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NEW FERTILIZER PLANT PROPOSED FOR SOUTHEAST IOWA
Des Moines Register reports:

A proposed $1.3 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in Lee County received a green light from Iowa economic development leaders Friday, a move that would give the company considering the project nearly $37 million in state incentives.

The bulk of the incentive package is in tax credits, an estimated $31.5 million, based primarily on the company's capital investment. The proposed capital investment would be the state's largest, say officials, beating Google's $800 million data farm built in Council Bluffs in 2008.

"It's a significant amount of incentives, but for a $1.3 billion project, I think it's certainly reasonable," said Debi Durham, the state's economic development leader. "It's a great opportunity for Iowa."

Iowa Fertilizer Co., a subsidiary of Orascom Construction Industries, has proposed creating 165 jobs with the project, most of which would pay at least $20.82 an hour. The global construction services company, with corporate headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, has declined to comment on the project until next week, citing regulatory restrictions.

"It's a huge project. It's very, very exciting for us," said Scott Norvell, chief executive of Master Builders of Iowa, a commercial construction group. "There's not a lot of private or public construction work right now."

The project, which would be located in Wever on 300 acres, would help a county that has been hammered in the past two recessions. Lee County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, with an annual average of 9.4 percent last year. The statewide average was 6 percent.

"This is an area that has been an important part of Iowa's manufacturing core, and it's been hurting badly," said Dave Swenson, an Iowa State University economist. "I don't think it's gotten nearly enough attention from central Iowa's administration and political structure.

"It's languished, and it's good to get this kind of news," said Swenson.

Leaders said the project wasn't a done deal yet.

"We're working furiously to put this together," said Steve Bisenius, executive director of Lee County. He said local leaders are still working on a package of incentives. Officials say significant investment in roads, rail, utility and other infrastructure are needed.

In addition to the tax credits, the state agreed to provide $1.61 million in loans, half of which is forgivable, and $1.7 million through two state programs for job training. Iowa transportation leaders will be asked to provide $2 million for road and other infrastructure improvements.

Orascom would provide nearly $101 million for the project, and tap nearly $1.2 billion in low-cost financing through a Midwest disaster bond program. The company says it would replace imported nitrogen fertilizer and other products for Midwest markets that include Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Durham said Lee County gives Orascom key access to the U.S. Corn Belt. Farmers use nitrogen fertilizer to raise corn and other crops. Fertilizer production would start in 2014.

Orascom would likely partner with a specialized builder to lead the project, said Norvell, the Master Builders of Iowa leader. But the factory, along with road and other infrastructure work, also would create hundreds of Iowa construction jobs.

"A project like that would attract interest from companies throughout the state of Iowa," Norvell said. "We would see an impact across the state of Iowa, but certainly the biggest impact would be in southeast Iowa."


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