Democrat Fred Hubbell: Iowa is wasting too much money on corporate giveaways

Democratic candidate for governor Fred Hubbell at the offices of Little Village on Dec. 10, 2015. — photo by Jordan Sellergren

Fred Hubbell wants to end the corporate giveaways the state has been handing out in the name of economic development.

“What I see right now is that we’ve got so many wasteful giveaways in our tax code for companies that aren’t creating a decent return for us,” the Democratic candidate for governor said during a visit to the offices of Little Village on Sunday. “And we’re compounding that with deals like the Apple deal. We’re giving away money to companies that don’t need it and not creating many permanent jobs.”

In August, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a package of state and local tax breaks and other financial incentives worth over $200 million had been awarded to Apple in exchange for the company building a data center in Waukee. The center is projected to only create 50 permanent jobs.

Little Village was the first stop on a four-day statewide tour, during which Hubbell will talk to community leaders and business owners about economic growth.

“Some of the places we’re visiting are small businesses, some of them are nonprofit organizations focused on getting people back into the workforce, some of the meetings will be with people involved in economic development,” Hubbell said. “The focus is on trying to get incomes rising. We’ve had pretty flat incomes for five or six years now.”

At Little Village, Hubbell spoke with publisher Matt Steele and art director Jordan Sellergren about the challenges of trying to grow a small media company.

Sitting down for a brief interview after his discussion with Steele and Sellergren, Hubbell stressed the importance of changing Iowa’s approach to economic development.

“The state shouldn’t be showering a lot of corporate giveaways on companies that don’t need them. We’re wasting a lot of money,” Hubbell said. “We could be using it to invest in what I call ‘building Iowa from the ground up.’ Part of that is renewable energy. I think we could have 4,000 jobs in solar [energy] over the next five or six years, if we really went after solar like we did with wind. But we’re not doing it, instead we’re trying to attract Apple and Google with a lot of tax credits.”

Hubbell’s skepticism about the state’s current open-handed policy regarding big business comes after a long career in business. Among other jobs, he served as CEO of Equitable Life Insurance Company and chairman of the board of directors for Younkers. His family has played a prominent role in the Des Moines business community, since the first Hubbells moved to Iowa in 1855.

“I’ve started a lot of businesses, I’ve grown businesses, I’ve closed businesses,” Hubbell said. “So, I’ve had experience seeing what works and what doesn’t.”

Hubbell said what he believes works best is training and education.

“Instead of handing out tax credits, I think we need to focus on more job training. We need to reinvest in education, so not only do we have a hard-working, productive workforce, but we have a highly-educated workforce, which Iowa used to have a reputation for.”

Hubbell said the state could do more to make Iowa an attractive place to both workers and employers. He cited the need for improved high-speed internet access and quality, affordable housing, especially in rural Iowa. Hubbell has also proposed a student-debt forgiveness program for Iowa college graduates who agree to work in underserved rural areas for at least five years.

“If what the state is doing now was working, it would be producing more high-quality jobs and rising incomes. But the fact of the matter is it’s not,” Hubbell said. “In the second quarter of this year, Iowa had the lowest state GDP [gross domestic product] of any state in the country, and one of the lowest rates of personal income growth.”

The 66-year-old retired business man has long been a generous donor to progressive causes, but this his first run for elective office. Hubbell is one of seven candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2018 governor’s race.

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