The Iowa Journal #211 Public Service – A Boon for Iowa? Original Air Date: January 8, 2009 Iowa Public Television Paul Yeager: The call for Americans to enter public service is becoming louder. What has been the response and can it make a difference in Iowa? We'll examine that matter and look behind the headlines, next. Funding for The Iowa Journal has been provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation, generations of families and friends who feel passionate about Iowa Public Television programs. And by ... MidAmerican Energy Company, helping to harness renewable sources of electricity through their investment in wind power. Information is available at midamericanenergy.com. MidAmerican Energy ... obsessively, relentlessly at your service. From river to river, border to border, this is The Iowa Journal. Here is Paul Yeager. Paul Yeager: Hello and welcome to The Iowa Journal. The next president wants to put the nation back to work. He is willing to apply large sums of money to rebuild a lengthy list of infrastructural needs. The effort would employ many. The theory is the money will circulate and resuscitate the economy. President- elect Barack Obama has also issued an ambitious call for Americans to serve in myriad capacities. We'll take up the potential of that appeal a bit later. But first we turn to David Pitt of the Associated Press. We talk about people going to work, we have another story of layoffs today, this time one of Des Moines' bigger employers, Meredith Corporation, 250, they're in the publishing business. The Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper has laid off. And the story this weekend about Lee Enterprises based in Davenport in their struggles. What's going on in the media industry, David? David Pitt: Well, it's a very difficult time for newspapers in general and Lee Enterprises, obviously, is one of the larger newspaper holders and they're struggling very much with debt and trying to work their way through a situation in which they have had to write off significant losses in the value of their company just because their stock has plummeted quite a bit in the last year. So, they've had to lay off some people. Today's announcement involving Meredith Corporation, the publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and some other major magazines that people would be very familiar with, 250 people, about 100 of those would be in Des Moines. So, it's just a very tough time. The Meredith people I talked to today said it was mostly because of the advertising revenue falling off for their magazines and their television stations. Paul Yeager: One story that those reporters left behind, are covering would be taxes and yesterday finally a panel, a long-time standing panel about taxes and this is a study committee by the Governor that was announced way back, like one of the very first things he did before he was even sworn in as Governor. Tell me about why we had this tax group studying taxes in the state. David Pitt: It's been a long standing issue in the state and it comes up almost every year in the legislature and has for a number of years, the perceived inequity between different segments of property tax payers. We have the commercial property taxes that businesses pay, the agricultural taxes that farmers and people who own ag property pay and then the homes that you and I pay our property taxes on, those three segments and there's been a long standing issue among business people who believe that they have to pay kind of a higher level of taxes than the other two categories. So, there has been an interim study committee that's a committee that meets when the legislature is not in session. They met last year, they met again this year and they just recently came out with a report on some suggestions on how to do that. Paul Yeager: So, what were some of the findings and what took them so long? David Pitt: Well, it's so complicated. That's part of the reason why there's never been a resolution for the issue because, again, if you lower the taxes for one segment that tax burden has to be transferred somewhere else unless you lower the overall level of spending of government which typically doesn't happen. So, it's very complicated and you're going to have to figure out a formula so that you're simply not shifting the burden to someone else. This committee came up with a number of recommendations that may allow, at least in the proposal, there has to be a bill written and it has to go through debate and it has to be passed but the proposal would allow different types of taxes to be raised on the local level by cities and counties. One of the ways to do that would be a local income tax. Paul Yeager: For example -- or was that a specific recommendation? David Pitt: That's one of the possibilities that they would like to discuss. It would allow cities and counties to have a certain percentage of tax on your income. Paul Yeager: So, if you would work in say Cedar Rapids or Waterloo and drive to a smaller town you would be taxed before you took that money out of town. David Pitt: Exactly and I think the requirement would be that it would alleviate some of the property tax burden so if they did initiate this income tax a significant amount of that money would have to offset the property tax burden. Paul Yeager: David Pitt, as always