THE GREATEST MAIN STREET IN THE WORLD WITH TREMENDOUS RETAIL OUTLETS, ONE OR BOTH OF THEM ARE GOING TO GO BROKE UNLESS YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT CUSTOMER BASE. WITHOUT SOMEBODY WALKING IN THE DOOR AND SPENDING MONEY ON THE PRODUCTS THEY'RE SELLING, THEY'RE OUT OF BUSINESS. THEY NEED TO WORK TOGETHER, DAVE, AND THEY NEED TO DECIDE WHICH ONE OF THOSE TWO, IN THIS INSTANCE, HAVE THE CHANCE TO MAKE IT.

Yepsen: SHOULD IOWA -- WE HAVE LIMITED RESOURCES. DO WE PLAY TO OUR STRENGTHS AND THE BUSINESSES AND THE COMMUNITIES THAT ARE GROWING AND PUT OUR RESOURCES THERE, OR DO WE TRY TO SALVAGE SOME OF THESE COUNTIES THAT ARE HAVING A REAL TOUGH TIME? HOW DO YOU MAKE THAT RESOURCE ALLOCATION QUESTION?

Blouin: THE PRIVATE SECTOR WILL MAKE THE SELECTION FOR YOU IN TERMS OF WHICH COMMUNITIES ARE GOING TO GROW AND WHICH AREN'T. GOVERNMENT CAN'T FORCE THAT TO HAPPEN. THE PRIVATE SECTOR WILL MAKE THAT HAPPEN. WHAT GOVERNMENT CAN DO IS TO CREATE SOME INCENTIVES FOR COMMUNITIES, SOME CREATIVE OUT-OF-THE-BOX THINKING FOR COMMUNITIES THAT WISH TO COLLABORATE TOGETHER TO MAKE -- TO MAKE THAT KIND OF A MOVE.

Glover: THERE'S A NEW PRESIDENT OF THE IOWA BOARD OF REGENTS, MICHAEL GARTNER. SHOULD THIS WHOLE GUBERNATORIAL THING WORK OUT AND YOU BECOME IOWA'S NEXT GOVERNOR, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN YOU CALL MICHAEL GARTNER IN AND SAY THIS IS WHAT I WANT THE BOARD OF REGENTS TO DO?

Blouin: YOU KNOW, I'M NOT SURE THAT'S EXACTLY THE WAY THAT CONVERSATION SHOULD TAKE PLACE.

Glover: ASSUMING HE'LL --

Blouin: I KNOW MICHAEL A LITTLE BIT, AND I'M NOT SURE THAT'S THE WAY YOU'D WANT TO START OUT THAT CONVERSATION. IT'S A WHOLE BOARD AND IT'S A BOARD OF REGENTS THAT NEEDS TO WORK IN HARMONY. I THINK IT'S BEGINNING TO DO THAT AGAIN. IT HAS A VERY TOUGH JOB. WE HAVE THREE REAL CLASSY UNIVERSITIES, TWO WORLD CLASS FROM A RESEARCH PERSPECTIVE, ALL THREE EDUCATING THOUSANDS OF IOWANS WHO HAVE NO PROBLEM FINDING THEIR PROFESSION SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD. WHAT WE NEED OUT OF THE UNIVERSITIES IS MORE HELP IN THE KIND OF TRANSFER OF THEIR DISCOVERIES THAT ALLOW THE JOBS TO GROW IN IOWA, THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP TO TAKE OVER, SO THAT THOSE GRADUATES CAN FIND A WAY TO STAY HERE.

Borg: AND I HAVE TO CUT IT OFF THERE. THAT'S A NICE CONCLUSION. THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US TODAY.

Blouin: THANK YOU.

Borg: THAT'S IT FOR THIS WEEKEND'S EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS." BACK NEXT WEEKEND REGULAR AIRTIMES: 7:30 FRIDAY; SUNDAY AT NOON. I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY. FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS," THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA; THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

Tags: Iowa