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Wednesday PM Daily | July 1, 2020
Iowa State Education Association urges mandatory mask usage by school districts
By Joe Gardyasz | Senior Staff Writer

The leader of the Iowa State Education Association today criticized the state’s education and health officials for not offering more definitive guidance for school districts in developing their Return to Learn plans for safely restarting in-person classes in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What is really needed now is definitive leadership and guidance," said Mike Beranek, president of the ISEA, during a videoconference panel with reporters. Today was the Iowa Department of Education deadline for school districts to submit their "Return to Learn" plans to the department.

Beranek, a third grade teacher in the West Des Moines School District, expressed his frustration with guidelines issued last week by the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Department of Public Health, which recommended that districts not require that face masks be worn.

In a statement issued Friday, the department wrote: "We recognize that face masks can be an important tool to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Public Health do not recommend that districts and nonpublic schools require masks for all students and staff because of the considerable implications for such a policy. However, schools may decide to require masks based on their individual situations and data."

The Department of Education also said in the Friday statement that the reopening guidance it released last week "needs further clarification," and that it will "release additional information in the near future as well as health and safety measures for teachers to use to assist students and families."

Also on the videoconference with Beranek were an infectious disease physician and a pediatrician, who both cited the importance of protective measures that include face masks or face shields.

"Being in a confined indoor space is the highest risk, because there is no way to clear the air," said Dr. Megan Srivinas, a Fort Dodge infectious disease physician. "So classrooms are going to be high risk unless we take precautions." She also noted that although children are less likely to get the virus, they are not immune, and some children with health conditions such as asthma are more susceptible.

Beranek called the state agencies’ guidance "irresponsible," and said that he hopes that the Iowa Department of Education will revise its guidance.

"Our school districts are looking for clear guidance based in science and health — that should not be hard," Beranek said. "Face coverings, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing helps to save lives."

Iowa Leading Indicators Index slows its decline in May
By Joe Gardyasz | Senior Staff Writer

A monthly index of leading indicators tracked by the Iowa Department of Revenue strongly suggests that the Iowa economy will continue to show weakness for the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 and into the first quarter of fiscal 2021. The report also suggests that employment growth will weaken over the three to six months.

For the sixth month in a row, the Iowa Leading Indicators Index decreased in May, moving down 0.5% to a reading of 100.8. The six-month annualized change in the index fell to -11.7% in May from -10.6% in April — the 19th consecutive month of negative value and the third month below a -2.0% change. The six-month diffusion index remained unchanged at 37.5 in May from April.

The decrease in May’s index is considerably less than the past two months after dropping 3% in March and 1.7% in April — the two largest drops in the 20-year history of the index — as Iowa businesses began reopening to the public in May.

The Iowa Leading Indicators Index was constructed to signal economic turning points with two key metrics that when seen together are considered a signal of a coming contraction: a six-month annualized change in the index below -2.0 percent and a six-month diffusion index below 50.0.

Three of the eight component indicators (diesel fuel consumption, national yield spread and residential building permits) experienced an increase of greater than 0.05% over the last six months.

Unemployment claims, one of the eight indicator components, are beginning to taper down. The 11,507 average weekly unemployment claims for the month of May were nearly 72% lower than April’s 40,835 average weekly unemployment claims. Iowa’s unemployment rate decreased to 10% in May from 11% in April.

"Given Iowa did not begin to reopen until May, it is not surprising that the unemployment rate remains at 10%," Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said in a press release. "There are signs, however, that more people are returning to work as we see the total number of claims decline each week."

JBS commits $2.7 million to Marshalltown for community needs
More than half of a $5 million commitment that meat processor JBS USA has made to three Iowa communities in which it operates plants will go to Marshalltown, the company announced. JBS said it will donate $2.7 million through its Hometown Strong initiative to help Marshalltown respond to needs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and invest in the community’s future. In a press release, JBS said it is working with local leaders to identify where the funds can best help meet immediate and longer-term community needs. All projects will be determined by the end of the year. "We are proud to be part of the Marshalltown community, and we recognize our responsibility to do more than just produce food during this critical time in our country," said Todd Carl, general manager of JBS Marshalltown. "We want to partner closely with the community to make meaningful and lasting investments that will benefit our team members, their families and our neighbors now and in the future." In May, a JBS worker who was within one week of retiring died after acquiring COVID-19, which his family attributed to lack of adequate safety measures at the Marshalltown plant. JBS also plans contributions to Ottumwa and Council Bluffs.

Essential health care workers receive free tickets to Botanical Garden
In an effort to thank essential health care workers and offer them a day of respite, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden will provide free, exclusive access to health care providers on Friday before the garden reopens to the public on Monday. Broadlawns Medical Center, MercyOne, the Iowa Clinic and UnityPoint Health received complimentary Botanical Garden tickets to distribute to employees to visit in accordance with the garden's reopening guidelines, which include timed ticketing, capped attendance and wearing masks. The free admission is made possible through the a gift from the Principal Foundation. Tickets for the July 3 event are sold out, but the Botanical Garden plans to hold similar events in the future for essential workers. To sign up for alerts about future events, click here.