trying to talk about taxes is a very hard thing to do in four minutes but thank you. That's David Pitt of the Associated Press. Paul Yeager: President-elect Obama is seeking to revive the nation's economy by involving the help of more Americans, not the least of which are those who want to serve the public. The New Deal of the 30s provides a precedent for his plans. And one of the programs of that era was the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. At its peak the Corps employed more than half a million men operating in every state from more than 2,600 camps. The CCC was the impetus for today's AmeriCorps and its various divisions. Obama wants to expand its numbers from 75,000 to 250,000. Iowa is already enjoying the benefits of its volunteers. In June of 2008, Vinton, Iowa was one of dozens of Iowa towns damaged by prolonged rains and serious flooding. Fortunately for Vinton a group of young people had just moved to town -- with the goal of serving America. Nathan Schmitz: The team leaders arrived I believe June 8th to start our training and the first day of training we trained for about an hour and forty- five minutes and then all the lights went out because the power station in Vinton flooded out. So, we ended up shutting down our training and we ran the Red Cross shelter for them there at the Braille School in Vinton. AmeriCorps NCCC, or N-triple-C as it's called, was created as the "Peace Corps" for America in 1993. But it was only in this past year, 2008, that Vinton, Iowa became a residential center for AmeriCorps. The town was chosen because the community wanted the honor and also because the town's 150-year-old Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School had space that could be converted into living quarters. Dan Milnes: We are in charge of what is called the North Central Region. We are headquartered out of Vinton. We house and train our Corps members here in Vinton. And then we deploy them to one of ten states. AmeriCorps NCCC members, like Peace Corps members, are given room and board, and a small stipend, to be followed by an education incentive. But, unlike the Peace Corps, NCCC members stay in this country, live and work in small groups of ten to twelve, and only sign up for a year at a time. Those parameters were exactly what these patriotic 18 to 24-year-olds were looking for. Javier Leon: I wanted to get out of California and travel and help people at the same time. Victoria Bailey: Compared to my life in Florida, where I was waitressing, it's a lot harder. But it's a lot more rewarding. Lindsay Leigh: I graduated college and I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do after college. I studied psychology but I didn't know if I want to pursue that or not. So, I found out about AmeriCorps in New Orleans and decided to join. Ashley Gibson: I wasn't ready yet for a desk job and I really wanted to help out people in the United States because I just feel that there's such a big need and I feel like a lot of people go overseas, they advertise it more. They need to advertise more in the United States. When I got the call saying that I was going to Iowa I was like, well, I've never been so it will be a neat place to see and with everything happening in Iowa it was kind of cool to come here and see and be able to jump right in to helping out right in Cedar Rapids. This team is learning firsthand about Iowa's cold weather as they clean out a flood damaged home in sub-zero temperatures. Javier Leon: Our half of the team is gutting and mucking a house and mucking is taking the personal property out of it that was damaged by the flood so they don't want it anymore and throwing it to the front of the house so they can pick it up, the garbage people. Me and Lindsay are mucking the garage and Vicki and Ashley are gutting the house, taking all the walls and the floors out. This Cedar Rapids neighborhood needs lots of help. Six months after the flood swamped every home there are still a number of damaged houses needing work. But through AmeriCorps NCCC at least this house has a chance at new life. And helping clear the way for new life is what the Corps members are excited about. Ashley Gibson: It's really rewarding actually. You see all this mold and everything and all these personal belongings -- everything is ruined and you're just taking them right to the curb just to throw them away. You see these people's lives like all gone and it makes me really think twice about what life is and why we're here. Dan Milnes: We're glad we're here. I think we've developed a wonderful partnership and more great things to follow from the folks of the NCCC and the young adults that serve their country. Paul Yeager: AmeriCorps is one of many opportunities for people to serve the nation. The public seems ready to respond. Here are some of the questions we're going to talk about tonight in our discussion. What are those needs for volunteers? What type of personnel will be needed? And are there any incentives that will help make this happen? To address these questions we are joined by Adam Lounsbury, he's Director of the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service and also Tim Borich who is an Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning working with the Iowa State University College of Design and also ISU Extension. To