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Local Editorials

Southeast Asia can’t get enough of Iowa

Being away from home turf for three weeks in November was a challenge.  It started with my attendance at the World Forum for Foreign Direct Investment in Shanghai, China, on November 11-13.  Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was also in attendance, making a great case for Iowa as the place to investment.  Entrepreneurs from 28 countries were present, with the emphasis leaning toward food production, value-added agriculture opportunities, logistics of import/export, educated workforce and emerging markets for new consumer goods and food innovations. 

We made some great contacts at the Forum, and appropriate state agencies will follow up with invitations for potential investors to visit Iowa.  Rest assured, I promoted the “Golden Circle” as the location with an educated workforce, community colleges, amply labor supply, great schools and health-care facilities, the crossroads of the nation with I-35 and I-80, Iowa Interstate Railroad, and eventually, the probability of an intermodal facility for transporting 20 and 40 foot containers of meat products and specialty soy beans to any location in the states or overseas.  The intermodal in Newton should have never been closed.

Following Shanghai, we visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong, before returning to Shanghai to rest a day before traveling back to Iowa.  I was especially impressed with the world’s two largest pig skin tanneries, one being in Bangkok, and the other in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam. 

More than 50,000 pigskins a day are tanned at these two facilities, with the greater number of skins imported from Iowa.  This is truly value-added income to Iowa’s hog producers and pork processors, for not so long ago, the skin was part of the animal that made its way to the local rendering works to be processed into animal feed.  The world now utilizes leather as never before. This company provides leather to shoe manufacturers, including Puma and Nike, and automobile and furniture manufacturers for seat covers.  Iowa pig skin is very supple and can be dyed any color, and embossed with any design.  In the aggregate, Asia is now spending billions a year in importing Iowa’s soybeans, corn, pork, corn-fed beef and skins. This is an integral part of our state’s economy, for we truly “feed the world.”

True economic development has to be accomplished in a new way.  No longer can we stand aside, and expect someone or some company to make the first move.  Most communities and cities in America are seeking that perfect manufacturer, processor or supplier to appear and enhance the viability of their region. 

As expected, all business and industry wishing to create and expand are seeking financing and tax incentives.  Doing this in a manner that will allow the city to recoup its financial commitment over time allows additional jobs with its consumer spending during the interim. 

And, it appears many anticipate “shovel ready” sites, with streets and utilities in place to allow for immediate transition.

As I’ve stated in the past, Iowa prospers from what it does best ... grow food.  Everywhere I went Iowa was no stranger to the importers of raw food products and processed food. 

I found an interest with some importers in China with purchasing processed soy oil, instead of importing the beans and processing the soy bean to oil overseas. Virtually all cooking in Southeast and Central Asia utilizes soy oil. This is an opportunity I shall be working with the Iowa Soybean Association and the Department of Economic Development. This activity could create thousands of jobs.

Next week:  An experience in Vietnam of interest to our Vietnam veterans … one I shall never forget.

• • •

If you have any questions or comments, e-mail Sen. Black at or call (515) 975-8608.

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