Corteva to acquire full ownership interest in PhytoGen Seed Co.
Delaware-based Corteva Inc. plans to acquire PhytoGen Seed Co. LLC, a joint venture the company owns with J.G. Boswell Co. In an announcement on Tuesday, Corteva, which operates an office in Johnston, announced that it had signed an agreement to purchase J.G. Boswell’s ownership interest in PhytoGen. According to a news release, PhytoGen was formed to focus on the U.S. cottonseed industry. Corteva had a more than 53% stake in the company before the agreement, and has operated PhytoGen through its wholly owned subsidiary Mycogen LLC. "This acquisition provides a solid proof point of our consistent commitment to driving long-term growth through targeted investments in solid margin opportunities that at the same time strengthen our ability to serve our customers," Corteva CEO James C. Collins Jr. said in the release. Steve Reno, Corteva’s seed business platform president, said the acquisition "further strengthen’s Corteva Agriscience’s commitment to the cotton market, and positions the company well to diversify and grow this business globally over time."

What role do businesses play in eradicating racism?
By Jeff Johnson | Lora and Russ Talbot endowed president & CEO, Iowa State University Alumni Association
The death of Mr. Floyd, at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman while his colleagues looked on, was a stark reminder that our country is still wrestling with racism and the value of Black lives. As business leaders, we all are in a position to model that all human beings must be seen and acknowledged. We must remember that love and understanding cannot be legislated. These two areas are best fostered by steady one-on-one encounters with each other, especially among those who do not look like us. It then moves to truth-telling and honest dialogue. It then becomes intentional — maybe even causing some of us to be a bit uncomfortable. This is modeled this way — I hate that I have allowed my absence and silence to hold me back. I can no longer be passive in this important moment of my and my business and community’s development. And finally, simply express love, and do this the best way you know how.

For me, I simply, and daily, acknowledge that when I am in the presence of another human being, whether they look like me or we share anything in common, I’ve dropped the "How are you doing" phrase. I simply say hello, hi, good day, excuse me, please, may I, etc. As a result, I have built rapport, presence and consistency. Oh, and all of this is done with a smile. What am I really saying?

Love and service to each other builds trust, opportunity and community. Simply stated, we need to start seeing each other and stop walking past each other. We’re not ships. We are human beings coexisting in a very beautiful yet painful moment. Let’s seize this moment to better ourselves and be better to each other. This makes good business sense, don’t you think so?

Iowa banks say capital levels strong
Cedar Rapids Gazette: The Iowa banking industry continues to maintain strong levels of capital and liquidity despite the financial impact to state businesses and consumers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa-chartered banks ended the first quarter with $65.2 billion in active loans, up 4.3% from $62.6 billion at the end of the same quarter of 2018, according to a report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Net loan charge-offs were down to 0.08% from 0.12% in the final quarter of 2019. Bank earnings were negatively affected by increases in loan loss provisions. First-quarter net income for the Iowa banking industry was $243 million on March 31, down 8.3% from $265 million on March 31, 2019. Return on assets was 1.05%, down from 1.21%.

USMCA takes effect but North American trade tensions remain
Wall Street Journal: The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement kicked in today, but the culmination of years of negotiations won’t necessarily mean the end of trade tensions among the three North American nations. Even as the deal formally takes effect, contentious issues that prolonged the negotiations are re-emerging as sore spots—including U.S. tariffs on metals, Mexico’s labor standards, Canada’s protection of its dairy market and new rules on automotive production.

Fox News fires Ed Henry over sexual misconduct claim
New York Times: Fox News has fired Ed Henry, one of the network’s most prominent Washington-based journalists, after a former employee at the cable news channel accused him of sexual misconduct, the network said today. In a memo to staff, Fox News leadership said it received a complaint last week alleging that Henry had engaged in "willful sexual misconduct in the workplace years ago." The network retained an outside law firm to review the claims.
Could gambling destroy sports? Iowa writer David Bluder's novel ponders potential for doom

Des Moines Register: David Bluder of Solon wrote a crime thriller with a sports gambling plot called "The Great Gamble." The irony is that a plot point in Bluder's book is how gambling could destroy sports. But the coronavirus has shown us all a world without sport and gambling. A decade of research, writing, editing, revisions and seeking a publisher crashed into a wall like a pair of dice in a craps game and came up snake eyes. But Bluder is a tough guy to bring down.
Knowing You Are "OK" Means Having an Investment Plan

Determining and managing to the right investment allocation is critical to help be on track for a successful retirement. It is one of the primary ways to "know that you are OK" as you approach or are in retirement. The task of setting the right allocation and managing to that can be considerably more difficult for today’s executive.

Urbandale closes city facilities as Polk County COVID-19 cases climb
The city of Urbandale announced Tuesday that it will close all city facilities because COVID-19 cases increased by 20% this week in Polk County. Starting Tuesday evening, pools, libraries, city hall and the fire and police stations will close. The Urbandale closures will stay in place through July. "It just seemed like the prudent thing to do at this time," Urbandale's Mayor Bob Andeweg said. Read more
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