Senator Joni Ernst Tours Sigourney Businesses

L to R: Jimmy Morlan, Barnwired Owner Amanda Snakenburg, Senator Joni Ernst, Gary Iosbaker
Casey Jarmes
The News-Review

SIGOURNEY – Senator Joni Ernst visited Sigourney on Aug. 5 and was taken on a tour of local businesses by Keokuk County Economic Development (formerly known as SADC). The Senator stopped by In Pieces By Shawna, Misc. On Main, Barnwired, and Copper Lantern.

Before the tour, Senator Ernst spoke with Sigourney Mayor Jimmy Morlan and KCED President and Sigourney City Councilman Gary Iosbaker about the problems the community is facing. Morlan brought up the city's lack of a police department, saying that although the city receives coverage from the Sheriff's Department, they would prefer to have their own police department. Morlan explained that the city has prepared a "very good package" for a police officer and that the city was looking for an officer with four-five years experience to serve as chief. Once a chief is hired, Morlan hopes they will be able to hire and train other officers. Morlan stated that, although the city has been advertising the chief position, “nobody’s responding.”

Iosbaker noted that the city sits in a “challenging situation,” saying that a 28E agreement with the Sheriff's Department would work fine if the city had less than 1200 people, while the city would need a population of 2500 or more to have the tax base necessary to afford a police department. “Our path out has got to be industry,” said Iosbaker. “We’ve got to find more businesses so that we can grow our tax base. That’s our only real option.”

Iosbaker stated KCED is working with the schools to encourage people to stay in the area and that they are currently helping a “very talented individual” launch a new technology business in Sigourney. He also noted that Sigourney has a housing shortage.

Morlan brought up the area’s lack of day care providers, noting that there is only one certified day care in town. Senator Ernst referred to this as a big issue, saying “In our rural communities, we just don’t have enough daycare period.”

Ernst brought up the “Small Business Child Care Investment Act,” a bipartisan bill she partnered with Jacky Rosen (D-NV) to pass. This bill will allow nonprofits and churches to access low interest Small Business Administration loans so they can provide childcare. Under this bill, churches and non-profits will be bound by the same regulations as for-profit day care providers.

Ernst brought up the idea of the government subsidizing daycare salaries, something she has been asked about by daycare providers. The Senator was adamant that the government should not. “No way, no how,” she said. “I’m sorry, we’re the federal government. You do not want us hiring your daycare providers. No. And you know, the strings that would come attached to that, the level of requirements the federal government would put on that, you would never be able to afford them anyway.”

Iosbaker found this encouraging and said that rural towns need autonomy. Ernst stated child care should be handled by states and local partners, stressing the importance of flexibility. Ernst and Morlan both blamed the difficulties childcare providers face on regulations, which they see as preventing businesses from turning a profit. Ernst brought up attempts to loosen these regulations by the Iowa legislature, which resulted in mass outcry from those in the childcare industry, who see these regulations as essential for keeping children safe. Ernst still advocated loosening regulations, saying it should be up to daycare providers to decide how many children they want to watch at a time. “It’s not a complete answer, but sometimes regulations shouldn’t be over the top, but we do need to make sure our children are safe,” said Ernst.

Ernst also spoke with the owners of the businesses she visited and asked them about their biggest challenges. Shawna Bensmiller, owner of In Pieces by Shawna, said it was hard to find working capital and funding to start her small business. She also noted the difficulties of starting a business while working full-time and struggles she’d had with getting in contact with the Small Business Association. Melissa Bird, owner of Misc. On Main, said that it was hard to find trained staff when she first bought the business and that they currently have to fight hard to maintain their customer base. Bird stated their customer service and ability to work with people keeps customers coming back.




The News-Review

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