February 19, 2015 by Douglas Burns
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, in her first official visit to Greene County, mingled Tuesday in Jefferson with more than 50 veterans and economic development advocates before participating in a program on Home Base Iowa, a state initiative to recruit returning military men and women.
Gov. Terry Branstad designated Greene County the lead community for Home Base Iowa, an effort that rolls up a raft of state, local and business incentives for veterans and their families.
Ernst said Greene County is serving as model for not only the rest of Iowa, but the nation, with its open-arms approach to veterans.
“This is going to catch on like wildfire,” Ernst said.
Ernst said the support system for veterans in Greene County is extraordinary.
“I challenge anyone to find that in a more metropolitan setting,” the Red Oak Republican said at the VFW/American Legion facility on the east side of Jefferson’s Square.
Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and the first female combat veteran to service in the Senate, said she is more passionate about veterans concerns than any other issue.
“Our veterans, as they’re exiting the military today, they have phenomenal skills,” Ernst said.
James O. Andrew, a Greene County ag-businessman and Vietnam-era veteran, detailed for Ernst Greene County’s history with Home Base Iowa and its outlook for the future.
“We’re making it bigger and better and we’re not leaving anyone behind,” said Andrew, who led a contingent of Greene County advocates to Camp Dodge to advocate for the inaugural designation.
The Home Base Iowa signage at the primary highway entrances to Greene County is backed up with substantive incentives. There’s a veterans vouchers program, transportation assistance for veterans, accessible job-posting and favorable interest rates, more housing and opportunities for jobs for spouses.
That’s in addition to elements of the state program that, among other things, provide: preferential hiring allowances for private businesses interested in recruiting veterans; automatic in-state tuition at Iowa’s community colleges; $5,000 home down-payment assistance for veterans who have served since 9/11 or in the gulf War of 1990-91; and military pension exemption from state income tax.
Citing economic growth in Greene County—with Wild Rose Jefferson’s arrival, health-care and manufacturing growth, and the opening of a new Hy-Vee next week—Andrew said as many as 800 new jobs need to be filled in coming years.
“Come to Jefferson, get two jobs,” he said, noting that Home Base Iowa is aimed at not just the serving military man and woman, but spouses and children of veterans.
Sid Jones, president of Home State Bank in Jefferson, pointed out that Home Base Iowa holds particular promise for attracting welders, a category of employees in strong demand in Greene County and the region.
The program, he noted, also offers enormous opportunities for female veterans. Wild Rose and the Iowa casino industry have track records of hiring and promoting women.
Chris Nation, president of the Greene County Development Corp. and regional manager for West Central Cooperative in Jefferson, said military veterans can adapt to the high-skilled careers available at West Central and many other businesses in Greene County and Iowa.
“It just seemed like a tremendous opportunity for us,” Nation said.
At least eight residents of Greene County are connected to Home Base Iowa, Andrew said.