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Democrat Says Values Fund Ignores Minorities

Associated Press

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

July 5, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and the Associated Press, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

DES MOINES (AP) - A Des Moines lawmaker is urging the state to reform its premier economic development program that has awarded incentives to only 10 minority- or women-owned businesses since it began two years ago.

Rep. Wayne Ford says the Iowa Values Fund needs to reach more minorities and women, or the state needs to cultivate growth in those communities.

Otherwise, Iowa will be hurt in the long run, he says.

"If we want to attract more people to the state ... we have to make sure that blacks, Latinos and females have a piece of the American dream," says Ford, a Democrat.

Minority- or women-owned businesses represent about 3 percent of the 342 businesses that have received assistance through the Values Fund.

Black-owned businesses in Iowa grew by 9 percent from 1997 to 2002, and Latino businesses grew 14 percent during the same time period - the most recent U.S. Census data available.

The numbers are significantly lower than national growth rates during the same time period. Black businesses grew 45 percent nationally during the same period, and Latino-owned businesses grew 31 percent.

Officials say the requirements to receive Values Fund money may be too high for some businesses to reach, particularly for small businesses.

They point to a smaller state program, also run by the Department of Economic Development, that provides assistance to women and minority business leaders. While the program has provided loans or grants to 34 businesses, it hasn't received any new state dollars since 2003, according to a DED report.

Rep. Clarence Hoffman, R-Charter Oak, the chairman of the House Economic Growth Committee, said he would consider increasing funding for the minority business program. He also said state leaders should take another look at the salary requirements of the Values Fund to see if something can be done.

However, he cautions people to be realistic about state programs.

"No one program can satisfy every need," said Hoffman.