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Iowa State University Extension

March 2009 -- From Jack Payne

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The New Deal: What’s Old Is New Again

Outside of the unconditional love from my family, good friends, my dogs and the requisite inevitability of death and taxes, there are certain things that I have taken for granted most of my life. I took comfort in my assumptions that there never would be a Depression like my grandparents lived through and that my children and their children’s children would live in a progressively better world. In essence, I idealistically thought that the TQM (Total Quality Management) principle of “Continuous Improvement” was somehow cosmically working in the background somewhere, ensuring that things were always getting better. I wasn’t so naïve as to believe that there weren’t going to be major setbacks and a few outright disasters, but I did think that we were at least moving toward a future filled with greater possibilities.

Well that was then and this is now. It seems that my progeny may be in for tougher times and fewer opportunities than I had while growing up. They may have to start downsizing their dreams to be in alignment with what appears to be a rerun of the New Deal. Continuous improvement is still a worthy principle, but the benchmark has been lowered, at least for now. We are not talking the end of the American Dream, but it surely appears that the party is over.

For those of us who are charged with doing our jobs with significantly fewer resources, the choices are grim-to-none when it comes to meeting slashed budgets. There comes a time when no amount of innovative cost-savings ideas is enough and the hard decisions have to be made. All of my assumptions are off the table for now, and last year’s status quo is looking pretty darn good. And there is no comfort in that reality.


Iowans are ‘managing tough times’ – with help from ISU Extension

Managing Tough Times

During today’s uncertain economic times, Iowans must make the most of their money, knowledge and skills as they make decisions for their families, businesses, communities and farms. At the new Managing Tough Times website, ISU Extension brings together facts, tools and experts so Iowans can answer the tough questions they’re facing. Most of these resources are no cost or low cost.

Continually updated to meet changing needs, the Managing Tough Times website delivers the best available resources from ISU Extension, land-grant universities and other reliable resources.

Telephone hotlines, interactive websites, experts and publications are available to help families and households with finances, nutrition and health, and coping with stress. Find recipes, tips and blogs by experts who help families provide nutritious meals on a limited budget.

Iowa businesses and communities have their own issues during tough economic times, but knowing where to go for assistance makes it possible to manage. Managing Tough Times links to experts, websites and current programs from ISU Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) and other sources that can make a difference any time, but especially right now. Businesses that want to understand the market potential of providing their products and services to the federal, state or local governments, or reduce the barriers inherent in government contracting are linked to contacts. Iowans also can learn more about ISU Extension programs that develop business and community leaders.

The Farming in Today’s Changing Economy section of the website offers calculators, articles, videos and expert contact information for the traditional farmer as well as transitioning farmers and small scale farmers. Those who want help creating an in-depth financial plan to guide their decisions can connect with ISU Extension associates. Farmers considering transitioning out of farming can watch a video that explains the help available through the Beginning Farmer Center.

Visit ISU Extension’s Managing Tough Times website and share it with others who may need assistance.

Extension and Iowa State seek Engineering Talent in Every County (E-TEC)

Engineering Talent in Every County

How many new engineers will it take to meet Iowa’s future needs? Quite a few, since 70 percent of the state’s engineers are expected to retire in the next three to eight years. What’s a good way to encourage future engineers? Start young. That’s why ISU Extension is helping the ISU College of Engineering identify Iowa youth with Engineering Talent in Every County (E-TEC).

E-TEC is intended to spark young people’s interest in engineering and encourage them to enroll at Iowa State, graduate and work as engineers, said Monica Bruning, the College of Engineering’s talent expansion director.

One part of E-TEC is a $500 scholarship for high school seniors and transfer students from across Iowa who have declared engineering as their program of study at Iowa State. Interested students are finishing up their applications to meet the March 15 deadline for the fall 2009 scholarships, Bruning said. Approximately 70 E-TEC scholarships will be awarded each year, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

But far beyond the scholarship, E-TEC focuses on improving engineering career awareness of youth statewide, added Jay Staker, program director for ISU Extension Science, Engineering and Technology (E-SET), which provides science and technology education for Iowa youth.

Finding, encouraging and nurturing budding scientists have been goals of ISU Extension for a number of years. Extension is part of the national 4-H effort to attract 1 million new youth to 4-H science, engineering and technology programs by 2013, Staker continued. “4-H’s existing science curriculum combined with new initiatives like Engineering Talent in Every County will provide youth with the technical skills they’ll need to help the United States maintain its competitive edge in the global marketplace.”

Bruning added, “If we just leverage the programs and help young people — guide them, teach them and encourage them — we will advance all our goals of workforce development and recruitment.”

For more information, visit the E-TEC website.

Iowans tell ISU Extension bioeconomy is complex

Bioeconomy Community Conversations II

When Iowans come together to discuss the bioeconomy, a complex picture emerges of Iowa’s agriculture, communities, families and environment. That’s what happened when more than 800 Iowans in 97 of Iowa’s 100 extension districts participated in ISU Extension’s Bioeconomy Community Conversations II: Food, Feed and Fuel last November and December. Preliminary results show that Iowans are concerned about immediate economic issues, but also are looking toward the future of agriculture and energy in the state.