the gentlemen seated at the table welcome tonight to The Iowa Journal. Let's start, Tim, first with some history. Where did we start? This did not start in the 30s, what we have now. Go back a little bit. I understand there's a history lesson to be had here. Tim Borich: Well, go back all the way to DeTokeville and beyond who did studies from Europe here in the United States and traveled around the country in the early 1800s and discovered the sort of network of volunteers and sense of community that is so strong that pervades all the classes. In Europe it tended to be more just the aristocracy and little else but here what he found was everything from volunteer fire departments to the Masons to all of those associations and groups that did volunteer work and organized their community to do so. And so this is a very rich tradition within the country and has gone across the country as it was settled. Paul Yeager: So, we just mention that and a lot of things from history too. There's still Masons and Elks and Rotarians around. But what are the needs that we have today if we look back from history and how we would fill some of those holes today? Adam Lounsbury: I think the needs exist in every community across the state and we're hoping that as President-elect Obama unveils his plan that that vision of national service hits those rural communities and isn't just a program that is available to larger organizations, it's something that can happen everywhere and currently that's been a struggle and so we're very optimistic. Paul Yeager: You mentioned struggle. What has been the biggest struggle in the past? Adam Lounsbury: Well, there's actually, I was telling him in the green room, there's a book written when AmeriCorps was created originally in the 90s called "The Bill" because it was such a compromise. It had a lot of different provisions that it would be state run but a federal program and the more they had to do with it the more complicated so it's a very complicated program for small organizations, especially small, rural organizations like Iowa to run and so it's just been an obstacle with the exception of programs like NCCC that are run, most of AmeriCorps out of their 100 members that serve in Iowa, 650 serve within local non-profits in their communities that they live. And so we're working to advise the Congress to fulfill that vision on ways that they can drastically make it much simpler and easier to run so we're excited about that opportunity. Paul Yeager: So, you fill some of those holes. Tim, what are the type of personnel that need to go into some of those roles? Is it more of a personnel need or is it just a better organization to get people and anybody would volunteer to help out? Tim Borich: Yes. Maybe speak to the demographics a little bit in this recession -- typically Iowa some of the things that inhibit, I mentioned the sense of community and the strong sense of obligation I think Iowans feel towards their community in general. I don't think that's a miss. I think that is real. But on the other side some of the things that have happened within our economy, Iowa ranks very high among the states in two-income families as an example, we have an aging population, with the coming recession and the decline in the market affecting all of these 401Ks how many people are going to be working longer versus going into more of a volunteer mode in their lives and I think a lot of the seers haven't talked about that but some studies and research has shown that this cohort that's coming into their senior years, the baby boomers, tend to have more of an inclination to volunteer and feel an obligation for service than perhaps some of the previous generations. So, these dynamics -- I wish I had a clear answer for you -- but I think it's almost a wait and see in some cases what's going to happen to volunteerism and some of the non-profit organizations. Paul Yeager: So, there's a little generational difference here, not to stick you out there Tim, but Adam and I are that next generation. How do we get that generation, ours, to follow through and the ones younger than us? What do we set up to get them to be a part of either AmeriCorps or whatever the next agency is that comes down the pike? Tim Borich: We were talking about that as well. I think this whole concept of sense of community and belonging is very important in that and Iowa has a good framework for that. We do tend to have high levels of non-profit organizations that are thoroughly engaged within the community so I think there's more opportunity here in general. That differs somewhat from urban to rural and the types of organizations, the type of service. I think it's more specialized to some extent, more specialized opportunities in the urban areas with broader opportunity but more general opportunities, if I can say that, within a rural setting. And so what people look for in the context of service and volunteerism I think varies to some extent within those types of locations. Paul Yeager: So, those who live in an urban area on a percentage scale are they volunteering more? There might be numbers of volunteers, more volunteers because there's bigger numbers in the city but in the rural area there's a higher percentage of people volunteering? Is that what you're kind of saying? Tim Borich: Yes and no. There's a number