Alcoa Davenport Works


DES MOINES — It’s a given that President Barack Obama will tout Iowa’s better-than-most employment figures when he returns to Cedar Rapids to talk about the economy Tuesday.

And those figures are some of the same ones Gov. Terry Branstad will take credit for when he tours the state this summer.

But who really deserves credit for those jobs? Is it Obama? Branstad?

“I think both can take some credit, but neither can take all the credit,” said Walter Wendland, CEO of Golden Grain Energy LLC, an ethanol cooperative in Mason City.

His business has added about 15 jobs since 2004 and just finished a $3.6 million project to build the infrastructure necessary for three additional fermenters.

He realizes that both Branstad and Obama would like to take credit for his growing business, and he doesn’t begrudge them that, even if it means one job is counted once for Obama and once for Branstad.

“We call that creative accounting,” Wendland chuckles.

Where credit is due

Asked to back up their job claims, the Obama campaign responded with a fairly specific list of what it thinks voters should give the president credit for.

For example, the campaign said the administration’s push for better fuel standards helped Alcoa Davenport Works in Riverdale by creating a market for its lightweight metals.

Kevin Lowery, director of communications for Alcoa’s rolled products division, agrees. The company is involved in a $300 million expansion of its existing plant that will provide an estimated 150 short-term jobs during construction and more than 150 permanent jobs when it’s up and running.

“The Obama administration’s (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are responsible for increased demands from the automotive market,” he said. “That said, the governor’s staff did put together an incentive package that made the decision (to expand in Iowa) much easier.”

Branstad’s staff didn’t give a specific list of companies they think the governor should be credited for, but they did point to Iowa Workforce Development numbers that show the state has has gained 34,900 jobs in gross or 17,300 jobs in net since Branstad took office.

Gross means the total number of jobs created. Net is the total number after deductions, such as jobs that have been eliminated because of layoffs or workplace closures.

Plus, they released sector-specific data that shows where that growth has come from during that period. The biggest growth, according to their figures, comes in the manufacturing sector, where 14,200 jobs have been created, net, since January 2011.

Those are jobs like the ones at Wendland’s plant. The Obama campaign says, thanks to the president’s support, biofuel production is at an all-time high and accounts for roughly 83,000 Iowa jobs, including those at 39 ethanol refineries and 13 biodiesel refineries in the state.

Branstad has been a consistent supporter of the biofuels industry and has been publicly critical of the subsides given to oil producers, such as when he criticized producers on June 15, which he also proclaimed was “Ethanol Day” in the state.

“Well, it’s a political answer, but I think both can take credit for (the new jobs), and neither of them can,” Wendland said. “The Obama administration can take credit for the support he’s shown for E-15 (fuel). The governor helps because his philosophy is to keep down government regulations.”

Still, Wendland points out, there’s something bigger than the governor and the president that he thinks will determine what type of year the co-op has.

“It’s this potential drought we’re looking at which is what worries me,” he said.

Not an inch

While industry people might be willing to credit both the governor and the president, the Obama campaign and the Branstad staff weren’t.

When asked if some credit should be given to the president for Iowa’s economic status, Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht wouldn’t budge. Branstad has endorsed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for the November election.

“Governor Branstad has made it clear that while we are making progress in Iowa job creation, we still have a long ways to go, and Obama’s job-crushing policies have made it imminently more challenging,” Albrecht said.

So no credit to Obama whatsoever?

“Obama deserves credit for a national unemployment rate that has exceeded 8 percent for the past 40 months, despite the false and hollow promise that it would never go that high,” Albrecht responded.

When asked if Branstad should get some credit for Iowa’s economic position, Erin Seidler, communications director for Obama’s Iowa campaign, was just as adamant that her boss deserved all the credit.

“The president is rebuilding an economy meant to last — one that restores middle-class security by investing in education, energy, innovation and infrastructure. We are seeing the direct result of these actions in Iowa,” she said.

So no credit to Branstad whatsoever?

“We will only comment on how we believe the president’s policies have contributed to Iowa’s strong economy and how Romney’s policies will take us backward,” she responded.

Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, said the responses are a good example of how the game is played.

“You want to be able to get all the credit for when things are going good and be able to put the blame on your opponent or someone else when it’s not,” he said. “It’s politics.”