Extension organized the 90-minute conversations to get small groups of Iowans talking about the opportunities and the challenges associated with food security, feed production, fuel prices and growth in the renewable fuels industry, said Gerald Miller, director of ISU Extension to Agriculture and Natural Resources. The conversations included representatives from agriculture, government, finance, education and economic development.

Overall, Iowans seem enthusiastic about the opportunities the bioeconomy offers, but also are concerned about the challenges the industry faces, Miller said. The participants view the bioeconomy as an important issue not only for people who are involved in agriculture, but for anyone who consumes food and energy.

“The most popular topics of the conversations seem to be issues related to food expenditures, support for local foods and the effect of higher energy and commodity prices on food choices,” he said.

Food costs resonated the most with Iowans in the state’s northeastern and northwestern counties, Miller continued. In central Iowa, participants were more interested in discussing changes in cropping patterns and conservation practices in the past two years, and how higher feed costs were affecting the livestock industry.

People in the southwestern counties were evenly distributed in the topics they covered, while those in southeast Iowa were most concerned with addressing the effect of rising energy and food prices on families, Miller said.

Video presentations and white papers from ISU experts on the bioeconomy conversation topics are available from the ISU Extension website.

Community planning + Iowa State + Red Oak = Progress and pride

Red Oak downtown vision project

What do you get when you add 11 Iowa State University community and regional planning students, one ISU Extension specialist, a progressive community and 10 years? In downtown Red Oak you get an increase in property value of nearly $500,000, a more attractive downtown area, community cooperation and a sense of pride.

In fall 2008, Alan Jensen, now an ISU Extension geospatial technology and community development specialist, returned to Red Oak, where in 1996 the students in the ISU studio course he was teaching developed a vision for the community’s downtown area.

Back then downtown Red Oak had seen its share of economic decline, building deterioration and in general, the loss of vitality as a center of economic activity, Jensen said. But the community decided to take action. The Red Oak Chamber of Commerce asked ISU to propose ways to improve the appearance of the downtown — with the cooperation of businesses, city leaders and community members.

The students conducted in-depth research, Jensen explained. They photographed every building on the square, inspected those to which they were given access and took hours of videotape to obtain a sense of the community and business environment.

In addition, the class sought community input with a written survey, a “charrette” — a design workshop during which the public was invited to comment on proposed storefront redesigns — and a public presentation. The students’ final report provided a base for storeowners and the city to move ahead with further design and development of an incentive program for storefront renovations.

So Red Oak went to work, Jensen said, passing a Downtown Urban Renewal District ordinance in late 1997 to help building owners and landowners in the retrofit, renovation or new construction of properties or second story housing developments within the designated area. The plan used tax increment financing (TIF) to generate grant funds that were awarded to store owners.

Work began in 1998, and those grants and additional investments by downtown businesses have made a difference, Jensen said. Not only have appearances improved, the buildings have been upgraded with new windows, awnings and in some cases structural improvements that will prolong the life of the buildings.

For more information, see the Community Matters newsletter, volume 2, issue 4.

4-H legislative day moves closer to home

4-H Power of Youth

4-H Day at the Legislature has been postponed due to the economic stress 4-H families are experiencing. In its place, the “Power of Youth, Iowa 4-H,” planning team is asking counties to create their own local experiences to tell the powerful stories of 4-H. The ISU Extension committee is urging counties to partner with an existing group to create an atmosphere for 4-H’ers and their legislators to talk about what is going on in 4-H today. 

These changes are hoped to alleviate some of the strain 4-H families are seeing in light of the current economic climate. According to Chuck Morris, director of ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development, the goal is to save counties the cost of registration and travel expenses while providing the opportunity for an even stronger connection between 4-H’ers and their legislators. 

“Iowa youth have a lot to share and say, so this local meeting will give them more of a chance for one-on-one time than they would have had at the Capitol,” said Brenda Allen, an ISU Extension 4-H youth development specialist.

Many counties will be hosting their Power of Youth, Iowa 4-H events in March, Allen noted. Harrison County 4-H’ers will be connecting with their two legislators over coffee on March 14. Extra time has been scheduled to allow a longer period for the 4-H’ers to share what they have accomplished. Hamilton County has combined efforts with four other counties to make a trip to the Capitol on March 31 where they will participate in a tour with their legislator.

Despite this change of plans for 2009, the committee is working hard to plan the event back at the Capitol for 2010. The Iowa 4-H Foundation has offered to raise additional funds to support the program, according to Morris. For more information, contact ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development, (515) 294-1018.

Extension’s energy tip: Cut energy costs while doing laundry

cut energy costs on laundry

About 80 to 85 percent of the energy used for washing clothes is used to heat the water. To reduce this cost, use less water: wash full loads and use cooler water and cold-water detergents. Switching the temperature setting from hot to warm cuts a load’s energy use in half. If you are in the market for a new washer, look for the ENERGY STAR and read EnergyGuide labels. You can reduce drying costs as well: clean the lint filter after every load to improve air circulation, and don’t over-dry clothes. Use the cool-down cycle to allow clothes to finish drying with residual heat. Also, periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it’s not blocked. Consider buying a natural gas dryer; the cost per load is less than an electric dryer. Check out Laundry for more tips. This tip is brought to you by the U.S. Department of Energy and ISU Extension.