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Vilsack Says State Economy Has Improved on His Watch

The Governor Credits the Values Fund for the Creation of Thousands of Jobs

Harry Baumert

Des Moines Register

July 7, 2006

Vilsack also sounded a defensive tone as he challenged critics who have questioned his administration's effectiveness in cultivating new jobs, and especially the $500 million incentive program called the Grow Iowa Values Fund.
[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]


Cedar Rapids, Ia. Gov. Tom Vilsack argued Thursday that Iowa is better off today than it was seven years ago, a claim he has made around the country all year.

The difference this time: Iowans were his audience.

Vilsack painted a hopeful picture of the state's economic future during stops in eastern Iowa, part of an effort to cement his legacy and remind influential Iowa voters of his record as he entertains a 2008 presidential campaign.

But for the first time, the Democrat not seeking a third term this year competed for attention with other prospective presidential candidates in his home state.

"I think it is important as we look to the future to recognize that progress has been made. We made some promises to folks, and we kept those promises," Vilsack said in an interview. "The question is: Where do we go from here?"

While Vilsack also made stops in Davenport and Burlington, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh launched a three-day Iowa swing Thursday afternoon, part of a stream of Democrats traveling to the lead-off caucus state this month.

As has become his trademark, Vilsack rattled off a litany of Iowa's favorable national rankings in economic and social categories before touring Archer Daniels Midland Co.'s corn-processing and ethanol plants in Cedar Rapids.

The agribusiness company is planning a massive expansion in its production of the corn-based fuel additive, which Iowa leads the nation in producing.

But Vilsack also sounded a defensive tone as he challenged critics who have questioned his administration's effectiveness in cultivating new jobs, and especially the $500 million incentive program called the Grow Iowa Values Fund.

The program received support from Republicans in the Legislature when it was enacted in 2003 and updated last year.

However, Iowa Republicans issued a news release Thursday tagging Vilsack with the closures of Maytag Corp.'s Newton plant in May and Rubbermaid's announcement last month that it would close its Centerville plant.

"Iowans know creating jobs and growing the economy is a promise he's failed to keep," Cullen Sheehan, the executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, said Thursday.

But some Democrats, mainly former gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon, also have criticized the Values Fund and questioned the reliability of the statistics Vilsack uses to illustrate its success.

Vilsack cited a new report from the Iowa Department of Economic Development that put the number of jobs created by the Values Fund and related programs at 8,300 and the number of pledged positions at 24,000.

"There's always a tendency to focus on the negative," he said. "I think there's a counterbalancing story here that doesn't get told."

Vilsack's effort to promote his work highlights his unique political challenge. As the only Iowan weighing a presidential campaign, Vilsack is under more scrutiny than any potential candidate who comes to Iowa, which is expected to launch the 2008 nominating process.

Vilsack is also beginning to seize on his unique relationships with the state's Democrats. He contributed $100,000 from his national fundraising organization to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chet Culver's campaign and agreed to headline an ambitious series of campaign events for legislative candidates - 150 by Election Day.

Vilsack was expected to attend a town meeting with Rubbermaid workers in Centerville Thursday evening.

But the event did not dampen his daylong message of progress, he said.

"We've been saying all along there's a change taking place in the economy and we've got to adjust to it and we've got to have the tools to be able to respond to it," Vilsack said.