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home : news : news Thursday, December 14, 2017

4/19/2017 Email this articlePrint this article 
Employers tell senator of lack of qualified applicants
Grassley meets with government, business leaders in Maquoketa

By Larry Lough
Executive editor

MAQUOKETA - When local employers complained Monday about the lack of qualified job applicants, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley had no answers.

But he had some observations.

The seven-term Republican senator met for an hour Monday with about 30 local officials and business leaders at Jackson Manufacturing. He suggested a "societal problem" was responsible an over-emphasis on a four-year college degree that might not help a graduate find a job.

"Sometimes that doesn't serve that particular person so well," he said, explaining that had appeared to rob trade schools of applicants.

"You can make some good money in those trades," said Julie Frommelt, CEO of a family printing business in Dubuque.

"That's what I told the students [in Tipton]," Grassley said of a meeting he had earlier Monday at Tipton High School.

Frommelt said the lack of skilled trades applicants forced employers to do the training, which cost time and money.

"It's hard to find qualified people without having to do two or three years of training," she said.

Todd Seifert, CEO of Imagine the Possibilities (former DAC), agreed.

"It's just hard to get people to apply who are qualified," he told Grassley.

The senator agreed with Seifert that government programs sometimes provided people with an incentive not to work.

"People on government programs live in poverty," Grassley said. "And the only way to get out of poverty is to get a job and make your way up the ladder."

He suggested employers work with their local community college to establish programs that prepare the kinds of workers they need, something Frommelt said she had been doing.

Grassley answered questions on a wide range of issues, including filling the Supreme Court vacancy and student loan debt. But the discussion kept coming back to employment and the economy.

He tried to calm the fear of David Heiar, director of the Jackson County Economic Alliance, that cuts in the federal budget could hurt local economic efforts that count on support from Washington, such as community development block grants.

Grassley called the proposed cuts "considerable savings in domestic programs," but said they should not take away such tools entirely.

"I don't think [Trump] will eliminate many programs," he said, "but they'll probably be cut back."

The senator said the three keys to stimulating job growth are the "whole new approach to regulation" in the Trump administration, tax reform, and health care - if House Republicans can come together on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

Even if the House sends a bill to the Senate, Grassley said, it will be difficult to win 60 votes to defeat a likely Democratic filibuster.

After the meeting, he insisted the Senate would never consider extending the "nuclear option" of judicial confirmations to regular legislation, requiring only a 51-vote majority to pass bills.

"That would change the whole makeup of the Senate," Grassley said. "Then we'd be like the House, where the majority rules and you can ignore the minority."

Grassley, 83, served six years in the U.S. House before being elected to the Senate in 1980, part of what he figured to be 59 years in state and federal legislative bodies.

He acknowledged a deep partisan divide in Congress today, but said it just reflected the political divisions within the country as seen in the 2016 election. But he suggested the media routinely exaggerated the level of conflict in the Capitol.

"It may not be quite as bad as you think it is," he said. "Controversy makes news. If people get along, you never hear about it."

He said that as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he saw Republicans and Democrats work together to pass criminal justice reform and patent reform.

"You didn't hear about that because we weren't fighting about it," he said. "[Political conflict] isn't the way life is 24 hours a day."

His only major conflict with President Trump, he said, was on trade, because "Iowa is an exporting state" and agriculture could be hurt most by the president's tough talk on foreign trade agreements.

But even that seems to be changing, he observed.

"There's been some modification of the president's [campaign] statements," Grassley said.

He specifically mentioned "moderation" in the president's recent statements on currency manipulation by China and a "less ambitious renegotiation" of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The meeting was sponsored by the Jackson County Economic Alliance and the Maquoketa Chamber of Commerce.

Later Monday, Grassley had a similar question-and-answer session in Clinton, where he met with coalitions of the Clinton Substance Abuse Council at Clinton Middle School.

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