A handful of elected officials representing the greater Delaware County area congregated at the Gathering Place in Manchester Nov. 22 at the annual Elected Officials Luncheon, where they spoke on everything from the need for more Spanish-speaking degree holders to upcoming construction projects.
Hosted by the Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce and Manchester Rotary Club, one of the first issues brought to the attention of those in attendance was the need for more non-native speakers to help with workforce development.
NICC Manchester Center Director Jodi Ehlers said right now English as a second language (ESL) coordinators are in high demand in several industries in the community.
With a communication barrier, Ehlers said it is difficult for employers to get workers trained in safety and general operations.
In that vein, she said NICC is trying to help, but is struggling to find qualified staff, which means they have a four-year college degree.
“You have to have a four-year degree for us to be able to administer ESOL grant,” Ehlers said.
Dean Sherman, who serves on the Manchester City Council as well as the NICC Trustee Board, said they are trying to secure grants for this program, but barriers exist for that as well.
“There are state grants that can be given to industries to do training, but the challenge that they’re having with the state branch is they have to be a career employee to get the grant,” Sherman explained. “So none of the industries have applied for the grants because they have a break-in period where (the person they hired) is not considered a career employee. So if the state could look at that and loosen up those regulations with how to qualify to get that money for training.”
Sherman said NICC is trying to fill the financial gap right now, but that isn’t a sustainable model for the college.
The only state-level official in attendance, Sen. Dan Zumbach, said the upcoming legislative session will begin with Gov. Kim Reynolds announcing her priorities and, from there, the house and senate will see how those align with what they want to accomplish.
Zumbach said he will take the workforce concerns brought forth by NICC to Des Moines with him and also praised the work the community college is doing with area high school students finding good careers here in this area.
“It’s good to see some folks moving toward community college and maybe away from the four-year university because they are looking at those job opportunities close to home,” Zumbach said.
Zumbach also spoke on behalf of colleague Rep. Craig Johnson, who was just elected to serve District 67. Before redistricting, Johnson also served in the Senate, but when it became apparent Zumbach and Johnson would have to face off in an election, Johnson opted to run for the house.
Zumbach said Johnson was recovering from knee surgery and couldn’t make it.
“He’s a great guy who has a great set of ears and is very, very compassionate,” Zumbach said. “You’ll appreciate working with (Johnson).”
At the county level, Delaware County Supervisor Pete Buschmann touted the economic strength of the county, which he credited to the diligent work of the staff at the courthouse and his supervisor colleagues.
“Our county is financially stable — not all of the counties in Iowa are, some of them are struggling,” Buschmann said. “We’re in good shape and these are kind of scary times we are living in.”
Delaware County Supervisor Shirley Helmrichs said there was recently a collective sigh of relief at the county level after a nearly two-decade project campaign is finally underway.
“In Petersburg, after 17 years of this hanging over our heads, pipe is going into the ground,” Helmrichs said. “Two really big grants are going to help get sewer (infrastructure) into that community and there are a lot of houses there.”
The new wastewater treatment system would hook up over 50 homes, but without this project getting underway, the county could have been looking at fines as much as $5,000 per day, per-system from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Helmrichs said the next giant looming issue is the potential construction of a carbon capture pipeline which has elicited strong responses from both the pro- and anti- camps.
But from her viewpoint, she said there are still a lot of safety concerns.
“Our land is something we are very blessed to have and there won’t be any more made,” Helmrichs said. “We need to take very good care of it and be stewards for the land in every way, shape and form.”
As for the City of Manchester, City Manager Tim Vick said they are very pleased to have completed the East Main Street project, which he said has really transformed that section of town into a nice area.
The project also helped to put all utilities underground and the next phases of it also have that goal. While the utility companies will likely take up that task next summer, Vick said the city won’t be doing any street reconstruction until 2024.
“We’ll give everyone a break next calendar year,” Vick said to a round of applause.
Vick also touted the city’s unique wetland project on the east side of town, which aims to reduce the number of nitrates and phosphates in the water. This could lessen the city’s cost from a removal standpoint at the wastewater treatment plant.
Vick also noted that three subdivisions have popped up in the last year, a feat he credited to a bold, private-public partnership led by the city council.
“Those were all because the council stepped up and said ‘we need housing here and we’re going to take a risk to get this stuff going,’” Vick said. “So I applaud them for what they are doing to help our community so it has the opportunity to grow because housing is a hurdle for us, especially with the workforce.”