of dynamics there as well. It's been interesting, recently there has been some more discussion, in the Register no less, about consolidation. Why do we have 99 counties? Why do we have 954 towns? Can't we consolidate those and maybe they should all be counties? Wouldn't we save a lot of money? Well, kind of the funny thing in all that because I've asked economists about this and they tell me that there's such high levels of volunteerism in some of the smallest places. The mayor, everybody is literally volunteering, the city clerk probably gets paid ten hours but works fifty, the maintenance guy probably gets paid a fourth of what he or she should so such high levels of volunteerism in some of these places to consolidate them and to professionalize a service provision may actually cost you more than just leaving it as is. And so that's some of the economic impacts I think that we don't often realize of volunteerism especially in rural areas. I think there's some like that too in urban settings. Paul Yeager: Anything you want to add? Adam Lounsbury: We have in our urban areas four of our cities are among the top 20 in the country which is higher than any state in the country by far, actually only one other state has more than one, that's Utah and they have two, we have Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Des Moines and Waterloo/Cedar Falls and they have a much higher overall rate in the state. We don't have data for every single city in the state of Iowa but we know that certain cities have higher volunteer rates than others, Davenport is a lower level and it's a metro area so we blame it on the Illinois side. Paul Yeager: But are there certain regions -- if it is the Cedar Valley does that influence Butler County and Bremer County and Buchanan and sort of take the counties around them with it? Adam Lounsbury: Yes and it's a metro area but we're also noticing among rural, what's defined as rural, that the volunteer rate is lower but the volunteer intensity is higher meaning that they volunteer for more hours and longer periods of time than the urban which probably makes sense considering what you're describing and the aging population. Paul Yeager: So let's talk a little bit about incentives. It's unfortunate we have to get to incentives, it should be that's your willingness to serve. What type of incentives will be needed or would help fill some of these needs that are going to be upcoming? Adam Lounsbury: A lot of what President-elect Obama has talked about is increasing a lot of the programs that are out there, expanding AmeriCorp, which provides an educational benefit for young people or older Americans that serve. In Iowa every demographic age group falls within the top six in the country except for one and that's our college students and they have gone from 28th to 17th over the last five years, four years which we're very happy with and they're improving at a faster rate than everybody else, which we can also blame on Illinois because they come over. But by incenting that -- and we also think that has a lot to do with by helping attach the young people to their communities it's a way to help strengthen those bonds and those roots that young people have when they're going to college here will help keep them here after they leave college. So, we're hopeful that by expanding the number of AmeriCorps positions, by providing -- he also has another proposal that you get a tax credit when you're in college to serve -- that will help and I think be more beneficial in Iowa because of the brain drain issue. Paul Yeager: Which we've clearly gone into on this show a couple of times. But, Tim, what if at Iowa State or Iowa, let's not pick on one specific school, but what if the president comes down and says, alright, you're going to have to be like Germany, you're going to have to serve a year in the military or two years of national service how would that go over with the college student of today? Tim Borich: I think actually quite well and I'm just speaking anecdotally but I think I've seen a change in the students I teach in the classroom over the last four or five years. And one of the reasons I can say this in the College of Design we take a lot of classes and do a lot of outreach work where whole classes go off campus and work with let's say the skywalk system of Sioux City or work with the town square in Red Oak or whatever and we see that sort of service mentality more in working with the public and enjoying working with the public and a lot of that is reflected back in the classroom. There's less reluctance to do that kind of work as a student. And so I'm quite optimistic actually and if you would have asked me that five years ago you wouldn't have gotten the same response. Adam Lounsbury: The numbers backing up to this generation, the millennial generation, is volunteering at a higher rate than any generation since the World War II generation and 9-11 is part of that but this is, they seem very willing to serve and Obama actually did his national service speech here in Cornell College and it was pretty neat to see those kids very excited when he told them they were going to serve, they were excited about it. Paul Yeager: I appreciate your time. That's Adam Lounsbury, he's with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service and Tom Borich with the ISU College of Design and Iowa State Extension. Gentlemen, thank you for coming in tonight for The Iowa Journal. Paul Yeager: We did talk about public service as a larger part of American culture, it already is an Iowa value. Let's also talk a little bit about civic engagement, how it's woven into the history of hundreds of Iowa communities. It is how small towns get things done. A case in point is provided by Out and About Correspondent Dan Kaercher. For starters, you need to know the town of Spirit Lake isn't actually on the lake whose name it carries. It's on East Okoboji Lake. Also, there are at least five other lakes around here and a half a dozen or so communities of which the town of Spirit Lake is just one, but it's the largest. One of the few more rural communities in the state that's actually growing, Spirit Lake is a unique blend of the practical and the playful. The practical part is the manufacturing that underpins the economy here. For example, Polaris Industries makes Victory motorcycles at its Spirit Lake plant. And then there's Pure Fishing. Home grown by a local boy who grew up fishing, it began as the Berkley Fly Company in 1937. A young Berkley Bedell started selling hand tied flies, with support from his community. Berkley Bedell: They loaned me the money to begin with to start my business, a 15-year-old high school student. They came forth with the money in order to build our big factory that we've had. I think the people of this community, and that may not be unique but I think it is true, that we have learned that working together is a lot more fun and you can accomplish a lot more than you do if you just worry about yourself. Today Pure Fishing is a part of Jarden, Inc., which recently announced the corporate headquarters would be moved out of state while the manufacturing would stay here. But whatever happens at Pure Fishing, it's a good bet this town can handle it. Spirit Lake knows how to reinvent itself. Just consider this brand new courthouse. Then walk north along Hill Avenue where there are new businesses in old buildings, many of them with facelifts. You can buy a book, a meal and much more. A group called The Shops of Hill and Lake, named for two streets, is an alliance of business owners who work together to better business -- even sponsoring various vents. Their customer base includes permanent residents, tourists, and the folks who have homes but don't necessarily live here all year. Our family has been coming to the region for decades. I stopped for coffee at Fresh Bistro. In the off-season, owner Jennifer Rettig does graphic design. For her, summer visitors add to the richness of the town. Jennifer Rettig: You have very interesting, stimulating people coming in and adding to your community and a lot of these people have year-round homes and they invest in the community. So, I think we have a lot of benefits because of being a tourist town. At the south end of tree-lined Hill Avenue are Spirit Lake schools. The district generates part of its own power with a wind turbine on the grounds -- the first district in the state that did so. Pretty inventive. The high school also sports a new performing arts center that opened in April 2008. Molly and Tom Bedell, Berkley's son, donated $6 million for it. Named for their daughter, the Sami Center has a 1,000 seat theater with state of the art lighting, audio and terrific acoustics. This is a regional center for groups and communities throughout northwest Iowa -- focusing on both education and entertainment -- local and professional. Terry Miller manages the center as well as being activities director for the schools. The center has been working on an alliance with the University of Northern Iowa. Terry Miller: The alliance will be that we'll be an outreach program for them and we'll be a center for them to bring in entertainment into the Sami Center. It will really benefit northwest Iowa and hopefully benefit the University of Northern Iowa too. So, it's an exciting time here. The Bedell's also were instrumental in getting Spirit Lake the impressive new Bedell Family YMCA, the nearby Elinor Bedell State Park and more amenities that benefit the whole lakes area. And Berkley Bedell is the first to point out there are others who make things happen here too. All that enables Spirit Lake, the town, to offer the best of both worlds: quite in the winter and excitement in the summer. It's a great place at the heart of Iowa's Great Lakes. Paul Yeager: That is going to wrap up this edition of The Iowa Journal. Join us for the next Iowa Journal when we examine financial literacy. And before we go, a reminder: On Tuesday, Governor Culver will present his annual Condition of the State Address and Iowa Public Television will bring you live coverage at 10:00a.m. The Address will be rebroadcast Tuesday evening at 6:30. Until then, I'm Paul Yeager. Have a good night. Funding for The Iowa Journal has been provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation, generations of families and friends who feel passionate about Iowa Public Television programs. And by ... MidAmerican Energy Company, helping to harness renewable sources of electricity through their investment in wind power. Information is available at midamericanenergy.com. MidAmerican Energy ... obsessively, relentlessly at your service.